Celebrating Trees From Roots to Leaves

maple symbolizes nature continuum by kloniwotsky, flickr

The changing colors of leaves on the trees signal the arrival, once again, of autumn. Both the cycle of life and the continuum of nature are stunningly displayed at this beautiful time of year. When leaves turn brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange, they create vivid landscapes, lighting up the scenery. The U.S. New England region is especially inspiring at this time of year, but all over the country people love to take road trips, just to enjoy the sight of colorful foliage. Some people are inspired by the colorful leaves, collecting and creatively using them in various arts and crafts projects.

Trees Have Symbolic Roots, Too

There are many different types of trees, each with uniquely beautiful features, and functions serving the environment. Providing shelter and nourishment, they offer comfortable habitats for a wide variety of species, including humankind. But, in many cultures, trees offer more than this — they have artistic, symbolic, and spiritual significance, as well. For example, one of the favorite trees in the U.S. autumn is the blazing red Japanese Maple. In Japanese culture, these blazing leaves are revered as Japan’s “Hallmark of Autumn,” symbolically representing peace and balance.

Another amazingly vibrant harbinger of autumn is the oak tree, one of the most ancient and durable trees in the world. In many cultures the oak is considered sacred, symbolic of strength, wisdom, and immortality. Historically, oak has been used in building, making furniture, and many traditional medicinal uses have been found in the bark. With its thick branches extended out, and covered with bright orange and yellow leaves, the oak is a truly majestic sight at this time of year.

oak by stiller beobachter flickr

The concept of the Tree of Life is familiar in Christianity, but has been present in other religions and cultures of the world for thousands of years. There is perhaps no better symbol than a tree for representing the interconnectedness of all living things with the Divine. With their ancient ages, deep roots, and outstretched canopies of leaves, trees are widely recognized as symbols of wisdom, strength, and protection.

A Buddhist Symbol of Nature’s Continuum

One of the major teachings in Buddhism is that everything in life continually changes. Everything is impermanent, and the cycle of life is in constant flow. Nature offers a perfect understanding of this Buddhist perspective. With storms, earthquakes, and the coming and going of different seasons, the environment is in a constant flow of life. This is especially true in autumn. As autumn progresses, the weather cools, and leaves flow through a wide variety of colors, eventually drifting away on a breeze.

A fig tree native to India and Southeast Asia, the Bodhi tree, is considered sacred in Buddhism, and finds significance in Hinduism and Jainism, as well. Derived from the legend of the Buddha, the Bodhi is revered as the tree of enlightenment. They are planted outside of Buddhist temples and are considered as reminders to show kindness to all living things.

A Buddhist sutra on trees states:

“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life and activity; it affords protection to all beings.”

A Season of Beauty and Sadness

Traditionally, autumn is the harvest season in rural, agricultural regions. Even in urban settings, the continuum of life, from birth through harvest, is apparent in the changing cycle of the trees. There is both beauty and sadness in this season. While immersed in the glorious vibrancy of color, a sadness creeps in on the cold wind. A feeling of melancholy settles with the falling leaves.

However, the falling leaves are just another stage in Mother Nature’s cycle. Just as for the leaves, autumn represents a time of releasing, of letting go. Autumn is the season that shows us impermanence. Trees in autumn are so inspiring, they continually secure their special place in human literature, art, and spirituality. Branches become bare, giving the landscape a barren look. However, many things in nature die so that there can be a rebirth in the next season. Far from barren, trees can live for hundreds of years, making them timeless symbols of renewal, perfect representatives of the continuum of Nature.

dogwood tree by mandi flickr

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.