In the ancient language of Kartuli, spoken only in the Republic of Georgia, there is a special word for the inner rings of a tree. The word is ” ხისგული” (hees-goo-lee) which literally translates to “tree’s heart”.
When I visited the Redwood forests in Northwestern California last Autumn, I had the opportunity to see the ხისგული and learned that trees can teach us secrets of the human heart.
I expected the trees to be big. Scary big. And they were. But they were so much more.
Each tree has a unique environment.
There is a lot that goes into a tree growing tall and strong. The right kind of soil, amount of light, amount of rain, and connection at the roots with other trees all add to the growth of a healthy tree.
It seems obvious with trees, but with humans I’m quick to judge without really understanding the unique environments they live in.
To have compassion for other people, I have to accept that others’experiences and upbringings are just as valid as mine no matter how different they were. Further, I have to be strong enough to uplift people into the light and not fall back into the shadowy side of my life.
Trees support their inner child
The rings of a tree represent it’s age, so its smallest rings are the tree child! Trees don’t neglect their inner rings. Water is carried from the roots through the tree trunk and up into the leaves and branches. All of the parts work together.
Sometimes I forget to feed and protect my inner child and then I hate her for being weak and vulnerable. But she’s just a child! Trees support their whole selves and they teach me that to support my inner self will make me stronger.
Trees shed their bark as they grow.
The shedding of bark makes trees more vulnerable to the weather and pests,but it happens naturally as the tree grows.
People have this quality also of tearing down and rebuilding defenses. We get all these notions about who we are and we get comfortable in our day to day lives and then something happens- maybe we meet someone who challenges us, or we fall in love, or someone dies, and suddenly the wall that we built around ourselves is shattered, leaving us a little bit bloody and bruised.
Trees teach us that this is the natural cycle of things- building up and tearing. When our defenses are shattered it’s painful because we are “letting the weather in”, but we eventually rebuild our protective bark and grow from the painful times.
Trees Shouldn’t be Exploited
I stopped at a cafe along HWY 101 and asked the server where that famous tree was that you can drive your car through and she told me that it was up the road near Klamath River.
I got to the side road where “Tour Thru Tree” was supposedly located and there was an unmanned ticket booth with a sign saying, “$5: We Trust You!” I found some spare change and put it in the money slot.
I drove up the winding hilly road to find a small cement lot with the tree in the middle, cut opened for cars to drive through. The sign attached to the tree read: “Tour Thru Tree, Klamath, CA.” It might as well be the sign on the cross of Jesus…I was disgusted by the exploitation of this giant tree.
There were a few other cars with tourists driving through and getting out of the car to take pictures of their friends sitting in the car while they drove through the tree.
I was ashamed of the ridiculous tourist trap and didn’t get a picture…but I did drive through it…apologizing and wincing as I went.
Trees are sacred and shouldn’t be exploited for money or to brag to your friends back home that you “drove through a tree”. It’s the same for all life: humans, animals, plants, water…we are all sacred and our society downgrades us into things that can be bought and sold.
Trees’ Hearts are Sacred
Finally, I want to share the most impacting lesson I learned from the experience in the forest.
I was driving on a scenic route through part of the forest and to the right of the road, something caught my eye. A tree had been split down the middle and it’s inner wood was sticking up in orangey-red splinters. In all my years of hearing about Redwood trees (starting with Woody Guthrie), it had never occurred to me that they got their name because they were red inside! Duh..
I parked my car and walked up to it. The wood was a burning hue of orange and red, like the color of Mars or the hair of an orangutan.
It touched me so deeply because I was in the middle of heart break. We opened our hearts to each other so intensely and beautifully that when it couldn’t work out, it was an excruciating loss of love. I had never felt so opened with another person.
This tree had a similar experience to mine- while I was struck by love, that tree was struck by lightning! Can you imagine what that tree must have experienced? For a split second, it must have been SO alive- electricity was surging through it’s wooden bones. That connection-that jolt of radiant light, split the tree open to release the energies of it’s heart.
Seeing the heart of the tree revealed to me that the heart is like an altar and to open the heart is a sacrifice. Sacrifice is always a loss but it is also, I believe, the most beautiful mystery of life because it is the motion of love.
What Have I Learned?
The story of a tree is your story too. It’s fallible, it’s vulnerable, it’s made of parts that can easily come apart, and it’s beautiful.
Looking at a tree doesn’t tell you much, but if you look beyond the surface, you’ll find that there is incredible depth to trees, and inside every one is the most beautiful red heart.