In Appreciation of Trees


I’ve missed my favorite trees from the past the way you might recall a friend who moved away and wish for their company. I’ll never see some of the trees again. They’ve been chopped down, they’ve fallen, been struck by lightning, or they are somewhere else I’ll never return to, or they’re on private property—trees that were my secret escape when I was growing up. I ran to them, sitting on their roots, my back resting on their trunks, and I’d tell them my frustrations. I’d ask where to go and what to do. Tulip poplars mainly. I followed the wind on a few occasions. I still love the flowers and the wonder of such a flower falling so far from the tops. 

Self portrait: Originally taken for an Instagram yoga challenge in 2016. #AsanArts
Tulip poplar flower. All nature photos by me. All yoga photos by Terry Morris.

There are trees that I knew only for a short time in my life—like a fun neighbor. We had a huge weeping willow, the largest I’ve still ever seen, and I could disappear underneath it. The canopy towered to the ground, as if Cousin It was a tree, and I loved it underneath there as much as I loved watching the Addams Family. This was my own special hideaway, and then we moved. I pass by that location every so often through my life on my way to visit my nana, and the tree is gone. There’s not even a stump that I can see from the road. I don’t recall when it wasn’t there on my drive—maybe in my twenties. 

I’ve never met a more gorgeous magnolia than one in my friends’ yard in Knoxville. It was impressive, old and large, uninhibited—the branches stretched low, medium, and high, filled with flowers and the tree held them up as candles. I picked my way through and underneath it until I reached an opening near the trunk—a circle of space, pristine for watching the birds flit up and around, for seeing the glowing yellow of the flower centers and taking in their fragrance, witnessing the tiniest insects and particles dance in the sunlight. I reached the trunk, straddling branches. 

Behind our last home, a small cluster of walnut trees grew with a hackberry. I watched a marsh hawk routinely perch and survey the ground. She flew down and grabbed lizards and small snakes. A gang of crows threatened to attack her one day. They showed up one by one. I don’t know how many there were in the end. Loudly, they cawed. They pressed around her, toward her, and they tried to take her branch. She defended by threatening her talon and hopping toward the crows as if in a joust. Eventually, she flew away. They could not catch her, though they pursued her. She returned the next day. 

Another Instagram yoga challenge photo. I enjoyed going out into nature for the yoga challenges.

Trees were my escape on playgrounds. If there wasn’t a tree, I felt exposed and anxious. The presence of a tree is calming to me.

The sycamore tree with the elephant’s face and trunk extending away from the riverbank. The roots that I walked upon, where I sat, and pools gathered between them, holding squiggly slimy life. The tree shedding as a snake, whorls of bark floating on the water. 

In college, the ginkgo behind Harned Hall that shines golden in the autumn. Looking out the window and daydreaming during class, seeing the leaves dance toward the football stadium. The band played, and the music drifted inside the classroom—ah, brass. Bright out there with a heavy discussion in here. 

After beginning our family, we leave behind the Japanese maple planted by the sidewalk of our first home. I watched it grow from knee-high to taller than me in five years, after my friend brought it as a gift. I was surprised and flattered by such a beautiful tree. The rich brown of the tree’s mahogany leaves tinted red and tipped yellow sometimes. I didn’t want to leave the tree, but it was happy. 

The sprawling oak with a hulking trunk—guardian tree watching the field and the barn where the mules emerge and trot up to the fence. Fat acorns beneath my feet, between the blades of grass crushed shells over the years as if pounded from beach waves. The seashells sprang to my mind—those under the mossy oak while the sea breeze blew the grey Spanish moss as beards on the beach. The trails alongside, leading away, but this tree, here, by the coquina quarry, how did it survive so? 

Holly leaves needled into my bare feet, one stuck there so I waddled on the side of my foot, limping to get to the trunk, to sit under its evergreen, but it defied friendship in my grandmother’s yard. No other trees were near it, but a whippoorwill called every evening from the cedar trees across the farm road. 

The sounds from the trees are often soothing. The creaking reminds me of hardwood floors or of rocking chairs and porch swings, again, sounds that I enjoy. The knocking of woodpeckers, tapping branches, scratching leaves, rustling limbs—all quite pleasant sounds in nature. 

The tinkling chimes in the tree, little bells ringing in the forest, dangling from maples and hemlocks, an invitation. Chirps and calls, screech owls and hoots, hawk cry, wren scolding, dove coo, wild turkey laugh, gobbling above, flapping, leaves drifting down. 

“What kind is this?” I asked, touching its bark. I knuckle bump my favorite grapevines when I run on the trails. I pat the trunk of a burr oak and keep going. I feel a tap on my shoulder sometimes when I move through a cluster of young trees. My toes dance on the old roots, up, up, up as stairs—roots bigger than the young trees’ trunks. And tumbling down into creeks, cooling the feet in the summertime. We wade into the sunlit patches where trees with hairy roots drip into pools. Quick rush and cool down and on the move again, looking up into the branches, telling the motion of storms to come, of oceans far away delivering buckets of waves. The shelter of the trees from the blinding rain, the cove of dry, huddling very close to a big base, where there’s an almost steamy space to wait it out when no rock enclosures are nearby, feeling thankful for the tree while resting there. They host so many lifeforms–vines and moss, fungi, insects… us…

I could continue to write about favorite trees…

STOP & Bask in the Completion of Any Miles

I kept going. I told myself that was enough downtime. I told myself this was less training, much less at thirty miles per week. After all, I had run over 100km in twenty-seven hours on a mountain, a feat that I never thought this short human could achieve. I was stunned, probably. Nothing sank or stopped. I told myself, “what’s next is…” There was no question of “what’s next?” I told myself to stick with the plan. The month after the ultra, I published a book, THE ADVENTURES TO PAWNASSUS (November 2019) and planned a book launch. Friends, family, strangers, dogs…we laughed and played trivia about health, dogs, yoga, and books. I made up the game. There were prizes.


And then, I drafted a chunk of another book, about 40,000 words in the month of November. And, carried on with my life—family, school pick up and drop off, sports, teaching yoga, teaching Religious Exploration, other projects, accepting submissions for volume three of the yoga book, attending awards ceremonies….


Around this time, I went outside by the vitex plants for meditation. I had become increasingly infatuated with vitex after writing a short and strange fairytale, “Where Bees Sleep”, in which the plants offer a portal to another world. It’s in a bonus section, “The Changeling Stories”, in the back of The Adventures to Pawnassus. I was mesmerized by the peacefulness under the plants where hundreds of bees hung upside down while sleeping on the purple flower blooms. Dew covered the plants and the bees. Even if I blew a breath into the eyes of the bees, they slept on, as if they were bats, dangling from each stalk’s tiny blossoms and facing the rising sun. I tried to go out early in the morning before daybreak truly warmed them. The ripe moments enthralled me, and I was convinced that I was increasingly onto them. The frost crystals and sunrise invited me outside to continue.


So, of course, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready to teach yoga at the Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra and run the 50km. About seven weeks had passed since the Cloudsplitter. I felt great teaching yoga the night before the race. I stayed close by at my parents’ house. The next morning gave us perfect early winter conditions. Not too cold, no snow, a little mud and fog. I was exuberant. I ran with pure joy and waved to my parents through checkpoints. I felt alive and happy, and I tripped. No problem. I trip often. Something felt tingling, almost burning through my body, as I carried on and focused on each step forward. I tried to shake it off. I snagged my toes on a few places but managed to stay off the ground, lurching suddenly forward sometimes. I walked for a few minutes and grounded until everything felt steady and ready to go again. Slowly, I trotted, faster, a little pickup, until it was alright. I settled into my stride, then I tripped and fell. I fell hard. My chest barreled into a tree branch. I was up and going, but I couldn’t seem to breathe any life into my legs with momentum. I tripped again and the pulse sent a shock of heat and fear through my face. My feet kept tripping on everything. I walked. I walked, trying not to ask too many questions, staving off the, “Why so many falls?” concern of my inner wisdom. I trotted again, passed a Santa Claus in the forest, and that made me laugh. High five, running. I regained my confidence, knowing I was headed out of this section soon. I made it to an aid station, distance from the mountain bike trails, and I was refocused.


Okay, I was going to be fine. I refueled, talked to some people at the aid station, saw my parents, and headed out, taking my time. I was going through the motions but instead of recovering as I usually could while going slowly through the process, I felt more and more depleted. I stumbled and fell a few more times, just while walking and once while taking a picture. I tried all of the checklist–I was hydrated, I was fueled, I had electrolytes, and I tried my usual program in a pinch–gum, music, that tree up there, lucky to be in motion, gratitude list, counting breaths, taking pictures. Usually, one in that list will fix everything and the bliss of running can resume for a while. This time, the unexpected happened: Chills. Shaking. “No!” That’s the worst anytime, but nothing worked to make them stop. I ran to get warm and fell again, sprawled out around by the lake. “It doesn’t make sense when it isn’t even that cold, and I haven’t even gone very far compared,” I told myself these things, teeth rattling. By this time, my frustration was at a high, but beyond that, I also knew that I was mostly frustrated because I knew that I needed to stop. I knew that I shouldn’t have run this far in a race without more time between ultras. I knew this truth suddenly was within me, and I was giving in to it. The chills and shakes made it harder for me to focus, challenging for me to keep good footing even while walking. As soon as I saw my parents at a road crossing, I got in the SUV. I called it and let the race director know that I was dropping out and going quickly to warmth. I couldn’t stop shaking and told my dad to pull over so I could throw up.


I slept for a few days and weeks, really. I mourned the loss of the second half of the Bell Ringer and my love of the trails that I wanted to run so much. I yelled at myself, but went back to sleep. I was bruised, hobbling, and sore from falling so often. I completely paused my running and writing. I slept until 1 pm. My husband picked up the pieces that I had to sit down for a while.
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I allowed the exhaustion to take over, but it made me sad. Sweating is inspiration for me, and running influences my mind and that determines how and when I write. “I have an addiction,” I told my husband. “I need to sweat and I’m an endorphin junkie for it, and I don’t know how to get through this. I feel so much happier after I’ve been active.” I didn’t enjoy the plunge of rest, the deep ravine that came after the mountain. I had expected the Cloudsplitter 100km (actually 69 miles) to crush me while I was there, but it was like a hungry ghost in waiting, pausing, lingering, and unexpectedly, I was hit with the weight and depth of it. I suppose that you can’t go into places like that without coming out of them a little torn for the wear, but I thought maybe I’d made it, been given a lucky pass that had allowed me to do just that.

This assumption wasn’t correct. I learned an important lesson in my own training, and that’s the length of total rest and relaxation that I need between big moments of exertion. My body’s chemistry was all mixed up, and I hadn’t recognized that the moment was ripe for rest. My hormones, my vitamin and mineral levels, everything needed time to replenish. Finishing a book and drafting a new one are mentally draining and that also depletes the resources of the body as well as feelings of vitality and peak performance. I didn’t feel typical feelings of failure because I know better than that. Yet, I still felt plagued by my lack of discernment to realize what I was asking from my body, but I also felt satisfied at allowing myself to go through the process naturally, with the plan that I thought was good for me, especially since it was my first ultra of this caliber at the same time as the growth of my writing practice.

Without trying the other ultra so close to the previous finish, I wouldn’t have known what I needed regarding a deeper level of rest. I would have wondered “what if?” had I not pushed myself with all of the activities at that time.

The process led me here, to the decision that I don’t want to repeat that learning experience, and I will give myself adequate rest between action. After over a month of rest and relaxation, which included walks and mild core exercises, I am finally recharged inside. I picked up my cross training, something recommended to help my running by G who I met during the Cloudsplitter. I started biking about ten hours a week, and I love it. I’m back running on the trails, too, but with less mileage right now. I took my running to the treadmill so that I can evaluate it. It works like sensory deprivation therapy for me–running inside on a treadmill facing a block wall, but when I turn the treadmill, there’s a window where I can see the vitex, a reminder to rest. I can focus on my body without any of the distractions of the trail for some of my training.

Before this happened, I continued to increase my trail running mileage and writing output in order to achieve more goals. I would make it to a milestone and plan for the next one, then keep moving. I didn’t stop to truly celebrate. I didn’t stop to soak in the rewards on a deeper level, one that’s rejuvenating for the whole body. In my evaluations, I also realized that happened around the time when I stopped drinking alcohol. While not drinking is wonderful for my training and focus, I didn’t realize how much celebratory events truly are intertwined with alcohol. When the drinks got pitched from my experience, my celebrations no longer included the rest that often came with time off for drinks.

So, I started going through the list of what provided me with rest and inspiration, as well as what made me feel celebratory—-being in the presence of my family and strolling along without a task, laughing with my husband, watching and experiencing dance, music, and art performances, simply observing in nature for no reason, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating cake, building bonfires, dancing, and playing on playgrounds. I’ve been enjoying all of those, and the awareness that it is satisfying to stop and bask in completion without looking forward, simply being tired and happy at the end of rewarding work.

Note: The Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra 50km is a beautiful and fun race that I have completed in the past. Here’s a blog about that experience.

On Textures, Trails, & Timing

The river trails lured me when I first looked out the window yesterday morning. Everything was covered in dew drops and shimmered as we moved toward the rays of the sun. The dewy blanket revealed the textures of each flower gone to seed, the velvety puffs and cushions of wildflowers, the spiky anchors of grasses, the spinning parachutes of weeds…

The sun rose over the hillside and illumined the spider webs that now looked vacant after a busy night under the full moon. The webs covered the grasses, flowers, weeds, and almost everything in the field, as if the spiders had cast nets to catch the frost.

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I’m a slow runner. I plod along for a half marathon; Monday’s average pace was 12:45 a mile. Of course, that included bathroom breaks, videos of deer, photos of deer a few times, tying my shoes, and trudging up some big hills over and over and over again (total elevation gain of just over 6,000ft). Still, I’m slow at running, and I know it. I take my time and enjoy the space. I notice a million tiny things that I want to stoop and admire, photograph from different angles, try to capture the textures and shifting light. I have to lure myself forward with the promise of even more tiny delights coming out of the earth. The fossils paint stories and each footfall finds another one, images to gobble into my imagination, so I trudge still onward, quite content with the pace and space…

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The trails on the hills offer different sights and sensations than the river trails. Beside the river, I am sometimes 3 min. a mile faster on my average running time. That’s quite a difference, and the terrain and climate create an alternative momentum. The fields meet the forest by the river in a low circular formation. Sounds reverberate off the limestone bluffs and muddy edges that create the river bank. Mossy trails offer soft cushions for my feet, and squishy mud through the small forest is equally inviting for quick progress.

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Landscapes and their textures remind me of human bodies. Or, vice versa. Form and texture create layers for both movement and the imprint of previous motion. Taking time to pause and express a form with my own body, my motion suspends for a moment—the running stalls, breath softens, body lengthens, bends, relaxes. My favorite mat has always been the earth, and my yoga mat is so dirty from practicing outside that taking it into a studio seems hilarious when placed next to the pristine and often expensive yoga mats of other practitioners. The leafy or mossy ground is a great cushion for arm balances. The drishti of tree branches, leaves, and flowers forever blooms into new gazes, new focus, and the change of nature is the meditation, staying there patterns the breath, loosens the love, even as I move again.
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Pausing to practice, to center in meditation again as I stretch, I catch glimpses of the red-shouldered hawks, a great blue heron, a cardinal, the wren making a fuss about my presence, the singing of crickets in a loud chorus that I hadn’t previously noticed, the splash of a big fish in the river, a turtle sliding into the water’s edge and the cloudy silt fluttering up to the surface for the moment and settling again.