In September, 2004, I laid eyes on the gray lady American Beech for the first time. Truly, it was her single-eyed, plump mouth, her roots threading and dangling down the back hillside, her quietude that beckoned me to this piece of earth I have since called home.
She sits, queen-like, front and center in a grove of grey American Beech trees. Her leafy crown is wide and high. Joined with her siblings and kin, I feel sheltered under their verdant canopy.
All these years later, the gray lady still calls out to me— in winter, when the winds whirl about, her soft gray bark darkens and gleams; in spring, when her shallow roots swell with new shoots, and all during summer, when her leaves billow forward to offer pastoral shade, a sense of the sacred.
At the base of this hill filled with decades-old, low branching trees, a hidden cache across from the Charles River, I feel grateful, even blessed, to have embraced the task of steward. American Beeches, Fagus grandiforia, are the only species of beech native to North America. Before the glacial period, beech trees thrived throughout North America. It was common for Native Americans to choose the thick, smooth tree for tribal carvings.
American Beeches are survivors, little to be done, except for a seasonal misting of natural spray to ward off gypsy and winter months. In fall, the leaves thin out and turn golden. Unlike the maples and oaks, they do not shed their leaves in short order but linger. There is one tree, very large, on the line between my neighbor and myself. It sheds a few leaves weekly throughout late fall and all during the winter, leaving a small pile in the corner of the driveway, a reminder to attend to the whole cycle by collecting leaves for recycling into mulch.
Up close and even from behind my window in the midst of winter, the gray lady holds the promise of steadiness, calm, and beauty. Alex Hutchinson, writing “How Trees Calm Us Down, in http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/what-is-a-tree-worth, writes, “ a leafy tableau is more therapeutic than a drab brick wall––and puzzling. Whatever curative property the trees possessed, how were they casting it though a pane of glass?
Hutchinson aptly describes elements of my own soul-tracking, emphasizing the matter of attentiveness. “Your eye is captured by the shape of a branch, a ripple in the water; your mind follows.” To receive benefits from a tree, “the environment has to have some kind of stimulation to activate your involuntary attention—your fascination.”
Natural environments provide “softly fascinating stimulation,” and truly, that day in 2004, on the edge of retiring from my long-term psychotherapy practice, I was sorely in need of a soft landing. For the bounty of trees I am privileged to behold from every window in my present home, I am grateful to the beckoning gray lady American Beech for grounding me.