Remember that famous Barbara Walters’ query she is rumoured to have posed to many of the celebrities she interviewed back in the 1980’s? I believe it was: “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?” And we all kind of thought she was wacky? Well it turns out Barbara may have been onto something. Though the real story of the question is a bit different than the lore, the legend lives on. Not to burst your bubble, but according to Cynthia Littleton in Variety, Walters apparently asked Katherine Hepburn what kind of tree she would be, after Hepburn “described herself as feeling like a very strong tree”. Hepburn’s reply was that she would “prefer to be an oak rather than an elm to avoid Dutch elm disease.”
Barbara’s alleged question came to mind this morning after reading something a friend posted on Facebook this morning. It is a response from Ram Dass, the famous American Spiritual teacher and author of “Be Here Now” to a question he received about judgment, self and otherwise. He provided a little parable in reply, which makes up the powerful quote that follows:
“….when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are…”
So, whether Barbara really asked the question or not, she should have. We do accept trees for what they are, whether they be spindly and weak, bent and misshapen, or strong and sturdy. Why don’t we appreciate people for what they are? Or for that matter, ourselves? As Ram Dass says: “You just allow it.” Allow, accept and permit: so easy in theory; so hard in practice.
In her poem, “If I Were A Tree”, Pamela Lutwyche partially answers Barbara’s rumoured question in her first three stanzas:
If I were a tree,
and someone made a swing on me,
I would enjoy their laughter./
I’d be big and strong
and help the day move along,
I would help the people breathe fresh air./
Birds could build their nests in my branches,
my leaves would be green and healthy./
Birds could lay their eggs
and new life would begin.
The poet does not answer the question of what kind of a tree she would be, just that if she were a tree, she would provide laughter, fresh air, a home to new life, and a new beginning. What more could one ask of a tree?
If I were a tree, I would choose to be a tall, strong coniferous, perched proudly on someone’s front lawn. I would be decorated at Christmas but never in danger of being cut down to grace a living room because I would be a crucial part of the landscaping of the homeowner’s property.
No article on trees would be complete without Joyce Kilmer’s 1913 poem called simply enough:
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree./
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;/
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray/
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;/
Upon who bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain/
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
(Poems provided in honour of April: official poetry month)
Okay–you know I am going to ask it: If you were a tree, what tree would you be?