Oak tree San Galgano
Ok, so I am a bit obsessed with trees. I even wrote a book with a bit of tree hugging in it! I also stroke any amazing stones (dolmen, cliffs, lumps of obsidian) that I come across, so you can safely classify me as weird.
There is something about these giants of nature that bring me peace.
They offer shelter. When they seem dead in the winter, with their skeletal branches etched in frost, they are actually reserving strength and shielding the life within for spring.
When I meditate I always start with a small breathing exercise. As I work my way up through the chakras, on each deep breath in, I imagine the energy of nature entering me through each point. Like a tree, I absorb energy from my roots to my crown. Then, feeling deeply relaxed I can try to meditate. Usually at this point the phone rings or my tummy rumbles insistently but on the rare occasion when I manage to let go, these precious minutes leave me feeling wonderfully at peace and joyful.
One of my favourite songs is “Willow” by Joan Armatrading because of its lyrics: “I’m strong, straight, willing to be a shelter in a storm … your willow, when the sun is out.” I first heard this when I was a teenager and it touched a chord inside that has been vibrating ever since.
Each tree’s bark feels subtly different beneath my fingers, some surprisingly smooth, other’s rough. To sit in silence at the base of a tree and let myself become absorbed into the moment, is to reach out with all my senses. I become ever more aware of the sounds and scents around me. The bark rough against my back, the swell of roots below my legs, birdsong from branches above, a whirr of small wings or insect hum.
In my novel, The Song of the Cypress, my cypress “dreams through centuries, yet focuses on the intimate second”. The connection that the protagonist, Annie, feels with this ancient tree describes the way I feel at times as I lean back and open my heart till the connection with nature surges within me,
“Blood and sap flowing together. The power was incredibly strong and beneath it a sound like a low hum, a sound that could have been a small insect buzzing in the grass, or the breeze among dry needles, or the clouds gathering in the sky. It could even have been time itself, humming as it glided inexorably within our cells.”
On our anniversary recently, Guido and I visited San Galgano monastery. As we walked through the woods later, on our way up to the hermitage we walked past this amazing oak. It will stay in my memory as long as the beautiful ruins will, maybe even longer. It had all the elements of mystery and magic, age, wisdom and serenity within it.
There is nothing new in this idea of finding a special kind of magic in trees. In Celtic lore trees were a connection to the world of the spirits, doorways into other worlds. Oaks were especially revered – the Celtic word for oak was daur. The word Druid is made up of the Celtic words for oak and seeing, or someone who could see through the doorway between our world and the spirit world.
This year here in Tuscany it is remarkably lush because of the unusual amount of rain we have had. I am enjoying this spring very much because every tree and plant is flourishing. I can almost hear the roots eagerly sucking up the sweet water before the harsh summer is upon us.
My friend, artist Caroline Zimmermann, also loves trees and allowed me to use one of her paintings of this beautiful area of the Valdarno for the cover of my novel.
Caroline paints many types of trees but my favourites are, inevitably, the cypresses. Somehow she manages to capture the real-life beauty of these trees as well as the mystical quality they possess.
Here in Italy cypresses are linked to death. Rows of them line the approach to every cemetery and some people view them with suspicion because of that. I think they were planted near cemeteries not just for the practical reason of their resinous wood, which does not rot easily, but also because, as they stretch up so tall, slender and dark, they seem to be reaching a finger to the heavens.
The Song of the Cypress