Climbing Trees

I grew up at the edge of Springfield, Illinois, across the street from open spaces, an active farm with cattle and corn growing in a field that adjoined the pasture. Beyond the farm was a forest, and another forest lay a few houses away from the north side of our house. After a few years the farm died but the fields remained, and the fields and forests were great places to explore and play in. I loved one tree in particular; its branches grew in a way that made it perfect for climbing. When I was nine or ten I would climb it nearly to the top, which was as high as the roofline of our house, and when storms were coming and the wind picked up, I liked getting as close to the top as I could, holding on when the tree began lashing back and forth. I was able to get away with this because my parents had lots of other, younger kids to herd and were often distracted.

Though I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, the tree was my introduction to philosophy and a sense of deep mystery, of something sacred. I loved reading about science and had recently learned that we can only see part of the full spectrum of light. Looking at the tree one day I realized that I really couldn’t see all of it; there were colors poured out there that were beyond my vision. Then I realized that I could see the tree from only one angle, that of a small boy. If I moved a few feet the branches took on a different configuration. If I were a...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.