Dreams, Inspirations and Trees


Welcome to the Malcolm’s Round Table edition for the Sleigh Bells and Inkwells Blog Hop


Muir Woods - NPS photo

“When you enter a grove peopled with ancient trees, higher than the ordinary, and shutting out the sky with their thickly inter-twined branches, do not the stately shadows of the wood, the stillness of the place, and the awful gloom of this doomed cavern then strike you with the presence of a deity?” –   Seneca

I love forests, especially coniferous forests.

Two of my earliest memories of forests are polar opposites. I saw the towering redwoods of Muir Woods and rode through an Oregon forest fire before I was in the first grade. Forest imprinting, I think: those early moments when I first experienced the beauty and wisdom of trees as well as the pain of their destruction.

The blue-grey aura of a tree is larger than the tree.

When one walks through a forest, s/he cannot help but touch the overlapping souls of the redwoods, firs or cedars gathered there. When I stop by the woods on a snowy evening or come to myself in a dark wood, I think of John Muir saying that “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

In a forest, I am within the spirits of the trees and within myself. At Yule, the ancient traditions bring the deity into the house with the greenery, creating a sanctuary of scents and spirits around the decorated tree, the boughs lying along the mantel, the wreaths greeting and guarding at doorways and the holly in the center of the table. As a child sneaking through the darkened living room on Christmas Eve, I strongly felt the watchful presence of the blue spruce waiting for the happy morning. I still do.

limber pine

As I wondered what I should write for a Sleigh Bells and Inkwells post, trees came to mind as the perfect subject. I wasn’t surprised. Trees have always found a way to live in my writing.

The cast of characters in my novels isn’t limited to the two-legged creatures—Gem, Robert, David, Siobhan—who walk between the pages. My favorite trees have made sure they also had roles to play. The Sun Singer features spruce, whitebark pine and a grandfather oak. Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey contains multiple worlds of cottonwood, boxelder, lodgepole pine, cypress and rowan. Sarabande includes cottonwood and a limber pine next to the River of Sky. My love of trees fills my stories, even in the action sequences such as this one in “Sarabande:”

Sarabande wedged herself between two branches of a floating cottonwood deadfall as the Mni Sose [the Missouri River] approached a bridge at the western edge of a reservoir. The relative calm she had experienced while passing the high canyons and breaks topped by Ponderosa Pine slipped away as the water eddied into twisted shapes beneath the cloud draped moon. She felt watched. The tree caught briefly on the bridge pier closest to the center of the river. Then she saw the silhouette of Danny Jenks’s truck. The velvet drapery of spider webs between the piers transformed into a trot line. When she screamed, one of the hooks caught inside her mouth and was jerked tight, piercing her cheek. She was pulled away from her river and raised up through a tender breeze that carried in its heart the cries of owls and nighthawks.

For 43 years, one book has always remained accessible on the bookshelves in all the towns I’ve lived in since it was published: Tallahassee, Syracuse, San Francisco, Waukegan, Zion (IL), Indianapolis, Rome (GA), Smyrna (GA), Marietta (GA), Norcross (GA), Jefferson (GA), and it is simply called Trees. Andreas Feinniger’s cover photograph reminds me that even though the aura of a “dead” tree is mostly gone, the tree remains wise, and bids those who come and go to sit and lean against its old trunk and listen.

When I find myself in the presence of redwoods on a foggy morning, subalpine fir around a lake on a sunny high country afternoon, or a snowy woods that are, as Robert Frost wrote, “lovely, dark and deep,” I am always called to stay even though I, too, still have promises to keep on my writer’s journey.

Thank you for stopping by my figurative forest today. Now, to continue your festive blog hop journey, click here to visit author T. K. Thorne.

Your trip also includes posts by:

Smoky Zeidel

Patricia Damery

Debra Brenegan

Anne K. Albert

Elizabeth Clark-Stern

Collin Kelley

Sharon Heath

Melinda Clayton

Ramey Channell

Leah Shelleda


18 responses

  1. Beautiful post, Malcolm, and I know exactly what you mean. As a child, I used to go sit in the “sanctuary” on my grandparents’ farm. It was a small area of woods my grandmother ordered not to be cut, plowed, or cleared. Now that my father owns the farm, the area is still there – still the sanctuary.

  2. What a lovely post! I remember my own trip to Muir Woods and how magical it was. Those ancient trees are full of wisdom and comfort. Thanks for reminding us of the power of nature.

  3. Malcolm, This is a beautiful post! I love the “blue-gray aura”, your sensitivity to Presence that is so large and different that it is easy to take for granted because it doesn’t register! But it registers on you, and your reader! thank you!

  4. How lovely, Malcolm. I, too, have such a spiritual relationship with trees. I have a blog I’m working on where I talk about that. You’ve inspired me to finish writing it.

  5. Malcolm, you write so beautifully – I always look forward to your blog. Imagine seeing the Redwoods (who definitely deserve to be capitalized) at such a young age. I remember taking my mother, who was barely with us, to Muir Woods to see the Redwoods for the first time in her eighties. I remember how she lifted her arms and began to pray.

    • Thank you, Leah. The Redwoods hold a special place in my thoughts even though I’ve only seen them twice (not counting the Internet). I’m glad you were able to take your mother there: she certainly had an appropriate response to them.


  6. What a stunning essay, Malcolm! You took me back to a rather lost time in my life when I found myself in Sequoia National Forest, rapt over a huge tree that had been singed badly across the top third or so of its trunk on one side. I burst into tears at the sight of how it had kept growing, despite having obviously endured a terrible fire. When I walked to the other side of the tree, I saw a small plaque that designated it as the oldest known living tree in North America. It was like the thrill of discovering one of my most ancient ancestors! Thank you for bringing it all back to me.

    • Thank you, Sharon. Now that’s a tree I would like to have seen, though seeing the damage before finding the plaque would have been hard for me as well.


    • When I lived in metro Atlanta, my wife and I tried to go for a walk around the mountain at Stone Mountain every week just to get away from our desks and experience the out of doors. I hope you can find a suitable place to see the trees again yourself.


  7. Well, finally, someone has expressed what I feel when I step outside. I’m not going out, but in. Perfect!
    Love this post, Malcolm and look forward to reading your works.