Tree-being

By Bill Clark Yesterday I became mindful of you. It happened when I saw you burning for us in the fireplace, giving us everything you had. There would be nothing left but ashes, that would fertilize the earth. You appear as lumber, popsicle sticks, firewood, furniture, toothpicks, and paper. You do these things for us without protest.

But you also live for the birds, squirrels, grubs, and the wind. You hold the soil in place and provide clean water. You make the air new each day, and startle us with shapes and colors, as beautiful naked in the winter as clothed in the summer.

What do we do for you? Now, we don't even stay out of your way. We don't honor your community, your home.

Even as a stump, you're proud to host our Buddha shrine. You show us unconditional love. Thank you for letting me hug you.

When I returned from a camping trip at age 13,I vowed I would never drink Coca Cola again. The resolution lasted two weeks, but the fact of making it has never left me. It was intuitive and came out of me in spite of myself. Only when I participated in my first retreat with Sisters Annabel and Jina did I begin to understand. I had been a lonely and unsupported only child. Neither parent meant to hurt me, but both were products of such dysfunction they simply had no idea how to nurture themselves, much less me. On top of that, we moved all the time, so I had no continuity of friends to help me sort out what was happening to me. I was so unaware that when an aunt once said to me, "Doesn't it bother you when your father yells at you like that?" it was a great shock to me that things could happen differently.

The camping trip was quite different. We camped in a magnificent old-growth area by a lake, on which we floated around on big logs, our "ships." We cooked over warm, soothing campfires. I felt a sense of peace and belonging as never before. My communion with the woods was more real than any pleasure I got from something external like Coke. The woods touched me as nothing else had.

At the retreat with the nuns, one of the participants built a delicate shrine for a small, white porcelain Avalokitesvara statue on an weathered tree stump. Carefully placed rocks, greenery that had fallen out of surrounding trees, flowers, and deer scat—"the flower vindicates the mud out of which it arises," as an old philosophy professor used to say—adorned it. I was just stopped in my tracks upon first seeing it, and immediately bowed to myself and to it.

Bill Clark is circulation director for Northern Lights, an environmental policy group in Missoula, Montana.

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