Contemplating a Tree as Thou by Ellyn Sanna

As I've been re-reading the Abaloc books that our sister imprint, CandleWood Books, just released, I've been struck that these are quite different from today's children's books. The Abaloc books were originally published about 40 years ago, and the childhood world they portray reminds me of my own more than my children's. Today's young readers are also used to the breathtaking, cliff-hanging plot structures that J.K. Rowling made the norm, whereas Jane's books are often as slow as summer vacation used to be when I was a kid, filled with sunlit moments, embedded with loveliness that points always toward something more, something deeper. 

These moments can slip by without the reader noticing, but I like to think they are like glowing, fertile seeds that drift slowly deeper into the reader's mind, settling into the rich detritus of the unconscious where they send out a sprout here, a leaf there, so gradually, so quietly that by the time you notice the tree that's grown, it seems as if it's always been there, tall and green and deeply rooted in the background of your awareness.

One of those quiet, shining moments (and speaking of trees) is found in the simple two lines of conversation from The Change Child that's shown on this image. It makes me think of Martin Buber's thoughts on a tree . . . finding the eternal You within the relation of I and Thou to be found with a tree:

I contemplate a tree. I can accept it as a picture: a rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of blue silver ground. I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, thriving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and airand the growing itself in the darkness. 

I can assign it to a species and observe it as an instance, with an eye to its construction and its way of life. I can overcome its uniqueness and form so rigorously that I recognize it only as an expression of the lawthose laws according to which a constant opposition of forces in continually adjusted, or those laws according to which the elements mix and separate. 

I can dissolve it into a number, into a pure relation between numbers, and eternalize it. Throughout all of this the tree remains my object and has its place and its time span, its kind and condition. But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, then as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. The power of exclusiveness has seized me.

Whatever belongs to the tree is included: its form and its mechanics, its colors and its chemistry, it conversation with the element and its conversation with the starsall this in its entirety. 

The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, no aspect of a mood; it confronts me bodily and has to deal with me as I must deal with itonly differently. One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity. Does the tree then have consciousness, similar to our own? I have no experience of that. But thinking that you have brought this off in your own case, must you again divide the indivisible? What I encounter is neither the soul of a tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself.

In every sphere, through everything that becomes present to us, we gaze toward the train of the eternal You; in each we perceive a breath of it; in every You we address the eternal You, in every sphere according to its manner. (From I and Thou by Martin Buber, 1923)