Walt Whitman, who considered trees the most profound teachers in how to best be human, remembered the woman he loved and respected above all others as that rare person who was “entirely herself; as simple as nature; true, honest; beautiful as a tree is tall, leafy, rich, full, free — is a tree.”
At the outset of what was to become the most challenging year of my life, and the most difficult for the totality of the world in our shared lifetime, I resolved to face it like a tree — a resolution blind to that unfathomable future, like all resolutions and all lots, tend to be, but one that made it infinitely more survivable. I was not the only one. Humans, after all, have a long history of learning resilience from trees and fathoming our own nature through theirs: Hesse saw in them the paragon of self-actualization, Thoreau reverenced them as cathedrals that consecrate our lives, Dylan Thomas entrusted them with humbling us into the essence of our humanity, ancient mythology placed them at its spiritual center, and science used them as an organizing principle for knowledge.
Artist and author Corinna Luyken draws on this intimate connection between the sylvan and the human in The Tree in Me (public library) — a lyrical meditation on the root of creativity, strength, and harmony, with a spirit and sensibility kindred to her earlier emotional intelligence primer in the form of a painted poem.
Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s timeless and transformative mindfulness teachings, which she first encountered long ago in the character-kiln of adolescence and which profoundly influenced her worldview as she matured, Luyken considers the book “a seedling off the tree” from the great Zen teacher’s classic tangerine meditation — the fruition of her longtime desire to make something beautiful and tender that invites the young (and not only the young) to look more deeply into the nature of the world, into their own personality and its magnificent interconnectedness to all of nature. After years of incubation, a spare poem came to her after many trials that landed far from her vision. Paintings grew out of the words. A book blossomed.