I introduced Ferron to the Song of the Day a couple weeks back with Bellybowl, and I’d like to use her beautiful The Return in this closing focused-on-the-divine sequence, to help talk about my own experience of worship.
But first, the song. The melody sways back and forth like the willow tree in the words, and the voice ambles through those words, pausing in unlikely places as the tree bends. And those lyrics: They mostly don’t parse into coherent sentences but Ferron knows what she’s doing and there’s no doubt where she’s aiming. Also, the harmonies are gorgeous and the arrangement is approximately perfect.
But that tree is what made me want to fit The Return into this series, because trees and worship go together in my mind. Worship inhabits the human emotional repertoire, along with anger, desire, joy, and the rest. People have fallen into religious faith because they visited a place, for example the exquisite cathedral at Chartres, that reliably provokes in humans that feeling, worship. There’s nothing wrong with the sensation: That you’re in the presence of something much, much greater than yourself, for which reverence is appropriate. I’ve been to Chartres twice and its beauty and grandeur so seized me that I had trouble breathing.
But I think there’s a potential category error, because when you’re feeling that, it’s the church you’re reacting to. It’s common for people who are feeling worshipful to transfer that feeling to an object of faith, an unseen deity. Living as I do in the Pacific Northwest, it’s an easy and regular experience to be in the presence of entities worthy of worship; living entities. I’m talking of course, of our great upreaching rain-fed trees, which may weigh a million kilograms and exceed fifty meters in height. They are bigger, stronger, longer-lived, and less-worried than you are.
Feeling reverent around trees also has the advantage that they’re not metaphors for anything that is said to be twitchily concerned about how and with whom you deploy your genitals, or whose intercedents will require some of your cash to support their lifestyles. Ferron’s tree is a willow but I think she was deploying that name for its sound. Around me, it’s the Douglas Fir, Red Cedar, Hemlock, and (especially) Big-Leaf Maples that constitute the forest temples, and not to anything but themselves.
I’d like to take a little side-trip and mention The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, translated from the German. It’s a slim, highly readable volume that talks about what the title says. A lot of that hidden part of their lives happens underground, among the roots and soil microbiomes. If you are given to feeling worshipful in forests, you will gobble up this book and smile regularly, reading it.
I don’t think Ferron’s being metaphorical either; A walk in the woods leaves me feeling stronger and more balanced. There’s strength to be taken, you just have to look and listen.