Thursday, August 30, 2012

Talking to the Trees.

(This is an introduction and the first of a series of essays I've written over the past two years or so. I'd love to hear your stories of your talks with your trees.)

A collection of essays

I’ve been talking to the trees for almost a decade now. But I know deep in my soul, that I’ve had a connection to the trees all my life. In my minds eye, I can still see the fluffy, white blossom clusters of the crabapple tree outside my childhood bedroom window and waking on a spring morning looking up at them was like seeing miniature clouds above my head. As a child, I remember the woods were a special place for me, a place to imagine and play, but also a place of comfort, relief from childhood bruises of the heart and mind. I peddled my pink bike with its banana seat down the streets of my suburban neighborhood to the back of the development, where the only wildness remained. It wasn’t a park, just land that hadn’t been built on yet. There was a creek, with big old trees on each side, a make-shift rope swing, and cut through the bushes and grasses that grew naturally were paths made by all the kids biking through. It was the favorite place for many kids in the neighborhood. For me, it was peace and freedom and safety. I know there are many stories about bad things happening to kids in woods like these, but I always felt safe under the trees.

I don’t know that I listened to the trees, then, like I do now. Maybe I did, and it was a natural thing that I took for granted and as life went on and I got older, it slipped away unnoticed coming back to me in mid-life as a revelation. Maybe that’s what mid-life is, a return to the wisdom of childhood where talking to the trees is a natural exchange, an everyday conversation shared between friends.

That’s how I see the trees, as friends who share my neighborhood, country and world. Each tree has its own family background, history, experiences and personality. Some trees are gentle souls, nurturing and comforting, some are powerful, strong and supportive. Others are joyful and happy or old, bent and wise. Even the trees, whose trunks have been destroyed, still provide shelter and food for other creatures of the woods. One tree you’ll meet in a later essay had its trunk burned out, but the charred remains fertilized the birth and became the cradle of a new tree. Another tree grew up and around metal impaled into its trunk. Yet another had one side of its trunk burned hollow only to grow strong on the other side with branches two to three feet in diameter.

These are the trees I visit everyday on my walks in the park. They live in a small park in the midst of a suburban development much like the neighborhood in which I grew up. And even though many spurn the ‘burbs’ as spiritless and homogenous, these trees are not. Even though they live right around the corner from a baseball field, tennis courts and playgrounds, they are as exceptional and amazing as any tree in any forest of the world. Most importantly, they are part of my world and I hope, through my essays, they become part of your world as well. And that they inspire you to see your neighborhood trees in a different way, maybe even take the risk of talking to the trees, too.
There are days when I walk in the only one end of the woods, through the birches and pines. Then, there are several days a week, when I trek further over the creek bridge and down the path into the cedar grove.

The Cedar Grove is home to many huge, strong and wonderful trees. There is the Mother Tree, Joy Tree, Old Man Tree, Peace Tree, and many others I haven’t named yet. This is one story about the Mother Tree.

Empty Vessel

I look forward to my visit to her every time. She is the Mother Tree. She is so strong and comforting and wise. Her branches aren’t beautiful, some are broken from storms, others are curved and twisted by time. There are small boards nailed into her trunk, like steps, to give the children a way to climb up into her branches. When I first saw the nails piercing her, I saw only pain and damage. I asked her if I should take them out so the holes could heal.

She said, “No, how will the children climb up into my arms, then? It’s alright. I want to be here for them, they need me.” I understood, then, that I was just one of many of children whom she held and nurtured in her branches and snuggled against her trunk.

Today, I leaned against her strong trunk tired from a restless night of worry about my son, my husband, my life. I’d tossed and turned in angry fitful sleep and awakened puffy eyed and empty. I just leaned there and sighed. I didn’t have the energy to even ask her a question. I just needed her support and she gave it as she always does. I could feel the warm, supportive energy flowing from her to me. I closed my eyes and drank it in.

She knew. She always seems to know what’s bothering me and by her very nature, she gives comfort. Many times, I ask her a question or ask for words of advice. The Mother Tree talks to me, then, giving words of wisdom and support.

But today, I was too tired. I just leaned into her, resting in her care. That’s when I heard her.

She said, “Be an empty vessel.” I shook my head a little, wondering if I’d heard correctly.

So I asked her, “Are you sure?” She gave me no response. I leaned in closer checking in with her but I knew in my soul what she’d said. I just didn’t understand it.

My next question was, “What do you mean?” No answer.

I breathed in and sighed out. I was so tired and I needed answers, not more questions. Sighing, I walked away from her, not knowing what to do with her message. I walked over to my husband who was leaning on the Peace Tree and told him what I’d heard.

I said, “Empty vessel? What the hell does that mean?” He shrugged and we trudged off out of the woods and home.

When I got home, I started to go about my usual routine but suddenly, I found myself lying down on the floor of my walk in closet. I was on my back, arms at my sides, palms up and feet stretched out on the carpeted floor with my eyes closed. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t faint or anything, I just walked in the closet and lay down. I don’t know why I was there, I didn’t plan it. I just did it. I felt nothing at first. I was just lying there, breathing in and out. I was just there on the floor. Breathing in and out. I could hear my son’s music coming from his room. I could hear my husband at his computer downstairs. I could hear the silence of the closet, too.

Jilly, my yellow lab, came in a few times to check on me. Terra, my kitty, walked around me sniffing and then settled for a while on my left side underneath the row of jeans, capris and shorts hanging there next to me. I was warm. I was safe. Sometimes I felt tears run down my cheeks, sometimes I sighed. Sometimes, I opened my eyes briefly, noticing the interesting folds of the shirts hanging above me. Most of the time, I just laid there like I was floating on a peaceful sea. I stayed there for several hours.

Finally, my stomach let me know it was empty. It was time to get up, shower, dress and eat. It was time to take care of my body, time to get on with my daily life. I didn’t really think about it, I just did what I needed to do, one thing at a time. No worries. No anger. No pain.

I didn’t realize it then. I only realize it now, writing about it, that I was learning a lesson in the closet on the floor. Was I meditating? Yes, I was. I’ve since learned that many people use the classic ‘corpse pose’ for meditation. At the time, down the floor, I didn’t know what I was doing.

I do know that all the problems and feelings and to-do lists were gone, yes, in that way I had emptied my emotional ‘trash’. But I didn’t feel a lonely sense of emptiness. Instead, I felt that kind of freshly scrubbed, good tired that comes after a few hours or days of hard work. I was learning the lesson the Mother Tree gave to me that morning; to be an empty vessel.

I was clean, whole, rested, empty and open. I was an empty vessel, ready to receive.

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