Saturday, December 26, 2015


Urban dwellers walk past trees, walk into trees, drive into trees, and appear to be unaware of the inherent sacredness of trees.  Penthouse condominiums feature trees in large planters to enhance living rooms.  The popular ficus lyrata (fiddle leaf fig) embellishes many bank lobbies.  Luxury residences plant trees for shade, on roof top gardens.  Of course, trees are still used to  make furniture.  The new Rolls Royce convertible has a wooden back panel, which hides the top.  There's even a wooden wristwatch in stores now.  Wood featured consumer products took off in the 1950s, with the introduction of a station wagon featuring wooden sides.  Instant fame and increased sales resulted from the "woody" being on the cover of a Beach Boys record album in Southern California.

It wasn't until the 1970s, with the birth of the environmental movement at Earth Day, that the general public became hip to the fact that trees play a critical role ecologically.  In part due to the collaboration of radical environmentalists with indigenous tribal groups, sacred rituals were enacted in the defense of Mother Earth, and trees were appreciated for their inherent sacredness.  Shoshone elder Corbin Harney taught this at protests at the Nevada Test Site.  This is historically predated by ancient vedic rituals, as defined in the Atharva Veda, India's collection of magical chants.  Tulsi and Neem leaves are used today for their healing properties in ayurvedic medicine.  In other traditions, there is the Tree of Knowledge, the sacred cedars of Lebanon (used for Egyptian shipbuilding), the tree Yggdrasil of Norse mythology (which coincidently, was the name of the tree that was occupied in the first Earth First! tree sit in the Pacific Northwest, by organizer Ron Huber, with Mike Jakubal in another tree nearby), and heaven knows that I would never leave the good christians out of this, so I'll cite the example of Jesus looking good on wood, (after which he beat the reaper and ascended).

In the spirit of "first thought best thought", this was composed at the Caffe Mediterraneum, following which I will proceed to People's Park to hug the tree which Zachary Running Wolf moved into, protesting the cutting down of oak trees to accommodate the expansion of the UC Berkeley athletic complex.  And finally, I will visit the redwood tree which my 1974 spiritually eclectic commune planted at the corner of Roosevelt and Allston Way in central Berkeley, CA.  That tree is ever growing girthwise, and the telephone company recently had to split the lines to accommodate the tree's skyward push, proving that in the end, nature bats last.

Craig Louis Stehr

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