in which I hug some cedar trees
You may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote about engaging in Lent. I thought I’d try and write a couple of short pieces about my expereiences with the Wild Lent activities. It’s been an interesting season, and I confess that I’ve struggled to find a rhythm with it in living so much on my own - but I do feel like I’ve been a little more alert to things at times within the season, and the book has definitely helped with that. At the beginning of Lent I’d gone through the Wild Lent book and identified a collection of things in that I wanted to try or thought I would be able to try - not with minimum effort but within the set up of what my life was going to look like in February and March. I did not anticipate three days of snow, I have to say. I knew I was going to be away for two weeks, on a work trip and then a holiday, so I tried to identify a few things that I would be able to try out while travelling, and then I took photos of the pages so I had them with me.
The first was ’Hug a Tree’, which I thought would be good as I was going to Lebanon and I knew I was going to have a chance to go and see some of the cedars of Lebanon while I was there. These cedars, cedrus libani, are native to the mountains of the Eastern Mediterranean. They can grow up to 40m and they can get really, really, old.
The Wild Lent book talks about the fact that trees are often older than you are and asks you to imagine both the fragility of their germination, from tiny seeds or cones, and vulnerability of their early years, and the length of their life, rooted in one place. The book has six themes: putting down, setting off, picking up, journeying on, into the wilderness and finding home. Hug a Tree has two themes related to it: putting down and journeying on. I chose putting down, which is a reflection on the rootedness of trees. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last while is my rootedness, not just in London but in my little part of London. My roots here don’t feel deep - they’re certainly not as deep again as the bit of my life that is visible from the outside. I have roots stretching back home to Cornwall, but they have to stretch a long way and can’t provide all the nurture that tree-me needs.
So on a Sunday in March I hopped in a car with a nice tour guide, and went off to Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve in Lebanon and spent some time with the trees.
These are two small cedars. The bigger one is about 30–40 years old, so, roughly the same age as me (the smaller is late teens-early 20s). It looks kinda spindly and a like it’s going to get bent in the wind. If you get close up to it and look close to the ground, you can’t quite tell which offshoots are roots and which are branches. It looks as confused as I often am about whether the connections I’m making are going to be deep roots, or branches that may keep on reaching out or may snap off.
This is me with a cedar tree that’s probably a few hundred years old. This is how far around it my arms would go when I gave it a hug and leant against it.
And this tree is around 2000 years old.It’s not the oldest still around but only a very few are older. You can shelter under it from a lot of things. It’s roots are visible for a little way before anchoring it deep.
Around the roots of the tree you can find lots of little plants sheltering next to it. In a battle between this tree and anything running along the road which it overhangs - the tree’s going to come off best. It probably won’t notice. You can see from this tree that when a cedar tree is ‘grown up’ it stops straining to be taller, and flattens off at the top. It gets wider and more solid instead. It’s sturdy and well rooted.
They stood at the edge of the Cedar Forest, marveling at the great height of the trees. They could see, before them, a well marked trail beaten by Humbaba as he came and went. Far off they saw the Cedar Mountain, sacred to Ishtar, where the gods dwell, the slopes of it steep, and rich in cedars with their sharp fragrance and pleasant shade. - Gilgamesh
In the epic of Gilgamesh Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel to the sacred Cedar Forest - and cut down the trees, taking the wood down to their city, including one huge tree to be the door of the city gate. The trees are to be marvelled at - and then used to support their human power, to provide security for their homes. Deforestation has happened for years: cedar wood from Lebanon provided materials for the temple of Solomon and the boats of the Phoenicians. I visited a lot of ruins while I was in Lebanon and Jordan in the last couple of weeks: the wood doesn’t remain, unless it’s been preserved in fairly miraculous circumstances, and even then it’s not useable or alive, and in the walls and door posts, temples and harbours only exist in ruins. And yet, high on the mountains there remain a very few trees as old as the ruins of human history. And they're still to be marvelled at. And hugged.