At the time of this encounter, I and my family lived in Three Rivers, California, about one mile from the north entrance to Sequoia National Park. On January 1, 2000, we and friends visiting for the holiday decided to visit the park. Perhaps all the furor surrounding Y2K and the potential end of civilization made it seem like a good idea to see some things that were not vulnerable to the vagaries of the internet and the availability of electricity. Living things that had been around for thousands of years without any help from us. Big, ancient trees.
We visited General Sherman. Huge, magnificent, and inspiring. Lots of people around.
We climbed up to Morro Rock. There is a tree that grows from the rock (not a sequoia) that has an awesomeness all its own.
Then we decided to walk the Congress Trail.
The trees on this trail aren’t as old or as monstrous as General Sherman (one of the oldest things and the single largest living thing on Earth by mass..with the possible exception of the mycelium of fewer than a handful of fungi) but there are a lot of them and they’re massive in their own right, so it’s an inspiring walk. Because the forest floor muffles sound so effectively, it’s also quiet. Not eerie quiet. Kind of like the quiet you get when there’s a layer of new-fallen snow on the ground…living…holy…mystic…peaceful. Even our boisterous friends seemed to simmer down in the presence of these mighty elders.
As we walked through this ancestral grove, I sensed a tree calling to me. Not by name, but by spirit. I don’t know how else to explain it but a wordless calling. Heeding that call, I did what you’re absolutely not supposed to do here (in order to protect these living treasures)…I stepped off the path and walked right up to that tree. I looked up its trunk…so tall, it touched the sky. I stretched my arms around it as far as they’d go and laid my cheek against its rough, fibrous red bark.
In return, that majestic living being instantly filled me with a tremendous rush of joy. Not a rush as in “headrush.” A rush like a firehose, like a tsunami. No. Not like those at all, though every bit as powerful and then some. It was so gentle, so tender, as if it knew me personally and really wanted to take this opportunity to share some of itself that day. A rush like a magnificent fountain…a fountain of joy.
It started in my feet and rose through me from bottom to top, cleansing me, opening me, filling me. I drank it like a thirsty creature in a desert. It filled me to overflowing. I was done. So done. I became the fountain, and I could feel joy pulsing through me like a force of nature, pouring out the top of my head and crashing back to the forest floor beneath my feet. Tears streamed down my face as I laughed and sobbed uncontrollably.
In a few moments, I was changed forever by the revelation of the joy this generous creature had accumulated in its thousands of years of life on Earth.
There she stood, right where she had sprouted millennia earlier. She had seen uncountable moments of life in her own forest and though she had never moved, she had been alive and aware, standing witness to the rises and falls of many civilizations near and far. She had been a friend to indigenous people and to countless other living creatures. She had borne children and survived many a fire, a storm, a logger’s blade, and who knows what else. This joy not only stood the tests of time but grew and magnified with every passing moment. The tree’s gratitude for every second of her life was intense, indomitable, insurmountable…as deep and profound as the ocean of God’s love, as infinite and boundless as the night sky.
I was breathless as my tree destroyed and then surpassed my previous understanding of joy. She took my understanding of kismet (the will of God) to an entirely new level. I had experienced it before, but this was an entirely new and far more powerful experience of what Rumi called “fanaa,” the evanescence of the soul as it dies to self and is filled, replaced with the eternal, mysterious divine…touching, melding with, becoming one with the ineffable presence of The One. The Creator. The Living God. Oh yeah. All I had ever desired came to me in one wordless embrace.
My husband spotted it first and gave the others a heads up. “Look out, everyone, Hannah just got filled with the Holy Spirit!!” I stumbled, swooning, back onto the path, ran to him, and threw my arms around his shoulders as we walked. The tears dried on my cheeks and the laughter turned to an alert yet peaceful sense of being. We walked through the forest back to our car and drove home.
Now I think of that tree almost every day, remembering the powerful fountain of joy she poured through me. She didn’t reveal her name and I didn’t want to be disrespectful by giving her one, but I know we will recognize each other when we meet again. And on that day I will feel her calling to me as it did all those years ago. I will run up and fling my arms around her massive trunk again. I will look up at her grandeur and touch the sky. And perhaps I will even be able to show my dear, beloved old friend how much her fountain of joy taught me about the joy of life…and the importance of sharing that joy along the way. For now, I’m praying my friend will survive the fire that’s burning near her now.