Take time to observe the trees, says Tom Hodgkinson
Christ was the ultimate idler. Not only did he appear not to have a proper job, he also never wrote anything down. A bit like Socrates, he was one of those mystical visionaries who seem beamed down from another planet. They have such charisma and wisdom that people gather round them and write down their sayings and sermons. And they are all about contemplation, not action. They’re about being, not doing.
The Sermon on the Mount contains Christ’s most Idler-ish utterances. “Consider the lilies,” he says, telling his followers to go with the flow, “how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
As well as botany, Christ also urges us to study ornithology as a way of relieving anxiety: “Consider the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they? Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan?”
To the lilies, and to the birds of the air, we could add the trees. Maybe we should consider them, too. They might have some good lessons for us. And it’s with a nod to The Sermon on the Mount that the great biologist Colin Tudge has named his new online course for the Idler Academy “Consider the Trees”.
In this lovely series of lectures, the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Trees reveals amazing facts about trees and the way they live. He attempts to define what a tree actually is, how many species of trees exist, how they reproduce, and how they work cooperatively with fungi and beetles and wasps for the good of humanity. He ends the course with an appeal for more people to study the world of agro-forestry, and to stop seeing trees simply as a means of generating profits for big business.
It’s a wonderfully uplifting experience. We should add dendrology to Christ’s list of spiritually revealing areas of study. And it’s half price for a week.
There’s a dendrological link to our special guest on A Drink with the Idler on Thursday 7 October – Elif Shafak, whose latest and bestselling novel is called The Island of Missing Trees. Register here.
These comments were mailed to us after an earlier version of the above piece was sent out as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
Your email has triggered an (Eric) idle moment in the office:
BRIAN: …Consider the lilies… in the field…
ELSIE: Consider the lilies?
BRIAN: Uh, well, the birds, then.
EDDIE: What birds?
BRIAN: Any birds.
BRIAN: Well, have they got jobs?
BRIAN: The birds.
EDDIE: Have the birds got jobs?!!
FRANK: What’s the matter with him?
ARTHUR: He says the birds are scrounging.
BRIAN: Oh, uh, no, the point is the birds. They do all right. Don’t they?
FRANK: Well, good luck to ’em.
EDDIE: Yeah. They’re very pretty.
BRIAN: Okay, and you’re much more important than they are, right? So, what are you worrying about? There you are. See?
EDDIE: I’m worrying about what you’ve got against birds.
BRIAN: I haven’t got anything against the birds. Consider the lilies.
ARTHUR: He’s having a go at the flowers now.