Trees are spiritual for me

Trees are spiritual for me. Trees are what I seek when I need counsel. I walk among trees and talk out loud to them when I am discerning something momentous. I bellow out to them when I am outraged, and I lean on them in whispered prayer.

My relationship with trees began a lifetime ago when I felt the first twinge of muscle development in my arms and legs.

I climbed trees skillfully before I learned to run or ride a tricycle. From the time I took my first steps, trees lured me. They mesmerized and beckoned me like Sirens of the Sea calling out to sailors.

Childhood garden of trees

hugging a tree
At some point, I stopped climbing trees and began hugging them instead. Photo: Pexels-ekrulila

The backyard of the house where I grew up was a garden of trees. Stately elms, a mighty oak, and sugar maples dotted the 1/2-acre suburban lot. Trees framed every window in the house, and the doors opened up onto their spreading canopy.

I was a sleepwalker as a young girl and teenager. It was not unusual for mom or dad or one of my brothers to find me in the morning curled up under one of the trees in the backyard.

Trees populated the backyard of my youth the way dandelions populate most open fields. They spread their branches in every direction and invited me into their arms. They never failed to embrace me when I felt hurt or betrayed by the sting of family injustice.

I had learned early to climb to the highest branches to avoid detection and retrieval. There I would rest, cradled when life grew too strained by having four brothers and their steady stream of male friends under the same roof.

I remember when the elms succumbed to Dutch elm disease. I was awash with grief when the elm bark beetle took the lives of those dear old and trusted friends. One mighty oak and a maple or two stood stalwart when the elms passed on. In that oak tree, I climbed, and in its arms, I clung until I left home and began a new life at age 18.

From tree climber to tree hugger

At some point, I stopped climbing trees and began hugging them instead. My relationship with them shifted as I matured and evolved into a tree-hugging activist.

Watching news reports and seeing with my own eyes the havoc wreaked upon trees, I began to mourn their large-scale loss, the way I grieved the death of my elm friends in the backyard where I grew up.

Rainforests were, and still are, being ripped apart. Forested mountaintops were, and still are, being blown up. Groves were, and still are, being deforested. All for the insatiable human demand for coffee and beef, oil, and suburban sprawl. Seeing trees, spiritual trees, die these violent deaths was killing my soul. I needed to take action.

And so I joined forces with eco champions and eco-warriors to save the trees. I began speaking out against ecocide and the mass murder of trees. That wasn’t enough, so I began planting trees to mitigate the loss of those mangled by chain saws and uprooted by brute force.

trees severed by storms
I was devastated by the number of trees that died from windstorms in my St. Louis urban neighborhood early this summer. Photo: Jeanette McDermott

I formed groups to unite other nature lovers with the goal of saving trees, served on a government tree council, and formed a membership society for tree stewardship. And then I bought 124 acres of land in Kentucky and planted 5,000 trees on it.

Today I plant trees on a vacant urban lot in St. Louis and along sidewalk tree curbs where there are no trees. Trees are a living spiritual force within me. Their roots are mine.

My buddy Monte Abbott, PMNA Archivist, and I joined forces about 10 years ago to plant an urban forest on a naked strip of land on a U.S. Department of Transportation highway right-of-way in our neighborhood. The forest is lush today with more than 500 trees and abundant shrubs and flowers. We planted many of the trees in memory of loved ones. A dogwood along the pathway is in remembrance of my mom.

Spiritual, divine gifts from God

Arbor Day in April is a special day for me. It is a call to action day. It is a day to plant trees, and it is a day to give money to support other tree-planting efforts. But really, every day is tree day because there is no bad day to hug a tree or whisper a prayer for their survival. Tree People says, “Trees need people; people need trees.” I find this to be true. Read what Tree People says about the 22 benefits of trees.

I give money to support tree planting efforts across the United States and around the world. The Trillion Tree Campaign is an especially amazing tree-planting effort. The goal of the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees Initiative is to regenerate forests and grow and conserve one trillion trees worldwide by the year 2030. This is an effort everybody can join by planting a tree or helping others to plant trees. Take a look at the global map and see where trees are being planted as a part of this amazing campaign.

Early this summer, St. Louis had a series of rainstorms accompanied by devastatingly high winds that sliced through trees, severing and toppling them. Thousands of trees lost their lives in the storms. I keep thinking about the trees I will plant this fall to help make up for some of the losses.

I  believe no place can ever have too many trees. Trees are spiritual. They are pure and simply put, divine gifts from God.

trees form a spiritual nook in a lush forest
Trees in my neighborhood park. Photo: Jeanette McDermott
Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website