The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. Today, hop the fence and wade through the grass to sit a while under leafy branches.
On a soggy August morning, I waded out to meet the tree.
I’ve passed the meadow on the way to my in-laws’ house time and time again. Fenced and surrounded by housing developments on three sides now, the field serves as a reminder of simpler times, and the tree, my mother-in-law tells me, is all that remains of an old farmstead.
On a gently rolled knoll rising up out of an expanse of long, waving grasses, that tree lifts her leafy arms as if holding up the sky. Each time I pass by her I feel the pull. Her unlikely presence gives my spirit pause—rest from the noise of her surroundings, and mine.
So on a steamy August morning as temperatures rose with the sun, I hopped the fence to meet her up close. My heart quickened at this minor trespass.
Trudging across barren landscape, a soft throw tucked under my arm, I felt as conspicuous as that singular tree. By the time I reached her craggy trunk my feet were soaked by dewy grasses, my legs covered in seeds and other hangers-on. But, never mind, I was meeting an old friend.
When I had whittled away the distance between us, I touched her trunk, pressing my hand against her rugged skin, wondering at its roughness. I spread my throw in a clearing beneath her branches and leaned back to listen. As I peered up through the years gathered in her arms, I remembered these lines from Rumi:
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
I thought of how trees have been giving to men and women since the beginning of time. It is said that Eve picked knowledge from a branch and the world was forever changed. Some legends note that after Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he sat under a Banyan tree, meditating on what he had seen. The Banyan tree—which folklore tells has roots that never stop growing—is often seen as a symbol of immortality. Some would pray to trees as gods; others see them simply as messengers of the gods.
As I looked up at the sky through twig and leaf, I wondered if the gifts of the tree somehow relate to the recipient. Wisdom for a possession-soaked world. Immortality to the prophet. Answers to questions for those who seek. So I tried to be modest—a thing ripened until it is real. I became small—a maple seed; a root tendril burrowing in the dark.
And my tree gave me this: shade to refresh, a song in the hushing of the leaves, scent of leaf mingled with dew, a place to slow and rest a while.
Image by wazimu0. Used with permission. Post by Laura Boggess, author of Playdates with God (coming October 7, 2014).
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Katie Andraski says
This is wonderful. What a thoughtful meditation on what a tree means. There’s one in our neighbor’s field that I look at every time I do chores. Looking forward to your book.
Thanks, Katie. I’ve wanted to do this for years. But there used to be a herd of cattle keeping company with that tree. Now there are only two sweet cows. They didn’t seem to mind my company 🙂
Maureen Doallas says
Lovely, as is all your writing, Laura.
There’s a huge and marvelous banyon at Edison’s home in Ft. Myers, Fla. It was planted in 1925 and now covers almost an acre. (Pictures of it are easy to find on the Web.)
Thanks for that tidbit, Maureen. I’ll google it up. I found the mystical writings about baryons so captivating when working on this piece. I’d love to visit one. I found a lot of American Indian folklore on trees too. A lovely way to spend a morning–in the company of trees. Both real and in legend.
banyons. I think I need an editor 🙂
Megan Willome says
Last Saturday we went to an art gallery to see a photography exhibit. One photo of an acacia tree captivated us. If you looked closely, you could see three leopards in the tree (this was taken in Africa). The photographer later told us the tree was 80 feet tall. I can’t get it out of my mind.
It sounds beautiful, Megan. 80 feet tall. Imagine that. I think there must be something in our DNA that draws us to trees. I could look at them all day–real or photographed. Something so attractive in their design.
Tears roll down my face, your story is beautiful and I’m so happy you could still go back and have that moment. You made it so vivid as if I was walking alone behind you, even seeing the things that stuck to your legs I can so relate to that memory.
My home is gone, all that land, 100 year old home restored, tin roof, fruit trees, trees that were older than life itself, gone. Once the three of us kids married Mom & Dad sold the place. It went commercial, all that’s left is concrete and one story buildings. Not one tree was spared. I miss the long driveway that took us to the house, it was tree lined on one side. Lately I dream of this, my childhood home, white doorknobs, high ceilings, smell of wood and walking the pastures. Just to touch one of those big wide doors again.
I’m so sorry for that loss, Marcy. I can hear your affection for your homestead in your words. This same thing happened to the farm where I was married. The state mandated the property to be used as a new interchange. But these special places still live on in our memories, don’t they? I pray your dreams of your childhood home will bring peace–like visiting an old friend.
We have two stands of ancient oak on our land, Laura. They have to be over one hundred years old. I look at them and wonder at the things they’ve seen. They bring me such a sense of timeless peace.
This was lovely.
Oh, I would love to see your oaks, Linda! Yes, that’s it: timeless peace. Well-said.
This inspired me, Laura, as your writings always do. I love trees, they are the dinosaurs of our modern world. I’ve heard it said that we are to the trees as butterflies are to us. I rather like that idea. Blessings.
Thank you, June, so nice to see you here. Dinosaurs of our world–I like that! I’ve never been out west to see the giant sequoias, but I hope to one day. That would be one magnificent artist date!
Diana Trautwein says
Ah, Laura. Such a lovely surprise to discover this Saturday morning. Thank you for writing this out so beautifully, for helping me to pause and thank God for the trees of my life, past and present. We have a 100+ year old oak in our front yard that was one of the reasons we bought this house almost 18 years ago. And a stately old palm nearly that old and a strangely-shaped gingko about 60 years old or so, plus various and sundry-sized oaks and pines scattered around. We hung a swing from one of the newer oaks – a favorite spot to walk up to — when my ankle is completely healed. Next month we go to Hawaii and see a few prized banyans while we’re there – they are spectacular and weird, inviting and imposing at the same time. Thank you for this.
Trees are among my favorite things… and your writing makes an artist’s date with a tree sound like a magical, beautiful place we all want to enter and visit. Just lovely, this. Meditating on this, being small and modest, and resting under a tree. Thank you.
This part: other hangers-on… That’s what made a beautiful telling real for me.
What a perfect date for artist and tree! This is lovely and refreshing, Laura, and makes me want to share a poem: