One Tree – A Hundred Backdrops

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If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.
~G.K. Chesterton

 

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Most evenings there is no sunset fanfare, no departing glowing orb on the horizon, no color spreading upward into the clouds.  The typical evening canvas is just grey and ordinary at dusk, transitioning to twilight, giving into nightfall.

Grey–>darkergrey–>black.

Yet there are times not at all ordinary.  On those evenings, the Master reaches deep for his palette and starts mixing.  As He begins His work,  grey gradually gives way to amber and orange, shifting to red and purple and yellow.   A daub here, a speckle there, then full out splash and streak.  The backdrop is never the same night after night.  He takes creative license with His creation.

We are invited to pick up a brush and apprentice for Him, learning the sweep of the hand, the grace of the wrist stroke, the fine work of the brush tip outlining the black of darkening shadows.

There can be no wrong color combination; anything goes.  It is a riveting gift of extraordinary artwork: it is meant to be shared, to be taught, to be cherished even if only for a few brief minutes.

When the sky glows like unfolding rose petals, all will see it; this work won’t be hidden away in a gallery or museum.

All too soon it moves on, the canvas plain and dark once again.  And we’re left holding the brush, eager and ready to try again when the timing is right.

 

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There is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset.
~G.K. Chesterton

 

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A Simple Majesty

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming

 

 

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The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers 
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away, 
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers. 
Pass me the can, lad; there’s an end of May..

…The troubles of our proud and angry dust 
Are from eternity, and shall not fail. 
Bear them we can, and if we can we must. 
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale. 
~A. E. Houseman

 

 

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Yet in the soft–hung leaves a splendour lies,

As though not from the far–off noon it came

But in themselves a green indwelling flame

Were prisoned. Here unanswered mysteries

Content me, and of peace I want not more,

But feed on thoughts that end

In a sweet pause of mind,

As if from my own being back resigned

To the universal essence of Earth’s core,

Where over me the saps of life ascend. 

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Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground”

 

 

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Each May the horse chestnut tree in our front yard transforms for a week into a Renoir painting.   It explodes into hundreds of bright clusters of delicate orchid-like blossoms, forming cone shaped floral candles illuminating the spreading branches.  However, its setting is more peasant than romantic, as the tree stands in common company between a pine tree and a poplar lining the rural driveway into our barnyard.  This is an exceedingly humble spot for a tree bedecked with such majestic lighting, its tender broad leafed branches brushed and broken by passing hay wagons and shavings trucks.

Although its graceful beauty seems more appropriate along the Seine River,  during the summer it fits perfectly in its spot near our haybarn.  Its verdant foliage provides deep cooling shade during hot sweaty days.    The branches that were once lit up with scores of pink and white blossoms become leafy respite for a dusty hay crew gulping lemonade in between loads.   Horses snooze in the paddocks under its shadow.   Birds nest well hidden.   The tree becomes sanctuary within and below.

By fall, the tree forms its fruit within unpretentious capsules covered with spines and prickles, visually spiked yet actually soft and pliable.  There are few natural things  so plain and homely as the buckeye horse chestnut husk.   These are shed by the hundreds  in autumn wind and rainstorms, and they shower down, cobbling the driveway, eventually to break apart underfoot.

Only by leaving the tree can the deep brown nut be revealed from its hiding place, its richness exposed.    From exquisite bloom to shady haven to prickly husk to mahogany harvest,  this chestnut tree’s changing palette needs no canvas, no frame, no museum gallery showcase.  Instead it’s a year round exhibition is for free,  right in our front yard.

 

 

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Hope is Borne on Wings

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Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. 
~Barbara Crooker from “Sometimes I am Startled Out of Myself” 

 

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Trees have wings too — and not only the feathered kind that rest briefly in their branches before taking flight again, to wheel and glide on the breeze.

The wings on trees don’t fly until fall.  They bud and blossom and fledge and wave in the wind and turn golden and then, like birds they are released to the sky.

So hope is born when borne on wings.

 

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
~Emily Dickinson

 

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Tree Secrets

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Of winter’s lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer’s secret
Deep down within its heart.
~ Charles G. Stater

 

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Enduring the dark and quiet winter months, the trees appear to doze deep while standing stark naked against the sky, roused only by the whipping of the winds and when breaking under a heavy coat of ice.

It is uneasy sleep.

When I look close now, I can tell:
they conceal summer secrets under their skin, the sap flows thick and sluggish, there is a barely palpable pulse in those branches.

A heart pumps within, readying.

 

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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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A Sourceless Light

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Some ask for the world
and are diminished
in the receiving
of it. You gave me
only this small pool
that the more I drink
from, the more overflows
me with sourceless light.
~R.S. Thomas  “Gift”

 

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A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh, a breath,
One group of trees, lean, naked and cold,
Inking their crest ‘gainst a sky green-gold,
One path that knows where the corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the fields went brown.
~Angelina Weld Grimke “A Winter Twilight”

 

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I am astonished at my thirstiness
slaked by such simple things
as a moment of pink,
a burst of birdsong,
the softness of fluff about to let go,
a glimpse of tomorrow over the horizon of today.

 

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Between the Known and Unknown

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Though I have never caught the word
Of God from any calling bird,
I hear all that the ancients heard.
 
Though I have seen no deity
Enter or leave a twilit tree,
I see all that the seers see.
 
A common stone can still reveal
Something not stone, not seen, yet real.
What may a common stone conceal?
 
Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing is hid that once was clear.
Nothing was God that is not here.
 
Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.
Here in the sun I sit alone
Between the known and the unknown.
~Robert Francis “Nothing is Far”
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Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted
and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
~Celtic saying
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A few times
in a few places
I have felt like I can almost reach out
and touch heaven
~His glory is that close~
but too soon I pull back,
put my hand back in my pocket,
rock back on my heels,
balancing barely
between the known
and the unknown.
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