In Lives of the Tress: An Uncommon History, Diana Wells laments the fact that we don’t know some of our closest neighbors, trees. She says that while we are more aware today of the importance of trees to the environment, we still aren’t on a first name basis. We might admire a forest (maybe), but we don’t know the names of most of its trees, and about their more ubiquitous residents (think pines), we may not speak kindly. As she says, “This once would have been unthinkable. When we read stories or poems from before our times, trees are called by their names, with the assumption that the reader will know exactly what is meant.” No more, unless you live with a professional or amateur arborist. My cat better knows the trees in our backyard than I do, but she is tight-lipped about them.
What’s the use, you might ask? It has something to do with the Incarnation. When the God who made the universe condescended to human form on a tiny insignificant planet in a minuscule galaxy among millions (and that’s worth pausing to consider), He was saying not just that the people He made for himself were valued but that every square inch of Creation was His and valued. If He calls us “beloved,” He also calls the world “loved,” and you can bet He knows the name and intricate workings of every tree. After all, photosynthesis was his idea. As Leland Ryken says, “The Incarnation of Jesus in human form affirms forever that human, earthly reality is worthy of study and love.”
When you’re out walking, look around. Notice your wooden, leafy neighbors. Learn their names. Lean against their trunks and savor their shade. If you take one, plant one. Be kind. Diana Wells says that planting a tree is a kind of prayer. She retells the famous saying of the first-century Jewish sage Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who said “If you should happen to be holding a sapling in your hand when they tell you that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.” Me, I’ll probably be reading a book when Messiah comes, made from a tree whose name I will not know. Should I finish it first?