Wild city: Dreaming of trees

I had a dream recently that has me thinking about the significance of trees. In the dream I drive into a town, but can’t find a certain address. I take a turn and end up on a high cliff. I hear a terrific wind blowing on the other side.

At the edge of the cliff, and leaning outward, stands a cartoonishly high rocky outcropping, and on top of that is a large dead tree with hollowed-out holes in it.

Tucked into the top hole is a human house with a “for rent” sign out front. My thought in the dream is, “How in the world could anyone live up there?”

I shared the dream at a Jungian dream workshop in late May, and the facilitator said, “You have in your soul a great tree with open spaces,” and handed me “The Book of Symbols,” put out by The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism. It is a gorgeous book full of artwork and poetic essays on an array of images.

We are drawn to trees for many reasons, it suggests. Our ancestors lived in trees, for one. And people have buried their dead in trees. Reaching up to the sky as they do, trees are thought to create a bridge to the spirit world.

We identify bodily with trees. Like them we have trunks and limbs. According to the symbol book, “We and the tree seem alike, upright in the trunk, long-armed, slender-fingered, toeing the earth.”

In the workshop we were advised to gently tend to our dreams, to think of our personal and cultural associations with key images, and to wait for “ah ha” moments.

My dream, it seems, is about losing home and finding home, about safe harbor and danger. Given that I am finishing a book that I have lived in and with for years, and that I am in the so-called “empty nest” period of life with my husband now that our daughter is grown, the dream is rich in resonances for me.

A few years ago neighbors across the way cut down a mature white pine. I couldn’t believe it. I grew up in rural northern Minnesota, so a white pine means “home” to me. I would lie in the hammock and gaze up at it. That tree helped me feel like our city place was my place.

The symbol book says pines are the most ancient of all trees — they evolved earlier than deciduous trees. Individual pines are also the oldest living organisms we know.

The neighbor’s white pine had resided here longer than any of us; it had seniority. To cut it down to make room for a larger garage seemed to me like a crime, but I felt helpless to do anything about it.

My husband, who uses humor to calm me, suggested that we buy a tiny white pine in a pot and place it on the neighbor’s stoop with a note that said, “Happy Arbor Day. In 100 years I will look like the tree you cut down.”

Just a few weeks later, on our way across the yard after I’d picked my daughter up from school, she stopped a moment and said, “That tree looks funny.”

Sure enough, a large ash tree had split during the storm the night before and a substantial portion of it had fallen over on our house. In that position it appeared to be a much bigger, leafier tree than it had when it was upright. It splayed on our roof as if it had gotten tired and had leaned over to rest a spell.

After my husband and I had gone to bed, our daughter explained, she had sat in a living room chair reading. That chair was right smack in the corner of the house where the tree came down. It damaged the roof and the eave but did not break through the ceiling, thank God. She’d heard a big noise and thought it was a lightning strike somewhere.

We were so glad she wasn’t hurt. In the weeks afterwards, as I scrambled to engage and oversee insurance people and contractors, I began to forgive the neighbors for cutting down that large pine that had stood, yes, near their house.

The image that stays with me from our tree removal and house repair period is the view I had of our large ash being hoisted high in the air to get it over the power lines out front. From my vantage point I couldn’t see the arm of the hoist. I saw the tree itself levitate slowly toward the sky as if the idea of flying, rather than standing, had just then occurred to it.