The Cosmic Tree
Riverdave's Journal
July, 1989
     On July 12, 1989, I arrived at what is known as Cedar Valley in the Paphos Mountains on the Island of Cyprus.  I backpacked up to this area as a co-leader for a church youth group outing of a dozen teenage boys.  It was the end of our third day of hiking and I was thoroughly exhausted.  But this charming spot immediately soothed both body and soul as we dropped our packs and dipped into a clear pool of water under the shade of a grove of magnificent cedars.  

     The Cyprus Cedar (Cedrus brevifolia) is a sister species to the three other better known trees - the Lebanon, Atlas and Himalayan Cedars. The cedar genus of trees can be found in a band that runs from the Himalayas westward to the Mediterranean and then across North Africa. In the Biblical account, the Phoenician King Hiram sent cedar logs and workmen from Lebanon to Jerusalem to assist King Solomon in building his temple.  But perhaps this political alliance only set the stage for what became a slow and dangerous march of cedar deforestation over the ensuing millennia.

          As the kids in my church group set up camp under the cedar trees, a boom box was turned on and pop music blared and echoed throughout this previously peaceful stand of trees. After dinner had concluded, I began to hatch a plan to sneak away from the raucous group.  Once it became dark, I determined that I would place my air mattress and sleeping bag just over a small ridge and out of ear shot of the irritating and invasive music. When at last the campers and the other leader were in their sleeping bags, I silently slipped sway without being noticed.  I placed my bedding on the side of the mountain at the very edge of the grove, facing the Mediterranean Sea that spread out a couple of thousand feet below.  Several nightjars, long-winged, long-tailed, mottled brown and gray birds rarely seen in the day, fluttered overhead in the lingering dim light of dusk.

          It was a clear summer night and as I reclined on my sleeping bag, the Milky Way Galaxy stretched out above me with breathtaking beauty.  But the most amazing discovery about that moment was my sudden decent into silence. It was dead silent. Uncomfortably silent.  I was totally unaccustomed to the experience, especially after following a group of teens with a boom box for three days.  I quickly tuned into the pulsing rhythm of the blood swishing through the arteries and veins in my head. 

          I felt totally in my body.  The stars were so real that they seemed unreal.  Or was it that they were the ones that were real and my life felt suddenly unreal and vapid?  Not sure ... I began to relax and enjoy the surprising uniqueness and deliciousness of my new found position alone on the mountainside on the edge of the ancient cedar grove.  For our trek I had brought along a pair of small binoculars. In the dark I fished them out of my pack and trained them on the bespeckled sky above me.  Before long I found myself taking on the novel sport of chasing meteors with my binos. 

          Soon tiring of that rather difficult pursuit, I closed my eyes, dropped the binos and gently settled into a deeper state of meditation about my good fortune to be under the eves of these overhanging guardian trees. After several minutes of silence I opened my eyes.  I found some inward part of me being sucked out of my body and then soaring off into the midst of the distant stars.  Great spheres of light rushed by as I headed for galactic realms like superman. Frightened, I sounded an emphatic “whooooa!” and I immediately began to return to earth and back into my body that lay on the mountainside next to the cedars. I was dumbfounded.

          It was as if I had the power to super focus into the depths of the universe. Timidly I looked up again and effortlessly let myself go, swooshing though what felt like both space and time.  Once again, I pulled back frightened and returned to my Paphos mountain retreat.  I realized at that moment that I now had the power, by an act of my own will, to control my journey’s direction and velocity. Never, never had I  experienced anything like this before!  I began to exercise my new found powers with more boldness. I gave myself leave to shoot off in various directions. I never allowed for more than a dozen seconds of travel at a time for fear that I might pass some invisible barrier or point of no return ...
         At the approach of dawn with the faint brightening of the eastern skies, I sat up in my sleeping bag to awaken my early morning senses and coordinates.  The whirring call of the Eurasian nighjar echoed across the rocky slope below.  I became aware of the towering trees behind me and turned to face them, just barely discerning their looming outline against the misty sky.  Instantly I had the inner knowledge and assurance that the cedar grove was the source of my new found navigational powers. I just knew that I knew.  That’s all there was to it. 

          Just beyond the ridge all seemed to be calm and quiet in the middle of the cedar grove where my church group still silently slept off their previous day’s adventure.  I wondered if any of them might also have had some unique, tree-inspired experience. And for the first time I fully realized that my night journeys were not a nocturnal  dream. I had experienced them in full consciousness on that remote and isolated Mediterranean mountainside.

          I love to explore. I was elated that I had made an extraordinary personal discovery. I had found in Cyprus a grove of truly cosmic trees. While not readily comprehending what the practical value my experience might prove to be, I contemplated with excitement the probability that there must surely be other such trees to discover on this magical planet. As the morning sunlight rose up my face, I began to hear the distant sound of pop music wafting to me from just beyond the ridge. I suspected that I was probably alone in my reveries of the previous night.  Or perhaps the nightjars also knew my secret.

          Postscript - January 2009.  I later discovered that my cosmic tree experience in Cyprus on July 12, turned out also to fall on the birthday of Henry David Thoreau.  I had begun my study of Thoreau with a first reading of Walden just several months before hiking into Paphos Forest.  Eighteen days after my experience with the cosmic tree, I left the Middle East with my family and returned to my hometown of Durham, North Carolina where I made a career change, reestablished my life and began my present path as a field naturalist. I also joined the Thoreau Society and began what has become a in-depth study of Thoreau’s life and writings and New England’s legacy of 19th century transcendentalism.


top by Dave Dorman -  Cedar in her native homeland in the mountains of Lebanon
bottom left by Riojosie - Riverdave meditates at the base of a 100 year old, NC State Champion Cedar of Lebanon planted in Rockingham NC
bottom right by Riverdave - Cedar of Lebanon cone at the base of a tree planted in Central Park, Manhattan