Aspen Trees - watercolor by Waitsel Smith. To order prints, click here.
Tall Tree with Vines in Autumn - photograph by Waitsel Smith. I took this at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It reminds me of something from Lord Of The Rings. To order prints, email me.
Ride Through the Forest - watercolor by Waitsel Smith. To order prints, email me.
Maple Tree in Autumn
Oak Tree in Winter - old photo
Drawing of a Tree in Winter
I think this is a Texas live oak, and really old - I've seen some with limbs so heavy they had to prop them up.
Gorgeous Crabapple Tree with Red Blossoms
Cherry Trees in Spring
Three Beauties, beeches, that Joyce Kilmer would appreciate
Oak Forest - Trees truly are God's living architecture. This is a cathedral.
A Giant - This would make a good treehouse tree. It reminds me of the treehouse tree at Walt Disney World, and from Disney's Swiss Family Robinson.
Austrian Pine (pinus nigra) - JRR Tolkien's favorite tree
300-Year-Old Oak from JRR Tolkien's home at Bagend
God's Living Architecture
by Waitsel Smith
When Joyce Kilmer wrote "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree," I know just what he meant. Only, to me, a tree is more than just a poem: it is living architecture, under which I would not be averse to spending the rest of my life. In that regard, I envy Tarzan, Robin Hood and every boy who climbs into one. I love going to the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, where you can see some of the largest and oldest trees in the world. I feel loss and even anger when I see a tree destroyed for no apparent reason. Yes, I love trees.
I love their shape, pattern and texture - their character, if you will. It's not the leaves so much, although I do love them; but mostly, it's the trunk, limbs, branches and twigs that have fascinated me since boyhood. A tree is like a muscular body rising from the earth and reaching with its fingers into the clouds. The trunk grips the earth with tenacity, anchoring the tree and absorbing nutrition from the soil beneath. A complex system of veins and arteries run through it, carrying that nutrition from the deepest roots to the highest tip of the tiniest leaf. A tree is a mysterious world into which a person might climb and live happily, at least in his mind.
I'm intrigued by the opposites that exist in a tree: strength in the trunk and limbs; but then delicacy in the branches, twigs and leaves. When I look at a tree, I see God. I see His strength, majesty and perseverance; but then I also see His love, patience and tenderness.
The fact that birds and other creatures make their homes in trees makes them seem even more fascinating. I once watched a mother bird coaxing her babies out of their nest onto the surrounding branches of a cherry tree outside my windows. Using food as an enticement, she patiently lured each to the end of a branch, and then watched as they flew away, never to return to her again. It was touching and sad.
Every spring, that cherry tree would burst into a blizzard of pink blossoms outside my windows. It was one of God's special graces in my life. A few years later, the tree surgeon's saw cut the cherry tree down, and I knew it was time to find a new place to live.
Whenever I see someone chopping away at a tree, it's as if they were destroying part of my own life. Somehow, I feel responsible for the trees in my life. I love them because, for whatever reason, God has allowed me to appreciate all the time and effort that went into making them. And I appreciate all the history older trees have "seen" - their "wisdom," if you will. I feel like, somehow, they connect us with God.
Every tree has its own personality. CS Lewis actually described the trees in his children's book, Prince Caspian, as if they were people: "[Lucy] knew exactly how each of these trees would talk if only she could wake them, and what sort of human form it would put on. She looked at the silvery birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face, and fond of dancing. She looked at the oak: he would be a wizened, but hearty old man with a frizzled beard and warts on his face and hands, and hair growing out of the warts. She looked at the beech under which she was standing. Ah! – she would be the best of all. She would be a gracious goddess, smooth and stately, a lady of the wood."
JRR Tolkien also loved trees. His favorite was the Austrian pine. In Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, his trees come alive and form an army to fight against the evil Mordor. There has always been something magical about trees. They aren't just plants. In many cases, they are the oldest living thing around. They tie the earth to the sky. They are the ones that reveal the presence of the wind, and announce a coming storm. They surround our homes, protecting us from the brunt of the storm. They give us their blossoms in spring, their shade in summer, their fruit in autumn. They truly are wonders.
I bought my first Christmas tree this year. It was a beautiful, nine-foot Frazier fir from the mountains of North Carolina. I almost hated to decorate it, I liked it so much just as it was. It drank about a quart of water a day for the first month, and then a pint a day for the next several weeks. It lasted almost two months. I hated to get rid of it, but for that brief period, I had a real tree living inside my home. It was like having a little piece of forest right in my living room. How happy I was.
My favorite trees are the big muscular ones, like beeches and oaks; but I also love wispy, delicate firs and lacy, smooth cherries. Evergreens hold a special lure, because they remind me of the mountains. Apple trees are funny, walnut trees scary, palm trees exotic, cedars primitive, maples dreamy, birches austere.
When I walk beneath and among trees, I feel like I'm walking in a cathedral. Their trunks are the pillars, their branches the beams, their leaves the carvings on the walls. They're beautiful and inspiring - God's living cathedrals.
Here is Joyce Kilmer's poem, "Trees," which pretty much says it all:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's 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 whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
That is an expression of love, not just for trees, but for God. Conversely, trees are just one of the many ways God has said to us, "I love you." Hallmark cards has nothing on Him.
Waitsel Smith, January 20, 2008
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page.]
Nice...love the watercolor. Thanks for sharing.
- Tammy, Georgia USA
Thanks for your article about Trees, Biltmore is truly a beautiful place! I wondered if you had heard the 2 part interview of Douglas Gresham in light of the upcoming Prince Caspian release. It was done by Harvest Today. Mr. Gresham's testimony of Christ took my breath away, thought you might like to hear it.
- Paul, North Carolina USA
A tree hugger eh? I've been accused of that many times. Did you go to the Treehouse exhibition at Botanical Gardens? Maybe you see that as despoiling them. Trees are the only thing I can draw, very badly.
Thank you for sharing you joy in one of God's special natural blessings.
Love the pictures.
- Pat, Georgia USA
*this is awesome!!!
- jg, Georgia USA
Great article on trees; it should be published. You should send it in to the Sierra Club, the Arbor Day folks, or some other place like that, and they'd probably put it in their magazine. I feel the same way when I seen trees being cut down. I almost feel like people should have to get a permit before they can cut down a tree (but that would be more government intrusion on our freedom).
Trees point us toward heaven in their upward pursuit of God's light; they remind me that I should be striving to grow in the same direction. I need to grow vertically and horizontally, but I spend too much time on the horizontal plane of existence.
We can learn so much from trees and their perseverance in the face of storms and other attacks. I've attached a poem/song that I wrote to encourage my wife when she was going through a hard time a few years ago. It's about a tree I saw in Ireland that was shaped by the almost constant wind it faced on a cliff overlooking the sea. It could withstand fierce storms better than our straight tall trees here in GA. In Christ,
- Herschel, Georgia USA
I have just found your site and such beautiful writing about the incredible tree. EVERY last thing you have said about your love of trees is exactly the same way I feel. I adore them and it kills me to see people destroy them even to carve initials into their trunks and your right it is God's way of saying "I love you".
I just love your page. I teach my children to hug them rather than brake them and I actively encourage all others to do the same, as it is so good for the soul, and my favorite time to sit under a tree is in the evening when it's quiet and warm and all you can hear is the leaves just about blowing in the summer breeze................I LOVE THEM!!!!!!
Thank you so much for your page it has cheered me up.
Thanks for all your great comments!
Text © 2008 Waitsel Smith. Photos © various sources. All Rights Reserved.