I go among trees

I feel weird.

I think everyone does sometimes.  I hear though from some people that I seem to feel this way more than the “normal” amount.  It isn’t the kind of weird that is comical, nor is it the weird of dread.  It is very difficult to pinpoint, and the most notable sign is that I feel…well, strange.  There is a disconnection, a longing, a little heartache and yearning all mixed together.  There never seems to be a particular object in the physical world that this feeling points to.  I just feel out of balance…yet there is understanding…yet there is sadness.

I talk about trees a lot when I work with singers.  There are a couple reasons for this.  One is because of a movie called Phenomenon with John Travolta made in 1996.  It didn’t get reviewed very well and was not very popular, but besides a stunning soundtrack by perhaps the best film composer of the last 20 years, Thomas Newman, there were a couple scenes that seemed particularly important.  Here is a quote from George Malley (Travolta):

Now we were talking about a parnership.  Do you know what the largest living organism in the world is?  Ok, its a grove of aspen trees in Colorado…acres of aspens.  Ok, now, they thought they were disconnected, separate, but indeed they found out that they weren’t.  That there was one giant organism with the same root system.

For some reason that blew me away and instantly a choir appeared in my minds eye.  I imagined roots coming out of the feet of singers in an ensemble and spreading out in a similar way to these aspens.  Connections need to be made intentionally, subtly and what better than beneath the solid ground we stand on.

Later in the movie is one of my favorite scenes in cinema.  George Malley knows he is about to die and the woman he loves, Lace finds him on a hill and they spend some last moments together.  He asks her to show him how she would hold a newborn baby.  She does, and he says – but hold in a way to really comfort and solace (intentionally).  Her face, her body…everything changes.  (Thomas Newman captures this moment perfectly.  It couldn’t be done better than this.)  In the final scene in the movie she is sitting, weeping on a lonely porch and she looks up and sees the trees moving…moving in the same way a mother would hold a child.  …I had never thought about this before – and it changed everything.

Sometimes I tell singers in a choir to try and sing like a tree (there is a bit of a process to get there).  An interesting thing starts to happen if they are doing it fully.  They start to move in the same way as the trees described above.  There is a grace, a purpose, and an intention.  They are moving as an individual, but in that is connected at the roots to those around them.

Wendell Berry is a true rockstar of words.  In a way, I think he has captured the indescribable.  This poem, just one of many moments of genius:

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

It makes me think of what it is really like to stop, watch the trees move, their “confused pattern,” their subtle way of rocking as if to music.  I think the way that Giselle Wyers set this poem for choir and piano is blesséd and Right.  I happened to be singing with this collection of unique souls, spreading their roots out beneath the ground.

So I feel strange, as if longing will rip my heart out.

You will find me among the trees.

I am listening for the song.

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