A Love of Wild Trees


Contemplating the tree of the world…

And this is the seventh in a series, from http://tim.girvin.com/Entries/index.php.

Looking skyward,
stars hang in the balance,
branched — bound
in light, spanning —
circling the mooned night.

I saw this and imagined that: light — starbound in the branches of trees.

There is beauty to be found in the mystery of the trees. And there are many that have written me back, reflecting on the character of their experience — with, and in, trees. To each, their own.

In walking in them, being with them, we are drawn back to the heart of something that brings us back to our beginnings, in the center of nature, awash with oxygen, scent of fertility, the lush green light, the sound of rustling, the quivering life of birds that gambol the broad reach of them.

The poet Mary Oliver [Thirst] shares:

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

When I contemplate that, I meditate on the ancient conceptions — the archetypes — of trees. And in photographing this last week (above), a seasonally lit tree in NYC, shooting through, to the full moon encased above, I think about their symbolism. The tree that holds up the world.

This idea is about a symbolic vision of the world that is held together, in the layers of experience, between the realm beneath — the underworld; the platter of the earth — the middle earth; and finally, the mantle above — the sky, the mantle of heaven.

This concept expresses the layering of meaning of what we see, and what might lie beneath: the symbolic world. Symbol is a word that is about 1800 years old. Probably older…

Going backwards in time, exploring the etymology, the etymon– the true meaning; it goes like this: circa 1434, it was a “creed, summary, religious belief,” from Late Latin, symbolum “creed, token, mark,” from Greek — symbolon as a “token, watchword” (applied around 250 by Cyprian of Carthage to the Apostles’ Creed, on the notion of the “mark” that distinguishes — in a symbolic device — Christians from pagans), from syn– “together” + stem of ballein “to throw.” The sense in the evolution of its use is “throwing things together” to “contrasting” to “comparing” to the framing of a “token used in comparisons to determine if something is genuine.” Hence, the “outward sign” of something. The meaning “something which stands for something else” first recorded 1590 (in “Faerie Queene”). Symbolic, as a reference in use, is attested from 1680.

So it’s an old word. The idea is about a gathering, a link, a connection, a thread. And that symbolism is in the heart of the tree in the imaginings of humankind.


The tree of the world is called: Yggdrasill, Axis Mundis, World Tree, Cosmic Pillar, Center of the World.

In one of my earlier notes, I’d referenced drawing this concept for my father’s office (he, too, being a lover of trees) in 1979. This was Yggdrasill, hand-drawn and silkscreened on in a grouping of 4 panels, two by four foot Lexan:


This idea is ubiquitous. It’s not merely something that links to specific parts, peoples, or forms of spirituality of the world consciousness, but rather something that is found, literally, everywhere.

These, and more.

The Nordic World Ash: Yggdrasill

The Mahameru temple site, Bali, tree of the world, Indonesia

The world pillar symbolized: Kang Rinpoche, Mount Kailas, Tibet

The Celtic World Oak, the tree of answers: quercus

The Aztec World Tree of Life

The Tree of Life of the Egyptians

The Assyrian Tree of Life

The Christian Tree of Life

The Tree of Life, Wat Xiang Tong, Luang Prabang, Laos

I believe that the concept of the tree, as a symbolic archetype, captures the spirit of enclosure and giving; it is about protection and nourishment, it is shade, housing, temple. It is a teacher of patterning, of strength, of roots and stability in placemaking. And, in a way, it is likely the reasoning for why, and how, we can come to even creating place for ourselves.

The architectural theorist and designer, Juhani Pallasmaa: “the tree … is also one of mankind’s most common and meaningful symbols – take the Cosmic Tree, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Fertility, the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of the Soul, the Tree of History and the Sacrificial Tree. These diverse associations are hidden in the shape of the tree and even today add dimension to our relations with wood. The tree is man’s shape and we feel it our equal”.

Story told: beauty unfold: meaning bold.

tsg | nyc