The great John Muir said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, even Kerouac found a moment or two of bliss and respite from his internal madness out in the Big Sur wilderness. They all loved nature.
However, I am fairly certain that what these fine folks suggested, was that putting oneself into nature can have a very positive impact on the state of one’s spiritual and emotional well-being. I don’t believe that anywhere in their writing did they suggest actually putting the nature into our bodies, if you catch my drift.
Or maybe they were. Trees, in particular, are something special.
In the early and mid nineties, I became loosely involved with some regional environmental activism. I attended Earthfirst! meetings, read Green Anarchy literature, traveled hours to block logging roads, listened to Judi Bari speak and read my first-born The Lorax at least twenty times a day. I boycotted companies that owned stock in Pacific Lumber. I used cloth diapers that I washed myself. I switched my focus from psychology to environmental studies in community college. I started hanging out with a lot of pagans, anarchists and tree sitters. I left nasty notes on business’s garbage bins if I saw recyclables piling over. I wasn’t your typical treehugger, though; I usually sat out of the contact-love, opting instead to observe the misguided hippies embracing trees in the pouring rain, their large paper-mâché tree spirit puppets dissolving at their feet. Through it all, something about threatened old-growth redwoods, my role as a new parent and my disgust with the global corporate entity gave me a sense of purpose: to dismantle the whole system and, of course, to commune with the trees.
Despite my deep desire to really feel a connection to my environment, I like to remember myself as being fairly well adjusted and levelheaded during those days. I remained calm when loggers ripped my windshield wipers off my car, refused to sell me gas because of a small HEADWATERS FOREST sticker on my gas cap, and threw Molotov cocktails into my friend’s camp site the night before a massive march.
None of it deterred me. If anything, all of it made me love the trees even more. I’ve always rooted for the underdog. Even if the underdog couldn’t root for me.
But still, I could never support how some people took their love of trees to the next level. I’m not just referring to tree sitters ascending great heights into redwood canopies or the aforementioned inter species hugging bonanzas. I’m talking about people who have sexual relations with trees. It’s been assumed that some of the overly open-minded and feral eco-erotics I often heard tales of were simply into objectum sexuality, were lonely, took too much acid and never fully returned to the reality or were picking up on some serious mojo from the redwoods that I was just too spiritually stunted to receive. Regardless of the assorted motivating factors that shoved them into the tangled branches of desire, some people exposed their genitals to the unforgiving roughness of cold, scraggy bark.
Certainly, there is something magical about walking through a misty grove of coastal redwood trees. That is one of the reasons I love camping. A wild and crazy universal power has coaxed me, on occasion, to even spend days naked in the shadow of bristlecone pines. I’ve entertained explicit fantasies of sexy-time with a sexy man in hidden hot springs that over look the vast Pacific. I’ve stripped naked in deserts (OK, that was the one time I went to Burning Man. And I was on drugs.). I’ve experienced surges of unexplained emotion when met with the beauty of wild flowers in the Irish countryside and had super fucking mystical experiences in a Central American mango grove and at the sheer sight of an acacia tree, standing solo in the savannah during a Kenyan sunset. And sure, I’ve nibbled a little soft redwood bark in order to integrate myself more deeply into nature while on a mushroom trip among old growth trees. Who hasn’t?
But to form a sexual relationship to a tree, to marry a tree, to claim a tree as one’s life partner—without a tree’s written or verbal consent—despite my celebration of sexuality in all forms, is just plain creepy and weird.
Or is it?
Facing my own midlife crossroad, the thought of forming a relationship with a tree seemed something I shouldn’t entirely dismiss. Though my priorities continue to shift, I still stand in solidarity with the trees. I’m still an adventurous spirit. And I’d still like a stable, reciprocal relationship based on mutual respect and common dreams. Also, low expectations, no pressure to meet family members (and hence no worrying about their disapproval), no dirty socks strewn about, no screaming matches late at night, it all held the appeal and temptation of an exotic, no-strings-attached love affair. With a tree, I thought, I’d always know what to expect. A tree couldn’t cheat, lie, steal. I could move through the world without emotional constraints and he’d always be there. Standing tall and proud. Like a tree. Every attempt at relationships had failed. I needed to try something new, something so different than involving myself with the typical, emotionally unavailable men I usually fell for. I needed to open my heart to a tree.
I weighed the pros and cons: He won’t go on road trips with me, he doesn’t have a job, he can’t swim and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t cook. On the upside, he knows I am committed to his personal growth and well-being. He’s very patient with my children, he’s consistent, he’s into bird watching and he can’t run away at the first sign of conflict.
I figured, hey, I’ll try anything once. And who knows? Maybe this new guy will grow on me. And we can grow together. It doesn’t always have to be fireworks and tsunamis of passion from the get-go, right? It had to be one step above internet dating, right?
Instead of immediately giving up the goods and having sex with a partner that would likely leave splinters lodged into my thighs and abrasions in my nether region, I decided to take things slow with my potential life partner. I really wanted to get to know him first. I selected the large sycamore that lives outside my bedroom window, even though the redwood across the fence was my first choice. And although I know from experience that dating a neighbor isn’t always the best idea, the sycamore and I have known each other for about eight years. I figure this is a good basis for something healthy and solid.
First, I approached him with apologies about the various nails I’ve hammered into his limbs. “The treehouse, the bird feeder, the rope swing, they are all embellishments that make you that much more appealing,” I said. “Kind of like when I wear that earth tone scarf that you like so much.”
Unresponsive, I assumed he was OK with the nails. He’s so big and strong, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I pounded, like, fifty more into his hefty, enduring body. He’s solid. Like a tree should be.
Next, I asked if he’d like a massage. He didn’t say yes but he also didn’t protest, so I began slowly stroking his trunk. Having a background in massage therapy, I figured I’d try to work some of his knots out, help him relax. I applied lavender oil. He remained tense. I tried to open myself up to feeling the powerful energy that so many dendrophiliacs swear they feel pulsing through the bark and straight into their souls. The only energy I felt were waves of concern from my staring neighbors, surely convinced that I had lost my shit. I told him I’d see him the next day. This pattern repeated itself over the following weeks.
Though I grew fond of his deep listening skills, his attentiveness, one day I needed more than a good listener. I was all, “Hey, Tree. How are you doing today? I had a bad day and need a foot rub and maybe dinner, followed by some sexual healing.”
He remained silent. Closed off.
“What’s that? I can’t hear you. Oh, you’re not responding? Why are you ignoring me?!?”
We just stood there staring at one another, this tree and I. My mind haunted with memories of past relationships with humans, all of my insecurities crept up. I wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t pretty enough, I was too needy. I could tell this tree was not a good match for me. I knew he’d never change. That we’d repeat this pattern over and over unless I chopped him down. He was bringing out the worst in me. He was too rigid. Too proud. Too distant.
“I don’t think I can love someone or something that isn’t going to love me back. Call me selfish, I’ve already had that experience,” I cried. “Sycamore tree, it’s over. I still want to be friends but this behavior is hurting me. And I think I have feelings for that redwood over there. I think he understands me. I think he’ll meet my needs. I’m sorry, but this is how it has to be.”
He really seemed to handle the break-up better than I did.
Looking back, I knew that I should have followed my friend’s advice when he suggested: Go big, Dani. Go redwood. The silent treatment, the emotional unavailability, I deserved it all for settling for something convenient, something other than what I really desired, a sycamore instead of a redwood. And maybe the lack of sex hurt him as much as his silence hurt me. I should have sanded him, prepared him for physical love instead of shying away from splinters and demanding conversation when he wanted quiet time alone with me, for us to just hole one another.
We’re working on a friendship, the sycamore and I. I’m healing and storing up the courage to approach the redwood. I’ve been his advocate, his friend for so many years. We’ve been through a lot over the years. I think he likes me, too and feels that we’d make a fine match.
At least that’s what his body language tells me.