The massage therapist placed a small cotton ball that was dabbed with eucalyptus oil into my hand and said, “Here, breathe this … it will refresh you, it will open up your breathing.” And I held it under my nose, and I did feel refreshed and my breathing was renewed. And I considered how compelling it would be if I could place myself softly under a eucalyptus tree and have it feel refreshed and renewed because of my human scent.
I suspect that I was reacting to having recently read that June is the month when trees begin to breathe. It has to do with the seasonal reawakening of the carbon dioxide/oxygen exchange that trees and other green plant lives do with us and for us on earth. And I loved the imagery of it: trees breathing in June.
In our part of the world at least, the deciduous trees have finished sleeping for the winter. Their leaves have all budded and unfurled and are out in full. And so they have begun to taste the sun on their leafy green tongues. And they breathe in what we exhale through their leafy green air passages; and they use that exhaled breath and they cleanse it and literally transform it – and then they breathe it back out for us to use again, and we return it for more. (The evergreens keep working through winter, I understand – but not as efficiently nor as effectively as when all the trees and grasses and plants get together in June and everybody gets involved.)
I know that the succulent scents given to us by plants – like flower blossoms and magnolia blooms, pinecones and eucalyptus oil – are not always a part of their “breathing” process and systems. And yet I suspect they are deeply and purposefully connected. Even the wind creates the very sound of breathing as it passes across tree boughs and plant branches and grass leaves. And rain that slides down tree trunks and plant stalks, and flows over flower petals, and washes the dust from the heads of dandelions, and makes water offerings at the feet of them all – is rather like the image of a long warm sigh. And so it is with the aromas of plants, I think – released like a breath of memories, shared with us like so many whispered secrets.
But perhaps these acts of breathing together – these exchanges of life breath – are simply the “getting-to-know-you-better” part of a relationship. Like when horses want to greet you and they like to breathe up your nose (and, to be polite, you’re expected to do the same in return). Or when the dog wants to smell your breath to know what you’ve just eaten, and the cat likes to sniff you every time you brush your teeth. In fact, I’m told that if you’re ever bothered by a nosey bee or wasp that just won’t leave you alone, if you hold your breath for a bit, they’ll go away: if they can’t smell your breath, they don’t know you’re there.
I suspect the trees know very well that we’re here. Perhaps they’re breathing for us now, this very June, to get to know us better, to tell us that we are welcome to share their world with them, to share their very breath with them. And perhaps to plead with us to take better care of them and their home. To take responsibility for it. To not take their breathing for granted. To not be the cause of the last dying breath of the last tree on earth. To help prevent that global silence.
And I wonder what would happen if, with every breath we shared, we listened.
Perhaps then, if we sat very softly under them (like eucalyptus oil on a cotton ball) they might be refreshed by our human scent. They might feel renewed by our human breath and being. They might even be reassured by our desire to do better, to be better earth-mates. Perhaps they’d breathe a little easier.