I seem to be writing on trees these days. This morning, I happened to notice this photo I took a month ago, rainbow colored leaves of the white oak. I want to share it just because it is beautiful. May there be beauty in your life today, and may you have the grace to notice it!
It must have been a big machine that cut down the grandmother pine tree. I found no disturbance around the stump when I climbed up to it to offer my grief and respect. The weeds and small brush nearby were there as before, with only fresh wood shavings and pine sap falling over the edges of the stump. Nothing huge crashed to the ground when they took her. So it must have been a big machine.
I discovered her absence on my walk near Capisic Brook the day before, but didn’t have the strength to approach her while there were lots of workmen in the Rowe school construction zone nearby. Ironically, they were making a children’s playground, spreading wood chips and such–perhaps that was that her wood they were using? But why?
I met this tree last winter when I was measuring old white pines around my neighborhood, after I discovered that our white pine was definitely over 100 years old, and perhaps even 160 years, according to her circumference. At that time, I was also mourning all the cut pines for the construction of the new elementary school. I found this pine with a yellow tape around her trunk. She was one hundred and two inches in circumference, just like the white pine in our yard. That is when I knew she was one of the grandmother trees. I made an inquiry on the school’s Facebook page, but the person who responded didn’t know about the situation of the tree.
And now the white pine is gone. I went to the place where she had stood, and expressed my sadness, and I did the best I could to honor her. I counted her rings, making small markings after each 25. (You can see those marks if you look very closely at the photo above.) I got to 100, and then the outer rings were too difficult to see clearly–but I guess there were at least 20 more–so 120 years old? Maybe even 130? That would mean she was likely a small sapling in the year 1897 when both of my grandmothers were born. She observed a century of animal and human life from her vantage point above the brook.
People in U.S. society are still thinking of trees merely as resources for our needs and wants. But we have to begin opening our minds to the idea that the trees have their own lives, their own being-ness. Scholars are learning that the forest is a living community of trees and other plants and animals and fungi, all interconnected in a network underground, supporting each other and all of life.
Recently, I had a chance to read The Overstory by Richard Powers. The novel tells the story of several people, all with some significant connection to a tree or trees, who come together to protect old growth forests in the northwest United States. Powers borrows from actual science and activism in telling his fictionalized version. I especially loved the character of the woman botanist whose research suggested that trees were communicating and caring for each other. Because of that hypothesis, she lost all her funding and academic connections. Eventually she found her way into work as a forest ranger, until decades later when other scientists caught up with her insights. Two other characters spend a year living in one of the oldest redwoods, to try to protect it from the logging company.
Of course, the forest between the Rowe School (formerly Hall School) and Capisic Brook is already badly degraded. It is not old growth or pristine. It is encroached upon by invasive plants and runoff pollutants. But it is still a living system, a wetland, a wild community in the midst of city streets and buildings. And so I walk along its path, I cherish it, I pick up litter. I try to bear witness.
I have been in a circle of people deepening our relationship with the forest. One of our practices was to become the trees and listen and share what is revealed. I feel the language of trees as compounding, simultaneous, neurotransmission from all over at the same time. Many words in any order creating multiple meanings. The trees speak through the mycelial networks in the soil. The center of intelligence in the trees is in the roots. All the trees are speaking and listening at the same time.
We notice the part of the trees that is above ground but they are more attuned to the below ground where they are linked to each other. If we want to hear we must listen through our feet. And they say we can never fully understand their mysteries… but we must try.
We are related to the trees. We are like their children. They teach us community and reciprocity, giving and receiving as life.
After, we created pictures of our experiences and this was mine.
Today I set out on my usual walk around the neighborhood. When I got to the newly paved way that leads over Capisic Brook toward the new Rowe school, I saw a fox cross over at the other end, and slip into the path into the woods (before I could catch them in a photo). So I felt invited to walk that path along the brook as well. I couldn’t see the fox anymore, but I could hear squirrels doing their alarm chatters, and guessed they might be warning others about the fox.
I hadn’t walked that path for at least a week, and along the way, I noticed that someone had been upgrading the trail, with logs positioned on the edges, and a gravel/sand mix spread out over the trail. That made me smile. I like to see the evidence of other people caring for the trail.
It is a beautiful sunny day today and I was enjoying the trees and the shifting colors in the leaves. We’ve learned to speak about the weather in our Wabanaki Language class. “It’s sunny” would be “Kisuhswiw.” The word for sun is kisuhs. It’s pronounced starting with a hard “g” sound, and a “z” sound for the first “s.”
On my walk I was thinking about Findhorn, the community in Scotland that was founded by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean. The three had been living in a caravan park, with few material resources, so Peter started a small garden. During her meditation, Dorothy began receiving instructions from the spirits of the plants, showing how best to grow them. The plants thrived, and became so huge that they attracted international attention. I was thinking about the possibilities for communion between myself and the plant beings. Even as I attempt to learn about gardening, the plants are actually my best teachers. Yet, in our materialistic society, it is easy to doubt or forget that communication.
When I reached the river of rocks, I wondered if the path workers would have built a new bridge over the drainage area, but it was the same. Then, further down the slope, I saw the fox! I think they were eating an old dead squirrel. This time I was able to take a few photos, before they decided to move on with their day. I felt blessed. Anytime a wild shy creature lets you spy them, you know it is a blessing. May you also be blessed today!
The dawn wakes me up at 5 a.m. even though I went to bed after 11. Part of me cries, “No! I’m tired!” I’ve been weary and out of balance since my father died. But then I remember that the morning is my proper habitat. I remember that the dawn is full of magic. So I get up and go outside, and finally set up the screen tent that functions for me in summer as a place of meditation and prayer.
The tent is getting old and faded–this might be the last year before it falls apart. But it is a place I can come to in rain or shine, protected from mosquitos, a little sanctuary. This year I set it up near the fire circle, and enjoy the feeling of that area taking shape as a circle of spirit and connection. On the other side of the fire circle is what will eventually be a pond. The old white pine is nearby. And the hammock.
This place grounds me. I water the vegetables and new plants with water from our rain barrels. I pray for the mulberry tree which is still a stick–but are there tiny green buds just beginning to show? It is our question mark tree–will it come to life or not? I learned from Fedco that mulberries can be late bloomers, so we’ll give it a few more weeks. I go round to bless the blueberry plants–both of them had had damage to one of their two branches the other day–little animals breaking them off? It hurt to cut them off below the break, so that the plant could recover.
I water the asparagus plants–which although planted within a foot of each other, emerged at different times, with different strengths, some tiny and weak, others big and bushy–may these fronds give strength to the roots so that they can return year after year. The other day I transplanted the licorice bush into its spot. I made a little bed with cardboard over the grass, then compost, some coffee chaff, some soil, wood mulch on top. It needs to grow for a few years before we can dig up the roots to use in medicinal teas. I had to think about where to place it, but finally decided on a spot near the sea kale and turkish rocket plants, which are in full bloom right now. I put a little fence around it to protect it from random water hoses or accidental mishaps.
Dear mother earth, dear trees, dear home, bless our human lives. Bless this world with its many troubles. Bless the parents who are being separated from their children, the children being separated from their parents. Bless those who struggle for justice, for dignity, for the water, for the people, for the planet.
My birthday isn’t until the end of June, but Margy gave me a wonderful free-standing hammock as an early birthday gift. With all of the working in the garden, it is easy to forget to just BE–to just lie there and watch the sky and the trees and the birds. It is large enough for both of us, and on Friday afternoon Margy and I were just being in it together. Several little birds came to check us out in the trees close by–a tufted titmouse was singing, so much louder than one might expect from its small size. Catbirds, cardinals. “What is this new nest in the back of the yard?” they seemed to be asking. “What new thing are you humans doing here?”
But we weren’t doing anything. We were just being, watching, enjoying, listening, seeing. On Saturday, I came back and tried again. I especially like the symbolism of this gift, since this summer I will be retiring from my work at the church. It is a bittersweet time, because I have loved my work at the church, and I will miss the people there. But I like to imagine that in retirement I will have more opportunity for just being. The hammock is a reminder to take that time–to not get caught up in all the projects I might be doing in the yard or the house or out there in the wide world–but to be still and spacious, to relax, to observe, to delight. Thank you, Margy! I love this gift!
Our plants from Fedco are being delivered some time today! And, I still have to dig the beds for the 25 asparagus plants. I started the other day, by turning over the soil behind the house, and getting rid of any weeds there. Saturday I dug a trench, and then put some compost in the trench. It still needs more compost! I also got rid of a no longer used drainage area filled with small stones and dirt–I moved the stones and dirt to under our water spigot.
My understanding is that for asparagus crowns, you make a mound in the middle of the trench, and then position the roots around it, each crown about a foot apart, and cover with a couple inches of soil, gradually filling the trench as the small plants grow, keeping a couple inches of shoot exposed. This particular bed has room for about 12 of the plants–so today I will try to dig another bed near the garage.
I am feeling a little bit panicked and excited about all the plants to plant: along with 25 asparagus crowns, there will be an apple tree, a peach tree, two blueberry bushes, three hazelnut bushes, (those garden beds have been ready since last summer). Also a mulberry tree which we hope to put further back in our yard. Also a licorice plant, and 3 golden seal plants which will go into pots until frost danger is past. Our friend said we could put them in her greenhouse for a few weeks.
So, not much time to write, but I wanted to make a log of the garden’s progress. Now out to dig for a while before going to the office.