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If you’ve read the little snippet of a bio that sits at the bottom of my blogs, you’ll already know that trees are important to me on a deeply fundamental level. I’m fortunate to live in a city that is closely bordered by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest region, with its beautiful melding of lush, summery deciduous trees, and the austere conifers of the Canadian Shield. I love them all.

No doubt this love exists largely because my childhood was so marked by the presence of trees. Some of my most visceral, sensory, early memories are of trees. The feel of running my hand down the rugged striations of elm bark, the smell of sticky grey flakes of spruce bark, the sound of aspen leaves shivering in the summer wind – all of these are evocative core memories for me. Not snapshot memories of a singular moment, but a deep, resonant Remembering that grew from being present with trees all year round in my formative years.

Certainly loving trees in a broad, identity-forming way is not unique to me. Lebanese people have identified themselves so strongly with their beloved cedars for millennia that the trees are mentioned in the same breath as Lebanon in multiple places in the Old Testament, and a cedar is the central motif in their country’s modern flag. My own country had a similar flag/identity approach, just with a maple instead of a cedar.

I not only love trees in the broad generic sense, but I love individual trees. Again, casting my memory back to childhood, I think of the sturdy, impossibly-bent tree at the top of the hill by our house, perfect for an easy climb, and smoothed by countless hours of young kids clambering into its thick branches.

I think of the tree that was so dear to my siblings and my cousins that we gave it a name: Pinecone Tree (flagrantly disregarding its identity as a spruce). Pinecone Tree was massive, and perfect for a challenging climb. Calculating now, my sisters and I realized that we used to scale that tree to perch about 75 feet in the air.

I think of the towering spruce trees that flanked our little country house. To me, they were so deeply tied to our home that even into my teens I had difficulty describing what our house looked like. It didn’t seem right, somehow, just explaining the shape and colours of the house on its own. Noting the building’s dimensions and siding was always less important than articulating how it was nestled in the trees.

And I’m also not unique in loving trees in this specific, individual way either. In the north of England, a single sycamore tree grew in a little valley beside Hadrian’s Wall for over 200 years. Like Pinecone Tree, it was so loved that it was named. “The Sycamore Gap Tree” was also sometimes known as “the Robin Hood tree” because it was famously featured in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It won the 2016 Tree of the Year award in England (what a wonderful award!).

But in late September 2023, for unfathomable reasons, a small group of men felled the Sycamore Gap Tree during the wee hours of the night. The news instantly went international. Podcasts were made. Petitions were launched calling for those responsible for the vandalism to receive the maximum possible sentence upon conviction. The world grieved this tree. I shed tears, and I had never even met this tree.

Although trees do not have senses in the way we define them, we have a way of conceptualizing trees as witness-bearers. A number of articles reflecting on the Sycamore Gap Tree’s demise used exactly that language — like this lovely piece, where the authors wrote that this sycamore “was for many THE tree—a perfect arboreal specimen located in a storied landscape that over the course of its centuries-long lifespan had borne witness to two world wars and countless other human acts of peace and violence, small and large.”

A few weeks ago, one of my siblings shared with our all-sisters chat group that she and her family had driven by our childhood home, on the way to visit our parents (who now live in town). She wrote, “Sad news, all the trees have been chopped down outside the old Barron residence. It made me cry. The thoughts that raced through my head were, ‘Wait, where’s our house? It’s supposed to be here. Did they put up a new house? No, they took out one of the windows. Wait, no. Why can I see this side of the house? The trees are gone!!!!’”

Like me back in my teens, she struggled with how to describe, or even how to see our old house in the absence of its trees. From our homes sprinkled across two provinces, we sisters grieved those beloved trees that had been witness-bearers to our childhood.

In another poignant article I read recently, the author observed the connection between how we mark time and how trees mark time. “When a tree is cut down, a beautiful design of repeating lines – tree rings – are exposed.  It’s almost magical to see how the tree has been counting the years up to that moment.  Despite all these varied circumstances, in the end, we – and the trees – are connected and bound by the same rules of time, a circle for each year.”

I think as humans, part of our connection with nature in general (and trees in particular), is that sense that we are somehow co-rememberers of life on Earth. And yet, in the midst of grief and loss, what we recognize in nature reinforces some of our most genuine, vulnerable understanding of what God is about. Hope. New growth. Even the most famous lamenter in scripture, Job, couldn’t help but mention the hope of trees in the midst of his despair:

‘For there is hope for a tree,
    if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
    and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
    and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth branches like a young plant. (Job 14:7-9)

Just a few days ago, the first successful seedling grown from seeds of the Sycamore Gap Tree was presented to King Charles. The tree will be planted in the Great Park at Windsor Castle, and will begin its own set of witness-bearing rings. For there is hope for a tree.

Kathryn Vilela

Kathryn Vilela lives in Kingston, Ontario, and is an enthusiastic amateur in many areas, including writing, theology, art, singing, Portuguese cooking, and being a mom. Kathryn is happiest when she’s in the middle of a good book, a good conversation, or a good hike through the forest.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Trees humanize us.

    • Kathryn Vilela says:

      Oh, they sure do. They round out our humanity and our “rootedness” in the earth in such a meaningful and necessary way.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Ken Medema’s “Tree Song” comes to mind to accompany this lovely meditation. Thank you for writing it.

    • Kathryn Vilela says:

      There’s another deep childhood memory! I could write pages and pages about The Memory of Music!

  • Tom Boogaart says:

    Judy and I returned from a short vacation, and I noticed something was amiss, something missing. The huge walnut tree across the street had been cut down. It was the largest walnut tree I had every seen, rising fifty feet high with a spreading canopy of at least forty feet. It grew up without competition and filled the sky. My world seemed smaller and more vulnerable. How do you lament a tree? We do not have a liturgy for it. Did the owners grow tired of the mess? Did they sell it for its valuable wood? Do I need to forgive them?

    • Kathryn Vilela says:

      Oh, ALL of these questions resonate with me. My sisters and I had that bitter taste of “why” as we reflected on the trees at our old home being cut down. They were mature trees, but healthy. If there was no good Why from the new owners (say: “we had them assessed by an arborist and they were on the verge of dying/coming down in a storm”), I honestly would struggle with that forgiveness.
      Smaller and more vulnerable – yes, I hear that. And there’s something about it happening in our absence that makes the emotion trickier, isn’t there. I was wondering this morning how differently my heart might feel if I had had the chance to say goodbye and thank-you to my trees.

  • Gloria J McCanna says:

    Your essay brought back many childhood memories. Thank you.
    And it reminded me of the picture I took of the 2000+ yr old olive tree on the road from Safed to Doar Na Ashrat in Israel.

    You may enjoy Basil Camu’s free ebook – From Wasteland to Wonder!

  • Cathy Smith says:

    This is simply lovely. Thanks for such an evocative start to my day.

  • Karen says:

    I have memorized Joyce Kilmer’s poem. “Trees” is a lovely piece. Look it up, it will make your day.

  • Keith Vander Pol says:

    Thank you from a fellow tree lover. I grew up with trees with significant histories of a century plus planted on the family homestead by my great grandfather. and protected by continous family ownership of this recognized centennial farm. My sister and I, who jointly own a piece of the original farm, are putting this land in a conservancy to, in large part, protect a pine tree that towers over the surrounding trees and is well north of the century mark in age. It apparently escaped cutting during Nortern Michigan’s logging era. It’s a memorial tree dedicated to the memory of unborn family.

    • Kathryn Vilela says:

      Good for you for your intentional and thoughtful stewardship! I’m glad to know that that pine tree lives and is loved – and that the ecosystem that it lives in will thrive well into the future.

  • Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is beautiful, Kathryn. And just before reading it, I saw this poem shared online: “Lost” by David Wagoner:


    Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
    Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
    And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
    Must ask permission to know it and be known.
    The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
    I have made this place around you.
    If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
    No two trees are the same to Raven.
    No two branches are the same to Wren.
    If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
    You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
    Where you are. You must let it find you.
    — David Wagoner

    • Kathryn Vilela says:

      I *love* this. We were at Bon Echo Provincial Park this past weekend, and we canoed past the century-old inscription in the rock-face honouring Walt Whitman – the same rock that has Indigenous pictographs that have been there for millennia. I was captivated by the few lines of his that were carved there – the spirit of them has the same wild, still reverence that the Wagoner poem above has.

      My foothold is tenon’d and mortised in granite
      I laugh at what you call dissolution
      And I know the amplitude of time

  • Ken Boonstra says:

    Lovely reflection. One house we had in Langley, BC had a huge willow in the backyard. Many neighbors commented on the beauty of it. We even called our property “Willowtree” and made a sign to hang outside our front door.

    • Kathryn Vilela says:

      I love that unlike just naming the tree, your naming became a broader one for your whole home. That’s beautiful!

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Thank you for this sacred piece. The trees are very fortunate to have you with them.

    Trees certainly are receiving a lot of literary attention. You all have likely read it: Katie Holten’s The Language of Trees. You and she would be friends. The book becomes a friend. It’s wise to experience the hardback.

    Again many rings of gratitude.

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