I Am Breathing Tree, Tree is Breathing Me

This story begins in the winter woods on a pair of cross-country skis. I am at my favorite skiing park with my friend, Margie Weaver.

As we ski along the trails, my eyes soak up the intriguing pattern of bare branches against bright blue winter sky. I’m breathing hard from joyful exertion. Suddenly, the two ideas collide – tree branches, lung branches.  The word “bronchia” – which describes the structure of the lungs – comes from the Latin word for branch. The beautiful pattern I’ve been admiring in the trees is mirrored inside my own body. Nature does this all the time, creating beautiful symmetries among living things.

I consider how much longer trees have been on planet Earth than human beings. How many eons have they been faithfully pumping out oxygen before there were any lungs to breathe it? I am struck by the idea that my lungs evolved perfectly to make use of what the trees create.

I begin singing softly: I am breathing tree; tree is breathing me.

I then recall a story I heard on the radio from a young tree protector camped out at the top of a large redwood. He described how vividly he could feel the trees shutting down photosynthesis as the sun set each day – and reawakening production at the arrival of the sun each morning.

I sing again:
The sun goes down; the trees exhale; on their sweet breath, our dreams all sail.
At break of day, they open wide to let the gift of light inside.

I catch up with Margie and ask her to get out her phone to record the song that is being born on the ski trail. After we capture the beginnings, we continue on.

My thoughts turn toward philosopher Martin Buber’s idea of “I and Thou” – which proposes that human beings find the Divine in other living things when they address them, not as “It,” but as the sacred “Thou.” Another verse unfurls ….

My lungs hold branches upside down: bronchia and leafy crown.
I from egg and Thou from seed – each gives what the other needs.

I become keenly aware of my breathing. Each inhale becomes a blessed gift of life-giving oxygen from my biological elders, the trees. Each exhale of carbon dioxide becomes a gift to their flourishing.

Our songs twine on the dancing wind; I breathe out what you breathe in.
Rising sap and beating heart: one of Life’s great works of art.

Warm tears stream down my cool cheeks as I praise the generous, elegant pattern of which I am a part.

Symbiotic mystery: breathing tree and me.

Listen to “Breathing Trees” here.


About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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4 Responses to I Am Breathing Tree, Tree is Breathing Me

  1. Beautiful: tree branches and lung branches!

  2. roos says:

    absolute beautiful, the song, the words, the image.

  3. Mary says:

    Have you read the Hidden Life of Trees?

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