how to find peace

Illustration: Rebekah Nichols, Photo: Johnny Miller

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The Giving Tree
When the weather turns cold, Madison, Wisconsin, can become eerily desolate. On one of those frigid, lonely days of wandering the Wempty streets, I headed for a nature preserve, not far from my snug little house, that I'd never bothered to visit before. I'm still glad for that change of course. Because there, in a clearing, I discovered a giant white oak tree so dazzling, so crazily beautiful, I actually chortled with delight at the sight of it.

At least 200 years old, the oak has branches that span more than 50 feet, outstretched like arms—and eye- and ear-like knobs high on the trunk—that give it an unmistakably human vibe. That first time I saw the oak, I crept through the thick underbrush, wrapped my arms around its trunk, and, in gratitude for the way it made me laugh, rested my cheek on its scratchy warm bark.

The tree reminded me, in its wind-swept solidity, that I have plenty of resilience in me, too. Now I visit the oak on days I'm feeling wigged out—like when a friend died and my tears liquefied the moss buried in the bark, or when I've picked a fight with my husband over, alas, the right way to clean the stovetop (when what's really bothering me is a churning, anxious desire to connect with him). After a visit to the tree, I can go back and ask my husband for what I truly need. The oak's majestic strength quietly reminds me to press on.
—Louisa Kamps has written for Elle and The New Yorker.