Trees – An Enduring Symbol of Life

Trees, trees, trees – I seem to have become obsessed with trees.

A couple of months ago a collector started me on a journey into the life of trees. He had written to inquire about a piece of mine that had been in his family for fifteen years called Into the Woods. Seeing that piece from so long ago made me realize that over the years I have painted and drawn many trees. I decided to explore the tree of life symbol even more fully in my work.

Throughout human history, trees have been powerful symbols. Most all creation stories include a tree of life, which often allude to the mystical concept of the interconnectedness of all life. To me personally, the single tree represents the enduring, cyclical nature of life; woods or forests are symbolic of the mystery of primordial life. Human beings resonate deeply with trees, who like us, reach down to the ground and up to the sky at the same time.

Recently people have commented that many of my tree images look very female or anthropomorphic. Upon reflection, I can see this is true. I spent a couple of days this week down at the Rio Grande drawing A Tangle of Cottonwoods, prismacolor on paper, 11" x 15"the Cottonwood trees in their annual display of golden finery. After five or so hours of staring at, and drawing a tangle of Cottonwoods, I began to see the actual trees as human figures. The almost black trunks became graceful dancers against a backdrop of golds, greens, and blues.

In Sacred Geometry there is a concept called  “squaring the circle” or “the marriage of heaven and earth.”  Here the circle, representing the spiritual, is surrounded by a square, representing the physical.

"The Marriage of Heaven and Earth", gouache on paper, 11" x 13"

"Tree of Heaven & Earth", gouache & prismacolor on paper, 12" x 11"

To me, tree symbolism expresses this same concept.  The roots reach down into the earth, the physical, while the branches and leaves reach up to the sky, the spiritual; heaven and earth are married in the body of the tree.

On the physical level, trees provide us with so much.  They are the lungs of the planet, breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen; they provide shelter; they provide food; they provide shade; they provide fuel.   Mystics and cutting edge scientists agree; the physical is a manifestation of the spiritual, the unified field.  We’re all connected.  Perhaps my desire to work with images of trees at this time is a physical manifestation of humanity’s spiritual need to reconnect with the natural world.   At a time when the old paradigm has brought us to the brink of destruction via global climate change, war, and disease, trees are a good reminder of the sacredness of Mother Earth.  Hug a tree; plant a tree; love Mother Earth.

To view more images of my work with trees visit


3 responses to “Trees – An Enduring Symbol of Life

  1. Dear Judith ~ Thanks so much for sharing your responses to the sacred magic that trees bring to our lives. I’m a nonfiction writer–though hopefully it’s creative nonfiction–entranced and intrigued enough by cottonwoods that I wrote a book about them. Inspired by experiences like yours, as well as my late father sharing with me the “secret star” at the “knuckle” of small twigs & branches. Your art work looks beautiful.

    Kathleen Cain
    author, The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion (Johnson Books/Big Earth Publishing. Boulder: 2007).

  2. Hi Kathleen, Another thing I’ve noticed about cottonwoods is that one tree often grows in groups of 2 or 3 trunks coming from the same spot. Those are often the ones I am attracted to drawing. Perhaps you know why or how that happens?

  3. Hi, again ~ yes, that multi-trunk feature is a regular for cottonwoods in general. Where they’re naturally planted, by wind, the seeds can land together and begin growing together. But even when they’re planted from clones they have a tendency to be “erratic” (the foresters’ word, I love it!) that way. Seedlings and saplings HAVE to have light–they can’t survive in the shade. Where they’re not restricted by artificial water flows they settle onto open, bare, river-scoured land and grow up! up! up! as quickly as they can (“head high in a year”). They’ll do anything for life, including sending up multiple shoots–one doesn’t make it, maybe another one will. Amazing, aren’t they?!

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