Today I watched a blind man touch a tree. And it moved me.
I was walking down the long grass lawn of the Syon Vista and he was walking behind me with an elderly lady whom I thought might be his mother. His white walking stick was moving back and forth, back and forth in rhythmic motion.
When I first saw him I wondered what would it be like to be in such a beautiful place as Kew Gardens, so vast...full of nature...gorgeous mature trees - and not be able to see anything. I wondered though, if maybe he understood it at a different level than I or in a different way. Maybe there was something he could see that I couldn't. In my thoughts of curiosity I glanced back. He was approaching a large tree and as he moved closer he didn't veer away. Instead he walked right up next to the main trunk and moved his hand to a massive lateral branch which was about chest height off the ground.
His hand moved purposefully back and forth, back and forth along the old bark. He was so gentle and loving. He rested his walking stick against the trunk and then with both arms, wrapped himself around the branch tilting his head slightly downward, almost like giving a protective hug to a child while patting the trees underside to feel it's girth at the same time. He straightened back up, smiling broadly through his dark beard. I smiled too. He then removed his backpack and I watched him try to saddle the branch. He jumped and threw his body up and over, ending on his belly just hanging there for a few seconds before sliding back down.
With both feet back on the ground he followed the branch with his hand, moving upwards with the growth of the tree and pausing in places but never letting go. He went around to several parts of the tree. It seemed he was making out the form and dimensions as he went around. This interaction was curious and methodical. It was so beautiful to me, that now from a distance, I took a seat on a bench from under another tree to observe.
I have spent time with trees, running my hands over their bark, but I have never spent time with a tree like this man did. It was inspiring. He probably stayed there for over 10 minutes at the branches around the base, moving his hands over the bark, stopping, pausing, continuing. Stopping, pausing, continuing. Paying attention to something, I wish I knew exactly what.
As they moved on I stood up and continued walking through the allee. I saw a massive oak with impressive form and made my way to it's base. I closed my eyes and ran my hand over it's roughly textured bark, stopping, pausing, continuing. Trying to listen and feel something new. Maybe it was a heartbeat.