We tend to think fences make “good neighbors” – they are in effect walls which define the property line for both parties but provide no visual interest and, surprisingly, little noise dampening. Each of us ‘comes with’ a range of senses and fences are uninteresting (especially as they are usually straight lines) and therefore our other senses are heightened so that we hear noises beyond the fence more clearly – even smells become more intrusive.
What our senses strongly respond to are multiple ‘inputs’, especially when they are within our own home space, enabling each of those senses to focus ‘locally’. The sound of falling or trickling water is a powerful attraction to all our senses but the most enticing is shadow. Shadow created by a tree canopy is the most interesting of all to our visual senses. Our audio sense comes alive when winds move through leaves, our sense of smell picks up the fragrance from flowers and beneficial chemicals, we notice seasonal variations and the sense of time that comes with tree longevity. All of these, together create the most fascinating of all senses – wonder.
When the sense of wonder is awoken as we enter our outside spaces, we immediately ‘awaken’ our connection to nature – especially if the birds are singing! Even in the midst of a city experience, we will take time to recognize the changes of light and shadow as we move through spaces or sit for a while and simply notice. Trees, especially mature trees, evoke intuitively all our senses and so we minimize the city’s ‘call’. Instead, we are drawn into the ‘now’ which is around us, and as a unique experience, above us.
When we raise our sight upward to the tree and we see shadow and sky, this takes us ‘away’ from the human experience around us. We notice the form of the trunk and limbs which carry the branches that hold their leaves out to the sun but let the light pass through in multiples of ever-changing patterns.
We see this when we lay a baby comfortably beneath the sunlight passing through a canopy, and the child – if it’s not hungry! – becomes very quiet as its eyes follow the dappled forms. And as adults, we remember that experience somewhere within us, even if we cannot ‘name it’.
And then there are the multiple greens, even within a single tree. Older leaves are often darker as the more recently emerging young leaves ‘learn’ to absorb more light. Reds and yellows of autumn reveal that green is only one color within the leaf and these changes ‘inform’ us that winter is approaching.
Those of us who have seen trees go into winter dormancy and watched them for many months ‘weather’ the freezing winds, carry loads of wet snow, and yet come warmer weather be ready to grow again, are left in wonder at how does this living entity have both the knowledge and the resources to adapt to such climatic extremes. We continue to be left wondering. That is a tree’s gift to us, and that gift is ever ‘present’.