The Tree That Stands Alone

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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves.

And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk:
in the rings of its years,
its scars,
all the struggle,
all the suffering,
all the sickness,
all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written,
the narrow years and the luxurious years,
the attacks withstood,
the storms endured.

And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.

That is home. That is happiness.
~ Hermann HesseBäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

 

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Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.
~Winston Churchill

 

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A wind has blown the rain away
and blown the sky away
and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand.
I think, I too, have known autumn too long.

~e.e. cummings

 

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Trees are Earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.
~Rabindranath Tagore

 

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Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
~Walt Whitman

 

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I don’t know why, of all the trees that peppered this hill over a century ago, this one was spared.  Perhaps she was the tallest at the time, or the straightest, or just didn’t yield to the ax as the others did.

She has become the sentinel on our farm, a focal point:
the marker by which all else is measured.

She is unchanging as the backdrop of clouds and seasons, color and light shift and swirl.

Visitors climb the hill to her first before seeing anything else on the farm, to see the expanse that she surveys.  Her branches oversee gatherings of early Easter morning worship, summer evening church services, winter sledding parties, and Fourth of July celebrations.

This one special tree stands alone, apart from the others, but is never lonely – not really.  She shares her top with the eagles and hawks, her shadow with humans and other critters in her century-long vigil with people all around the globe in these photos.

Never lonely — no, never.

This is her home.  This is happiness.

 

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Ease Into the Conversation

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My bird, my darling,
Calling through the cold of afternoon—
Those round, bright notes,
Each one so perfect
Shaken from the other and yet
Hanging together in flashing clusters!
The small soft flowers and the ripe fruit
All are gathered.
It is the season now of nuts and berries
And round, bright, flashing drops
In the frozen grass.
~Katherine Mansfield “Winter Bird”

 

 

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Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone…

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~David Whyte from “Everything is Waiting for You”

 

 

 

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This time of year we sit in silence, waiting for the conversation to resume.

There are hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer.  The typical day-long serenade of birdsong is now replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle’s mating chitters from the treetops, with the bluejays arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.

The song birds have ceased their usual constant conversation.  They swoop in and out to the feeders, intent on survival, less worried about mating rituals and territorial establishment.

On the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant dialogue echoing back and forth.

But no birdsong arias;  I’m left bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wakes me at 4 AM in the spring and summer. And the rising and falling of the annual evening peeper orchestra tuning up in the swamps is still two months away.

It is much too quiet now, this time of winter bereavement, this feeling of being alone in a cold and hostile world. The chilly silence of the darkened days, interrupted by gunshot percussion, feels like a baton raised in anticipation after rapping the podium to bring us all to attention. I wait and listen for the downbeat — the return of birds and frogs tuning their throats, preparing their symphony to ease themselves back into the conversation, to express joy and wonder and exuberance at the return of spring.

I want to stick around for the whole concert, hoping always for an encore.

 

 

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Walking Alongside

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None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.

Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.

What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own.
~Parker Palmer writing about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”

 

 

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One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save.
~Mary Oliver “The Journey”

 

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Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill

 

 

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We are born hollering and suddenly alone,
already aware of our emptiness
from the first breath,
each tiny air sac bursting
with the air of our fallen world~
air that is never enough.

The rest of our days are spent
filling up our empty spaces
whether alveoli
or stomach
or synapses starving for understanding,
still hollering in our loneliness
and heart
broken.

So we mend ourselves
through our walk with others
also broken,
we patch up our gaps
by knitting the scraggly fragments
of lives lived together.
We become the crucial glue
boiled from gifted Grace,
all our holes
somehow made holy.

 

 

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A Leaf Falls

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l (a

le
af
fa
ll

s)
one
l
iness…

~e.e. cummings

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So many feel they are the only one
to fall
until they land in a cushion of others
comforted.

Some dangle suspended
twisting and turning in the slightest breeze
not knowing when the fall will come.

I know I’m both~
one alone
and many together

held by a slender silken thread
until the moment comes
when I’m let go.

 

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Preparing the Heart: When the Stars Held Their Breath

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Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Lebrun 1689

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath,
when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second,
and the Word, who had called it all into being,
went with all his love into the womb of a young girl,
and the universe started to breathe again,and the ancient harmonies resumed their song,
and the angels clapped their hands for joy?

Power. Greater power than we can imagine,
abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child,
still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid,
unseeing, unhearing, unknowing.
Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose,
slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough,
and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity,
Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes,
willingly and lovingly leaving all that power
and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years
to show us what we ought to be and could be.
Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine,
to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.
~Madeline L’Engle from Bright Evening Star

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It’s the season of grace coming out of the void
Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance
It’s the season of possible miracle cures
Where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown
Where time begins to fade
And age is welcome home

It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise
And holding fast with sharp realization
It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention
You are safe here you know now

Don’t forget
Don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart
Of feeling the full weight of our burdens
It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind
And knowing we are not alone in fear
Not alone in the dark

Don’t forget
Don’t forget I love
I love
I love you
~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”

 

There is no longer a void or darkness upon the face of the deep.  The stars need no longer to hold their breath.

Instead Grace has come in the face of Jesus the Son, through God the Father who moves among us, His Spirit changing everything, now and always.

Do not be afraid.
You are not alone in the dark.
You are loved.
Don’t forget.

 

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On This Surge of Hill

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Here, on this surge of hill, I find myself
not as I am or will be or once was,
not as the measure of days defines my soul;
beyond all that a being of breath and bone,
partaker of wind and sun and air and earth,
I stand on the surge of hill and know myself
Below, the stars sink landward, and above
I breathe with their slow glimmer; fields are gone,
the woods are fallen into the speechless dark;
no claim, no voice, no motion, no demand.
It is alone we end then and alone
we go, creatures of solitary light;
the finger of truth is laid upon my heart:
See and be wise and unafraid, a part
of stars and earth-wind and the deepening night.
~Jane Clement

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I don’t do alone well.  Never have.  I’ve always preferred plenty of activity around me, planning gatherings, and filling days to the brim.  Very little of my day is spent by myself and I designed it that way.  But once in a while there comes a time when I must quiet myself, be still, and simply be, with no agenda.  With our children grown and gone, this is happening more often than I prefer even though the love of my life and I often commute to work together, eat meals together, spend our evenings and nights together.  It is just so much … quieter now.  So quiet.

Typically I don’t prefer my own company but I’m slowly learning the lessons of spending time alone.  There is no glossing over my flaws nor distracting myself from where I fall short.  Alone is an unforgiving mirror reflecting back what I have kept myself too busy to see. It is going beyond all that a being of breath and bone can become.

Slowly but surely I sit within my own skin more comfortably, gaze out through 62 year old eyes attached to an over-capacity brain and begin to appreciate thinking random uninterrupted thoughts as they occur to me, as the finger of truth is laid upon my heart. 

I might even decide I’m fit company for myself.   Maybe someday.  Probably not today.

Anyone up for a cup of coffee?

My treat.

 

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Moody Dusk

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I’m out here in the dusk…

There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…night has silenced
the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

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