THE RUSTLING OF LEAVES

As the seasons turn and the harvest moon is rising, the trees come centre stage with their annual extravaganza of beauty in fruit, berries and multi-coloured leaves. Poet J Kilmer declared,

“I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.”

At the far end of the garden, the apple trees are shedding a donation of fruit for the wildlife creatures, and nearby, the silver birch, home to a family of squirrels hisses in the quickening breeze with an invitation to come to the feast. It is not a lament at the end of summer, but a susurrant message to indulge in the generous supply ahead of the fallow season. Stationary and grounded they may be, but the treescapes around us are in constant motion, responding to the seasons, the shifting weather patterns and environmental changes. As living, developing entities, they constantly bestow huge benefits on the well-being of the planet that we share with myriads of species. The calming effect of resting in the serene presence of a massive, ancient oak has been well documented, and a woodland amble can provide great de-stressing therapy.

Imagine dancing through a leafy wood to the lilting music of the chorus, based on Isaiah 55v12.

“You shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace,
and the mountains and the hills shall break forth
before you. There’ll be shouts of joy
and the trees of the field shall clap,
shall clap their hands.”

The sound of clapping may not be as fanciful as it seems. Firstly, it confers a paean of praise on the Creator who does all things well, but also, in arboreal terms, it may be symbolic of the unique sounds that emanate from different types of trees as the wind passes between the leaves. Sensitive sound recordings now reveal how varied and distinctive are these songs of nature. The pine trees whisper as the northern air flows crisply over the needles, as if sending secret messages from pine to pine. The Aspen quivers at the slightest sigh of passing breath, trembling, so they say, since the pot of gold was stolen from the end of the rainbow and hidden in some nameless tree. Or legend will suggest that the Aspen with its upwardly stretched branches was the only tree not to bow its head in sorrow as the Son of God passed beneath it, bearing his cross.

These are folk tales of course, composed to celebrate the wonder of our great sentinels, standing for hundreds of years as generations of humanity come and go. There is, however, a remarkable account of how God used the voice of Balsam trees to win a battle. King David was charged with defeating the marauding Philistines who constantly devastated the security and resources of his nation. In 2 Samuel ch.5, David enquires of the Lord for favour and for advice on battle tactics. The Lord answered David, “Do not go straight up, but circle round behind them and attack them in front of the Balsam trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the Balsam trees, move quickly because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.”

David obeyed and the enemy was routed. He did not question the instructions. Probably David had stood beneath the cover of Balsam tress many times, listening to the sound of marching feet as the wind swept over the branches, discerning whether the trees were simply practising their strange battle songs, or indeed warning him of real and impending danger.

When a summer storm felled a towering pine tree, it was dislodged from its precarious, but long-term stance over rocks beside a river, much to the sorrow of its admirers. Yet, prone as it lay, the tree did not die. Year after year, fresh greening along its horizontal structure would be followed, amazingly, by the production of cones in the later season. How was this possible? Then it was discovered that prior to the storm, two long healthy roots had snaked downwards through a cleft in the rock to convey fresh supplies of nourishment.

When the storms of life topple the substance of our plans and dreams, or even our health and well-being, where are our roots? Where are the resources? Jesus is our Rock of Ages, cleft for us. So, are we still drawing constantly on the river of life that flows from the foot of the cross of Christ, in whom is life eternal?

Iris Niven