Apr 22


Radiant Tree (2) I would like to pay tribute to the trees in my life.  They have been stalwart supports that have served to ground and memorialize milestones in my brief existence on this planet.   So often there has been a particular tree that would insist itself into my awareness each time I passed it in the course of a daily journey whether by car or on foot.  For instance, I recall driving to my office in the autumn of each year looking forward to seeing this particular maple suddenly be ablaze with intense colors of red and orange.  Let there be no doubt that on such occasions the event of Moses encountering God in a burning bush was totally self-evident.  More to the point was the expectation that this tree would be there each year.  That I had developed a relationship with it and that as I drove through the seasons I would be able to recognize my “tree friend” as it changed it’s attire.  Over the years it was a constant and gentle reminder that I was not alone on my path in life.


How obvious and yet strange are such connections we may have with trees.  These relationships are, I feel, too often taken for granted and assumed to be part of what is given to us.  There have been many times when I have thought about this, in the moment honored it, and just as quickly moved on to the next thing to be addressed in my life.  Recently this complacency has been rattled.


Last winter I was visiting my Mom and the house I grew up in.  I was taking a long walk around the neighborhood and became aware of how many things had changed since childhood.  (I wrote about this in another blog.  See “Childhood Landscapes Revisited”).  One of the things that struck me was the loss of some trees I remembered from that time.  It occurred to me that these trees had been dear friends and now they were gone.


I began to think about how such friendships have been made and how easily they are forgotten and even sacrificed in the name of progress.  It was under the branches of another tree that I can remember one of my early epiphanies about being connected to Nature and really feeling alive.  It was this big maple tree that was in front of my aunt and uncle’s house.  My cousins and I would lie down under its canopy and stick the seeds we called “pollywogs” of this maple tree on the bridge of our noses as if we were trying to add another nose to our faces or some other fantasy like that.


I haven’t been back to see if this tree is still with us.  The memory of that day does allow me to reconnect with the power of that sense of aliveness and expansion.  It has been an ongoing motivation to inspire others to have such a sensibility.  And yet there is a shadow in this.


More and more as I look around me today, despite all the urgency about needing to be connected more with Nature, I see the contrary.  The very idea of being in such relationship is more of an after thought, something that needs to be included rather than being a continuing presence.  Everything has become one more thing to do in order to evolve my self towards some kind of perfection, to improve myself, to accomplish something else. 


What has become of that feeling of absorbed engagement in places, in nature, where it is an ongoing presence out of which we are renewed?


The push to make way for “progress” is often at the cost of some of those special tree friendships.  I once lived in a housing complex in Athens, Georgia when I was attending graduate school.  Across the road was a large extent of property that was part of this farmer’s land.  This part of “his” property was ill suited for farming and so it was left to itself.  The variety of flora and fauna that it supported as a result of this neglect would make you giddy with all its displays. 


In an area near to where a main road passed was this majestic old tree.  I can’t recall what species it was.  In the summer evenings it would become this magical place.  For some reason it was the gathering place for all the fireflies in the area.  Literally, the whole tree would be lit up like it was Christmas.  I could walk under its branches and be surrounded by all these flashing lights.  And it was easy, under these conditions, to reclaim the wonder from a distant childhood.

 Chopped Tree

So with horror I awoke one day to see this extraordinary Being bulldozed and hacked to pieces in the service of “progress”.  The intensity of what was felt and loved being destroyed was almost too much to bear.  It is not that I do not appreciate that some things have to be eliminated at times to make way for something new.  This is just part of the creative process.  However this was personal.  It wasn’t just a tree.  The tree was my neighbor, my friend.


And this has haunted me ever since.  Nor has this been the last time I experienced such a devastating loss regarding tree friends.  In the greater scheme of things we all come and go.  What becomes profoundly agitating in this, is how easily we dispatch any living being in order to move forward.  With indigenous wisdom systems the felling of such a tree would have been marked by ceremony and ritual that would have honored this Being.  Today, it is carelessly reduced to being wood for someone’s fire.


I suppose what I am saying is that if we were to approach the necessity for making changes in the name of some new existence, that we honor what came before and say a blessing.   At the very least, we should do that for our friends.


I am sharing this with you because once again I have been confronted with this issue in my life.  I live across from Dolores Park in San Francisco that was designated for a major overhaul.  This park has been “loved to death” by so many that it was in need of repair.  All the community stakeholders were engaged to develop the plan for the remodeling of this park.  Most signed on for what was planned to be done.  And yet when the work began, I don’t believe anyone realized that so many of the trees that have been living in this park for over a hundred years or more would so easily be dismissed and chopped down.  I, for one, with my daily excursions around the park had become deeply familiar with these trees.  And like the maple tree I looked forward to seeing on my drive to work, I looked forward to seeing these trees.


Once again, these were my friends, new for me, but I am sure for many far longer.  All sorts of thoughts appeared.  Why couldn’t they have been transplanted somewhere else?  Maybe it wasn’t in the budget?  And how many more trees will be dispatched this way to “improve” the quality of life in this city?  The thoughts would keep coming and the sad recognition is that from the perspective of progress loss is inevitable.  I know I could have done better.  I could have gathered a community of support to protect such trees and raise funds for their successful relocation.  And to this extent I feel my lack.  I even lapse into a self-loathing and how I am even hypocritical. 

 The Tree Huggers-from Thich Nhat Hanh

What I have come to live with for myself in the face of this is to, at the very least, pause long enough to feel the depth of this issue.  That what is at stake is how we are all related.  That there is a way we need to not only acknowledge the importance of another’s existence, tree or human, but that it is essential that we, in friendship, care about one’s departure regardless of the reason.  We should treat our trees more humanely.  Perhaps we should treat each other more “treely”.  There is something about the ongoing presence of these creatures in our lives that have nurtured and accompanied our paths in this world. 


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  1. HW

    This is yet your most sensitive and most moving blog I have read so far. It comes through with so much depth and emotion.
    I hope others see, read and feel it too.

  2. Esther Frances

    I loved this blog. Not only do I relate and thank you for speaking out about your inner experience, I also love the way that you write. I am looking forward to reading more. I’ll be sending you two pieces that I wrote that relate to what you have shared here. Blessings, Esther

  3. Karl

    As you said, “what is at stake is how we are all related”. We are related to the trees around us, we are related to all of nature and that includes, of course, we humans and how we are being. I live on a street where the homes were built about 15 years ago. At the end of the street are two of the most majestic heritage oak trees that I have ever seen. I frequently walk by them, admire them, and am extremely thankful that they were “saved” when this track of homes was developed. Your blog post has me appreciating them even more. Thanks for expressing your sentiments so eloquently.
    All the best, Karl

  4. Iris Stanfield

    Fantastic two pictures with this particular blog. Love your writing, and this one was really on point. I had a special maple tree in Texas too where they are not all that plentiful. It is on the corner of a lot surrounding a big church in the neighborhood I lived in. I road by it twice a day. In the fall when it turned gold, I always paused at the corner stop sign to look up at the sun through those leaves. It was there last year when I went home in October. If it should ever die or be cut down, I will mourn its passing. Thanks for this piece in honor of trees.

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