Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness. -- from WanderingWandering, Hermann Hesse's collection of succinct prose, poetry and sketches, was on my bookshelf as a young college student. I don't know where it is now -- it's the kind of book you want to keep around to read over and over again, yet at the same time, a book that begs to be passed around from friend to friend ... Hesse's writing is simple, profound, mystical (in a Earth-mystic sense) poetic, inspiring. This is one of my favorite books ever.
I originally put together this post for Tim's woodworking site, ShopTalk. Inspired by the Festival of Trees, I decided to illustrate my favorite passage from Hesse (on listening to trees) with some of my photos and share it with my readers on Raven's Nest.
Sit down anywhere you like, on a wall, a stone, a tree stump, on the grass or the earth: everywhere they surround you, a painting and a poem, everywhere the world resonates beautifully and happily around you. -- from Wandering
... For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.
... Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end ... I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! ... Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the Mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the Mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is Mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own thoughts. Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives that ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them ...
Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.
-- excerpt from Hermann Hesse: Wandering translated by James Wright, © 1974