The trees are coming into their winter bareness, the only green is the lichen on their branches. Against the hemlocks, the rain is falling in dim, straight lines… This is the time of year when all the houses have come out of the woods, edging closer to the roads as if for company. ~Verlyn Klinkenborg “The Rain It Raineth”
The deciduous trees in our part of the country have all been stripped bare, having come through rain and gusty winds in the last week. It forces typically leaf-hidden homes out of camouflage and I’m once again startled at the actual proximity of our neighbors. It isn’t as obvious in the summer given the tree buffer everyone has carefully planted. Now we’re reminded once again we are not alone and actually never have been.
Even the mountains that surround us from the northwest to the southeast seem closer when the trees are bare and new snow has settled on their steep shoulders.
We think we have autonomy all wrapped up but it takes the storms of autumn to remind us we are unwrapped and vulnerable, stark naked, in desperate need of company when darkness comes early, the snow flies and the lights are flickering.
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I grew up on a small farm with several acres of woodland. It was my near-daily retreat until I left for college: I walked among twittering birds, skittering wild bunnies, squirrels and chipmunks, busy ant hills and trails, blowing leaves, swimming tadpoles, falling nuts, waving wildflowers, large firs, pines, cottonwoods, maples and alder trees.
I had a favorite “secret” spot sitting perched on a stump where a large rock provided a favorite warm sunning spot for salamanders. They and I would make eye contact and ponder what the other was thinking.
It was where I felt closest to Creation, more so than the house I slept in with my family, the busy classrooms, the dentist office and retirement home where I worked.
Only our church sanctuary was such a thin place with a “can almost touch the hem of God” reality.
At college I searched for a place as private, as quiet, as serene, as full of the voices of creation – nothing ever matched the woods of my childhood home. I gave up as I lived a decade in the city and almost forgot what a familiar woods felt like.
I’ve come close again on this farm we’ve stewarded for thirty years, but the constant distractions are much greater now than when I was a child. I can’t empty out my head and heart as completely to receive the gifts of the field and trees and woodlands. I have greater worries, bigger responsibilities, places to go, people to see, things to do, a shorter timeline to get what I want to accomplish done …
Perhaps the time will come again to simply gaze into the eyes of a fellow creature, and invite them in with a head and heart ready to receive what they and our Creator have to give.
I know all too well that the end of October means the light changes, the colors fade, and the chill sets in. I grasp and bundle up what scenes I can preserve now, like harvesting hay to be tied up in bales and stored safely until the middle of winter. Then, at the right time, when I’m most hungry for color and light, I loosen the strings and let the images tumble out, feeding me like mother’s milk.
I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
~Henry David Thoreau
You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night. ~Denise Levertov
I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you upon the hill, by the silent pond where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree. What is it you call, pine tree, when the rain falls, when the winds blow, and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree? I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind, and do not know how to reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree? ~Yone Noguchi “I Hear You Call, Pine Tree”
Our wet side of the state is not pine tree country — they prefer the dry climate east of the mountains. Once planted here, however, they take hold and make the best of their wet feet.
The tall pine along our barn driveway must be at least sixty years old — it is starting to look its age, as am I. Sure, there are some bare branches, a few brown needles, yet it still drops cones in the hope of a future generation of pine seedlings. The squirrels are too fast and whisk the seeds to their hideaways before they can sprout and take hold.
This old acquaintance of mine, this venerable pine and I, we may sway in the breeze and be bent by ice and snow, but we weather the years together. After all, our roots go deep and our arms reach to the sky.
Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy.
These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of our experience. ~C.S. Lewis
A solstice moment
when light replaces
where darkness thrives:
there is a wounding
that tears us open,
so joy can enter the cracks
that hurt the most.
Scars come in various sizes and shapes, some hidden, some quite obvious to all. How they are inflicted also varies–some accidental, others therapeutic, and too many intentional. The most insidious are the ones so deep inside, no one can see or know they are there.
Back in our woodlot stands a sawed off stump of a cedar that was old growth in virgin forest over a hundred years ago. One day the clearcut loggers came through our part of this rural county and took every tree they could to haul to the local sawmills to become beams and lumber for the growing homesteading population in the region. This cedar once was grand and vast, covering an immense part of the forest floor, providing protection to trillium at its feet and finches’ nests and raptors hunting in its branches. It nurtured its environment until other plans were made, and one day, axes fell on its sides to cut out the notches for the springboards where two loggers stood to man the saw which brought the tree down. Where the wood went is anyone’s guess. It could be one of the mighty beams supporting our old hay barn roof or it could have become the foundation flooring of a nearby one room school house. It surely had a productive and meaningful life as part of a structure somewhere until rot or carpenter ants or fire brought it once again to its knees.
But the stump remains, a tombstone of remembrance of a once grand tree, the notch scars embedded deep in its sides, nursing new seedlings from its center and moss, lichen and ferns from its sides.
I come from logger stock so I don’t begrudge these frontier settlers their hard scrabble living, nor minimize their dangerous work in order to feed themselves and their families. It’s just I’m struck by those scars even one hundred years later — such a visible reminder of what once was a vital living organism toppled for someone’s need and convenience.
Trees are not unique. It happens to people too. Everyday scars are inflicted for reasons hard to justify. Too often I see them self-inflicted in an effort to feel something other than despair. Sometimes they are inflicted by others out of fear or need for control.
Sometimes they are simply the scars of living, wounds accumulated along the pathway we tread, often to letting in Light where there was none before.
None of them are as deep and wide as the scars that were accepted on our behalf, nor as wondrous as the love that oozed from them, nor as amazing as the grace that abounds to this day because of the promise spelled out by them. These are scars from the Word made Flesh.