Writing with Trees


‘It’s an odd thing to ask a tree,’ said one of the writing group, lifting her pen and sitting back in her chair. ‘But then it’s a bit weird to be asking a tree a question at all.’

We were in a room overlooking the House and beautiful surroundings of Penhurst Retreat Centre in the heart of rural Sussex. Earlier, I’d asked those on our Writing Retreat each to choose a tree that appealed from the many aflame with autumn glory across the grounds and through the orchard.

They observed their tree with full attention, putting down words for what they saw and what they sensed their tree’s roots were like. They imagined how their tree felt and how it experienced its environment. Back in our writing room, I asked them to pose their tree a question, and then, as the tree, to write an answer.

There is something deeply healing about gazing at something with our full attention. It brings us into the present moment and sharpens our senses. It enables us to go deeper and let go of the verbal chatter that clutters our minds. Trees offer a wonderful focus for this task. They do not run away. Gracious and grounded, they lead us by example into stillness.

Trees are also great reflectors of various aspects of our lives. They nudge us to consider the strength of our trunk; the depths of our roots; the health of our leaves and the number, span and weight of our branches.

Writing down our reflections helps us stay with our gazing. The poet Philip Gross encourages us to ‘keep looking at something until it has no more to tell you.’

But while we may be still, writing enables us to range beyond what we physically see. We can become the tree, inhabit its perspective and give it a voice to answer the questions we pose.

One of our group wanted to know about her tree in other seasons. Imagination was not enough: The gardener had to be consulted, and we found out that what we had assumed was a maple was actually a tulip tree. Her writing opened up a discovery in the outer world, in a more accurate naming of what she was seeing.

Yet it can also connect us to discoveries in our inner world. The more we look at our tree, the more it seems we have not chosen it at all, but that it has chosen us. (‘That tree is me!’ said someone else in the group).

Our question for the tree is one for which we personally seek an answer. Amazingly, this answer may already lie dormant within. Our writing can help us to identify it as we express it in the voice of another – even a tree. My own tree reminded me that the only way to carry full branches is to have a very steady and unflappable trunk in support!

Our writing with trees revealed some outer facts that we did not know, but released some inner truths that we already did.




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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
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