I have probably mentioned how much I love the Morton Arboretum. It is an amazing place all year round – nature never disappoints in its variety, beauty, and ability to inspire… and I think I have an idea as to why that is.
We are all the culmination of the history of all that has come before us and our families and ancestors have passed down stories from the dawn of human history… and those tales, fables, and myths all came from somewhere. Stories that have been passed down (and, in many cases, evolved) over time are a record of our history.
Some are fact and some are lesson – and some are both. One thing they all have in common is that they were created by people based on their personal experiences and then relayed by people who learned from those experiences and experienced their own evolution of telling by people who found themselves facing new challenges.
All those stories effectively contain the experiences of our human history – our humanity - the joys, the fears, the struggles, the discoveries… all the experiences of all those who came before us… experiences presented within a framework of the events of the time.
Those stories help us glean the nature of humanity as it struggled to understand the world around it, but the larger world around humanity is older than humanity itself and has endured, and survived, so much.
And that is what I call… The Magic of Nature...
Nature, the arboreal component, has been here longer than we have. It has sustained that which came before us and continues to sustain us.
Nature, the world around us, has not only sustained us but is also the longest running historical record we have access to… the single greatest physical influence on how we lived and, therefore, a significant influence (perhaps the greatest influence) on the way in which our perceptions of the world around us formed.
You likely know the basics of reading the rings of a tree – counting the years, spotting wet and dry seasons, and identifying things like disease. Now consider the fact that those who originally told the stories we’ve come to know as myth and fable also lived among those trees. Those trees were their source of shelter by supplying wood, food by supplying fruit, building and hunting prowess by supplying the basis for many tools and weapons, and on and on…
Those people, our ancestral families, the ones who imagined and relayed those stories – they saw life through the lens of being surrounded by nature all the time. They told those stories to explain life… life ‘in’ nature… to explain – nature.
Think about that for a moment.
In some areas we can still see the trees they saw – 100s, and in some cases 1000s, of years ago.
Everywhere else we see the nature that is the product of that ancient nature… we see the trees that are descendants of those trees… we see the river banks that were shaped by the struggles between eroding land and stationary roots of towering trees. We see the ground composed of felled trees which laid the foundation for future generations of trees – and us!
And among all that are the images glimpsed in the twilight that inspired the myths, the fables, and the stories that helped humanity make sense and survive to get us to today.
Now go out in nature and look around… see where the light cuts through the trees differently as the day and the year go by… see how it dances on the ground and the water… see how the world looks so different minute by minute, day by day…
You are a young child sent out to gather berries or wood – it is twilight on a summer day… it is just you – your parents are busy 200 yards away working on another task… you see… … you hear… … …what was that? Not to worry - you remember the stories your parents told you… the ones to warn, to inspire, to excite – and, yes, to entertain… but always with a whiff of life explanation… and you go about your task.
Now it is today – 2019. You are hiking in the woods. What do you see? What was that sound?
It is in these moments that all the old stories begin to make sense and come alive for me. That nature provides me the same context that my ancestors had – and my mind seeks the same explanations theirs sought.
What do you see in this image?
My son and I saw a knight – immediately and independently of one another, we both saw a knight studying his reflection in the lake…
I immediately saw so many things:
King Arthur – the Lady of the Lake raising the waters to greet him and offer Excalibur.
Sir Balin – kneeling at the lake in feigned reverence to draw her out for that fatal blow.
Sir Bedivere – come to return Excalibur to the lake.
King Arthur – wounded after the Battle of Camlan… the waters rising to offer him transport to Avalon.
Lancelot – perhaps returning to his adoptive home with tales of friendship, love, and betrayal... seeking a motherly embrace of comfort.
Nimue sending a knight on quest with hidden intent of manipulating events to lure Merlin in.
And that is the Magic of Nature.
We can be in basically the exact same environment as our ancestors were and, if we allow ourselves to see (physically and mentally) what they saw, we can experience those stories through their eyes… we can restore some of the original context to those stories… we can be magically transported to where those stories began… and then look forward from then to now… a perspective only available to us because the nature around us provides that magical enduring backdrop.
Here are a few other sightings around the arboretum – a dragon and a whale… in the middle of the woods.
Imagine how a young you, having wandered a little further than your parents said you should because you knew you were old enough to handle it, would have explained seeing that dragon… alone… in the twilight… all those years ago… if there was a storm with lightning and thunder… but you made it home safely in spite of that dragon… the dragon that could smell your fear... and see in the dark… but was too big clumsy among the woods with its horns and its wings outstretched to chase you at speed through the woods…
Of course, in the day light the dragon is frozen… but when the sun goes down he comes to life… doesn’t he? You saw him – he roared at you… so he must. He must be guarding some treasure… there must have been a powerful King who sent a brave knight on a quest to vanquish the dragon… but a magic spell must have locked them in eternal combat – only to be awakened into battle during the night – and to fall back into their frozen intermission by day so as not to reveal the location of the treasure to wanderers.
When you grew up and learned the truth but had children of your own, how would you relay the story to them before their first lone venture into the woods? Would you show them the stump on a clear day or perhaps make it a point to introduce them to it on a stormy night?
And that is the magic you can find at the Morton Arboretum... that is the Magic of Nature.