The Fine Trees in the City of Pines
June 2, 2011 Leave a comment
“I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to. For what is paradise but a garden? An orchard of trees and herbs full of pleasure and nothing there but delights.”
– Marjorie Rawlings
Last weekend, after joining my friends on their monthly pilgrimage to Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan (about three to four hours drive from Manila), I decided to head for Baguio, the City of Pines — despite the rain-bearing clouds looming ahead. Besides, I was already on Baguio’s doorstep, so to speak; and to make the hour-long trip more interesting, I took Kennon Road.
Surprisingly, as if a stage curtain being drawn up to signal the start of a scene in a stage play, the clouds parted, allowing the glorious sun to greet me as I meandered toward my destination. Lush vegetation on either side of the highway — the constant cadence of greenery occasionally interrupted by reddish, sometimes brownish black rock formations and boulders, deep ravines, and surging mountain streams and springs — kept me craning my neck to get a better view. One of the things I love about heading north is seeing a cornucopia of conifers in various configurations and transfigurations, like an array of ballet dancers in different poses.
As if on cue, the easily recognizable Lion’s Head loomed into view. Like a wary guardian of Kennon Road, the figure had me in his eerie gaze as I climbed down the vehicle to take in the scenery (and for a much-needed potty break).
Strolling away from a boisterous group who had their pictures taken cradled in the lion’s massive paw, my attention was drawn to a lonely agoho tree swaying in the distant horizon, the mountains serving as a backdrop. I have always been fascinated by trees, well, forests in general — the towering trees, the lush greens and the mysteries surrounding them. Trees offer shelter and shade. They are a haven and a presence. Trees are ancient witnesses to life on Earth. As a child, I wanted to live in Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood and his Merry Men or play with the Hobbits in the vast fields of the Shire, running across rolling hills toward the Brandywine Bridge. Or be a Jedi and protect the forests of Endor and its residents of giant trees 10,000 years old.
I have yet to meet a child who has never climbed a sapling or does not love to sit in the arms of a favorite tree, sheltered and safe, yet given a sense of freedom — freedom to be above daily worries and concerns, up where the birds live and soar. Every child has probably drawn a tree — bare or leafed out — its branches reaching up, perhaps roots growing down into the earth. I always added a teeny weenie bird on any of the branches I drew.
Growing up, I came to realize that nothing could be more intertwined to our existence than trees, for they share the very air we breathe. The term ‘conspire’ comes from the Latin word conspirare or to breathe together. We and trees conspire, sharing our spirits. Like us, they are rooted to the earth in a very physical way, and yet connected to the heavens, or the stars, as some Indian tribes in the Amazon believe.
This mysticism is also shared by other cultures in various parts of the world as well. Some ancients sing ballads about a World Tree giving birth to all of Creation:
“For all the people of the earth, the Creator has planted a Sacred Tree under which they may gather, and there find healing, power, wisdom and security. The roots of this tree spread deep into the body of Mother Earth. Its branches reach upward like hands praying to Father Sky. The fruits of this tree are the good things the Creator has given to the people: teachings that show the path to love, compassion, generosity, patience, wisdom, justice, courage, respect, humility and many other wonderful gifts.”
This belief is embraced by new-age groups, preaching the World Tree as a symbol of life-giving meaning and of vital importance to the indigenous peoples of the earth. For countless generations it has provided inspiration for many tribes and nations. The World Tree is a symbol around which lives, religions, beliefs and nations have been organized. It is a symbol of profound depth, capable of providing enough meaning for a lifetime of reflection.
In the Pacific Northwest, totem poles are crafted out of giant cedars. The word totem is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodem or ‘his kinship group’. Totem poles may recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. Some poles celebrate cultural beliefs, but others are mostly artistic presentation. Certain types of totem poles are part of mortuary structures, and incorporate grave boxes with carved supporting poles, or recessed backs for grave boxes.
The Menorah of Judaism is patterned after tree branches and the sacrificial cross of Jesus Christ is yet another sacred tree. Indeed, trees are the foundation of our world. Wood and stone build our homes and churches, our temples and mosques.
Trees are our spiritual connection to Mother Earth. They communicate to the deepest part of our souls and the heartbeat of our desire to understand all of Earth’s wisdom. That is why for some reason we have the compulsion to pick up pine cones, twigs and small branches, and carry them home with us as souvenirs, like seashells from the shore.
Trees are enduring, deep-rooted, yet they dance gracefully to an inner, unheard rhythm. In J.R.R Tolkien’s make-believe Middle Earth, they even spoke and moved around — are Treebeards the stuff of fairy tales only? I am not certain anymore, as fixing my gaze at the distant lone agoho along Kennon Road, I was almost sure that the tree was trying to tell me something. In no uncertain terms, the tree lamented to me that although people consider his kind to be a trash tree, “we are love giving of itself.”
Snapping out of my reverie, I egged on to where I was supposed to be headed — the City of Fine Trees.
Trees have indeed transformed our landscapes and our communities, even our traditions and beliefs. I remember being told to lean against a mango tree, as it was believed that it heals sickness and fatigue. Even contemporary and popular literature use metaphors and similes about trees — some exhort us to be strong, solid and true (Like the Molave by Rafael Zulueta da Costa), others to bend and be flexible (Pliant Like a Bamboo by I.V. Mallari).
“Do it because of the trees.” The Ewoks would understand.