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.


Th­ese trees are on­ly about a hun­dred years old; they’ll get lots big­ger.

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.

The Hidden Life of Trees

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.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy. No live video, sor­ry.

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June 19, 2018
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