Since we’ve moved to Siloam Springs, I’ve spent plenty of time watching my cat happily climb the old dogwood tree by our garage. Bark chips off as he climbs higher. He often looks back at me as if he wants to know whether he should jump or keep going on his elevated scratching post.
It brings to mind the wonder of tree climbing when I was a kid. I thought of trees as my friends, especially growing up in muggy Mississippi. In my mind, I can easily see a majestic magnolia with its fat arms resting on the ground. To climb under those branches, then into the cool cave of shade by its smooth trunk, was a magical experience. As a kid, I knew that tree.
Yes, I climbed its branches, read in its shade, maybe I secretly carved initials or a symbol in its bark. I rubbed a leaf between my fingers and let its curved shape become a boat. I peeled off bits of bark with my fingernails, broke off a small branch to dig at a hole in the trunk. I wiped a spider web from my face and learned the sound of the wind as it hit the waxy leaves. I knew that tree.
Understanding a tree begins with the experience of it as a whole and a realization that all knowledge about that tree is connected. I didn’t need a botany lesson to label things. I encountered the parts of the tree.
This understanding is a central root to classical education. . . .