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Do Trees Exist?

 A tree.

Is there such a thing?

In Genesis, God got busy naming things, well not directly, but the big G got the ball rolling with that famous opening line, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And shit started happening. The whole Heaven/Earth thing linked by that mischievous word, “and”, simultaneously joined and separated the whole shebang in a single breath. Things got complicated after that. God passed the buck to man, giving “him” authority to name things with the caveat that, “Whatever [he] called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). Arguably things have been going downhill ever since.

The naming of a thing prioritizes our conceptual rhetoric over an experiential encounter. It’s not conscious, it's just how our conditioned brains work. For there to be an upthere has to be a down. For there to be a rightthere must be a wrong. A treenaturally presupposes a “not tree”. The naming itself provides a cognitive framework for separation, whereby a thing becomes a noun rather than its native, relational and somewhat mystifying, verbness. The incomprehensible experience of treeness becomes “a tree”. We forfeit the complex network of connections and relationships in favor of an artifice of particulars and in return we gain a sense of separation and self preservation- the bedrock of this particular iteration of our human experience.

Naming is convenient to be sure. How else would we argue across political divides or compose sonnets while contemplating abstract physics? Words and our capacity for dualistic thought are hallmarks of human civilization, complete with our philosophies, ideologies, societies and politics. We run amuck when we mistake the name for what it points to.

Walking past the caramel trunk of a ponderosa pine warmed by sunshine and smelling like an earthy, vanilla embrace, I don’t see a tree, I see systems of belonging. I see insects and birds, animals and sunlight, constellations and mitochondria, root systems entwined with aspen, mahogany, fescue and more. I see fires and droughts. I see a century of exhales and my own lungs filled with mountain air. Do we have a name for this kind of seeing?

I wish we did.

I wonder how much more alive we might feel if we held our propensity for naming, conceptualizing and compartmentalizing lightly in one hand and the whole unnameable mystery of being in the other? It’s quite possible we will find ourselves laughing in the garden, astonished by our own belonging and conscious, perhaps for the first time, that the nature we'd been destroying was no less than the same invisible God we’d been worshipping all along.

Click here to read it on elephant journal:

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