Cemetery Musings: Trees

A musing is defined in the dictionary as “a product of contemplation; a thought”.  As I wander through cemeteries, I am often thinking about the stones above the ground and the individuals that lie beneath. Why that epitaph, that symbol, that style of writing? These are just some of the “cemetery musings” that cross my mind.

Have you ever noticed the trees in a cemetery?  I love the large, old trees that inhabit many ancient cemeteries. They are always so large, twisted and interesting in nature, typically reaching up into the sky with arms that overshadow the stones below.  Why do you think they grow this way?

Some say it is because the roots reach into the soil below, feeding from the decomposition of the bodies they shelter.  Others believe it is because they are protected in a cemetery, free from interference by the things that usually affect trees; electrical wires, water/sewer lines, etc. Depending on the cemetery’s location the tree may have too much or too little light, causing them to bend and twist. The trees that inhabit a cemetery all have one thing in common, long-term stability. They are allowed to live until they die of old age, often only being marred by weather,  root damage from grave digging, and unintentional side-effects of lawn maintenance (bark injury, limb removal, overwatering).

I am always amazed by the massive size and girth of the trees that live and thrive in cemeteries. I often see them as bearers of awesome power and carriers of many untold stories of what has passed under their limbs. If only we could tap into them and learn what they have witnessed.  What story would they tell us? Would the mighty oak, standing tall, tell a different story than the gnarled and twisted maple?

Sometimes the trees tell a different story, bearing strange bumps or growths that resemble a human face. I often wonder at this. What caused it? Why is it there? Could it be a trapped soul or just a flaw in the tree? The scientific community would call this anthropomorphism, the recognition of people-like characteristics in animals, plants or non-living things. The spiritual community may look at it much differently; more akin to the questions I posed earlier, believing the tree to harbor the essence or soul of the departed.

I have seen many types of trees within the cemeteries I’ve walked. Some stand large and tall while others are twisted and seem to reach across the land. There have been cemeteries with many trees and some with only a few. At times, the trees have taken over and appear to be eating the stones which they once guarded.

In the presence of these trees, I always take a moment to stop and place my hand on their mighty trunks, hoping to feel the heartbeat of the tree. At this moment, I am calm and at one with whatever the tree may tell me.

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