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ideas for a new earth

  • Abigail Wilson

Pine Trees Don't Speak English: On learning a universal language

The chainsaw whirs to life behind me as I bend to embrace another armful of boughs. Our neighbor’s saw roars in answer just the other side of the stone wall. The easy-rolling hills east of the Shenandoah ridgelines — where I live — received a whopping nine inches of heavy, wet snow two days ago, and we have just begun cleanup on our blessedly small portion of the wreckage.

The sense of blessedness grows stronger within me as we work, woven into my being through the back and forth of my hands along the limbs. No harm came from these dropped branches, unlike elsewhere in our vicinity. Even the tree — a towering white pine way older than me — seems relieved to have shed the lower weight.

We trim and stack the thick branches in a rough square, stuffing the interior space with needles and boughs. The birds are already chirping in excitement about their new homes, and we laugh about the future escapades of our dog, who will be delightfully frustrated that he is unable to reach the critters inside. Inside this home we are building from the branches of the pine.

In the quiet after our task, I stand at the stone wall, pulling still-bright needles from their twigs and dropping them into my gathering basket. A potent expectorant and source of Vitamin C, this is the perfect ally for the snivels and coughs that have filled our household all week. I am filled with love for this gift of the pine, and I sing my gratitude into the wind.

When my basket is nearly full, I realize suddenly that my words have been replaced by silence. An inner voice kicks up to scold me for ceasing my litany of thanks, but right behind it is a bright flash of recognition, a scent of acceptance so strong I laugh aloud. It is the voice of the pine — not a voice at all, but a presence, a moving force of connection and knowledge. And it comes to me in an explosion of the gratitude already emanating from my heart.

There is a contradiction at the root of all things, a contradiction made of all the dualities inherent in existence. The tree is a tower of cellulose strapped in place; the tree is a fluid being archetypal in its hugeness. I am a storyteller, and my stories are born without words.

My internal experience is nonlinear, a flush of feeling, connection, and insight that I have always struggled to communicate to other humans. I wield language the way I wield a paintbrush: as a tool for expression and beauty, but as something learned, something outside of myself.

Here was a being that understood me, directly. In that clear, windy-day voice of the pine, I understood that the pine and I speak the same language — the language of spirit. Words are for our own sake, our human sake. The language of the heart is universal, understood in a flash of connection and kinship.

By chanting the Ave Maria or unraveling a sanskrit mantra, we employ words as a familiar element to transform our inner world into the spiritual context of prayer. These symbols are potent, powerful, personal. But they are also the means, and not the end. Prayer is a state of being to which the words transport us, but not the words themselves.

When you speak to God, does your spirit speak alongside your voice? Does your heart swell with the supplication and awe of a deep thanks?

The more I learn to speak in the way of the trees, the more I feel the touch of God. That touch which is not a touch, but a presence, a moving force of connection and knowledge.


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