Arboreality: A Partial Phenomenology of Trees 1

I enjoy being the type of almost-30- year old woman who climbs trees. On a gently sunny Sunday, I stopped by a beautiful little park overlooking the bay. I sat for a time on the verdant grass where I could best see the buildings and structures that make up the peninsula and the misty marine layer covering the bay. In the distance, Mt. Diablo rose like a mirage on the eastern horizon. Eventually, I decided to climb a tree.

After taking my time alternately writing and lying in the grasses, I noticed that the children who had postponed my thoughts of tree climbing had moved on. The park was empty. The pines I sat between invited me to inspect their options for climbing. The one to my right looked easy enough. Its trunk was bent towards the ground, either by the action of wind or the slope of the hillside, making the sturdy wood closer to horizontal than vertical. I put one shoed foot on the trunk and wrapped my hands around the rough bark. “This would be easier barefoot,” I thought. My shoes quickly loosed my feet, and I scrambled up into the branches. Though I wasn’t far off the ground behind me, in front of me was a sizable drop down the hillside. The tree was firm under my body and provided a comforting sense of support so deeply needed at this moment in my life. The cones soared overhead, close yet out of reach.

I started to think of lines: the branches above intertwined with neighboring needles; the rough bark digging into the soles of my feet; my pride at making it up with the cup and remainder of my coffee in tow. These thoughts, instead of heightening my experience, lessens the immediacy, the wonder, and the feeling of flying, crouching, high above the women then slowing walking below. I stopped and looked around me, feeling my body against the trunk, shifting my weight to yet another uncomfortable yet supported posture. I noticed the trees around me: small redwoods newly planted, two kinds of cypress, pine of another variety, eucalyptus. I took in my surroundings, suspending my inner narrative for the moment.

My body crouched on the tree while I finished the last sips of coffee, calmed and clarified in a way only a dose of wildness in the rarified urban air can impart. Eventually, I threw the cup to the ground and came to standing in the branches. I carefully moved my bare feet towards the main trunk, testing each piece of bark so as not to slip and break pieces as I’d done on the way up. My arms wrapped carefully around the limbs, a small, shallow cut smarting on my hand from the ascent. I placed my feet confidently down the stairway of bark, landing on the solid ground again, happy tree climbing is not the sole pursuit of younger years, as long as you’re willing to risk the climb.

This reflection was written for the class Phenomenology of the Body towards a Ph.D. in Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies.