Designer Russel Wright had the habit of shaping parts of the land around Manitoga, his home and studio in upstate New York, into “rooms”. Most famous is his moss room. Rather than making a room, I love the idea of an outdoor room coming into being simply by finding it or naming it, as happened when I stumbled on some ancient American Beeches in Central Park. Their branches arch down to the ground to define the space around them, making quiet leafy rooms.
I wandered in and spread a light cloth I carry in the event I find a place in Nature to sprawl. As I sat with my back against the massive trunk, I felt a calm take over the worry I arrived with.
Sometimes I’d lie down to look up into the canopy and listen to the leaves rustling. It smells good there, like green, bark, earth…
The effect of being in the tree space was palpable. I would relax and my brain seemed to let go of its many concerns. It reminded my of Wendell Berry’s spare true words:
And so I go to the woods. As I go in under the trees, dependably, almost at once, and by nothing I do, things fall into place. I enter an order that does not exist outside, in the human spaces…I am less important than I thought. I rejoice in that.
The experience changed my vision. I now find tree rooms quite frequently…
I note where they are as I build a network of little sanctuaries along my various routes through the world…
In “I Go Among Trees”, Berry gets even closer to what happens there: It has to do with fear and how the trees help change our relationship to it, reorder it. It dissipates amidst their mysterious comfort…
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.
“I Go Among Tree” from Sabbaths by Wendell Berry.
2 replies on “Tree Rooms Hiding in Plain Sight (Wendell Berry)”
I grew up in the middle of a ten acre orange grove in central Florida (back when central Florida was nothing BUT orange groves) I know EXACTLY what a ‘tree room’ is. My siblings and I had many. My favorite was an old lady at the back of the grove, half laced with musty vines of balsam apple. She was a respite from the cruel heat of Florida summer and I dressed her up with a low hanging sheet hammock and an old sisal mat. I couldn’t even guess how many hours I spent under her canopy reading, writing, or just tracing the outline of the leaves with my eyes, listening to the grove talk to itself. It’s where I learned to contemplate and sort my imaginings. It’s gone now. The grove was sold off in 1/4 acre lots, but I still remember how the trees shaped my childhood and my imagination. Especially the old lady at the back.
Thank you for the truly wonderful memories. How lucky you were to have those fragrant tree rooms… Yes, they do “shape the imagination”.