Copyright ©, April 15, 2009, by P. R. Lowe
Late on a Tuesday afternoon, they came and began chain sawing the old apple tree; Tuesday, not being really significant, just out of the usual pattern of showing up on weekends to cut, burn, and scrape at nature; bringing the bells and whistles of a culture I am choosing to leave behind.
The abrasive gnawing sound awoke me from a peaceful, centered place and I went out to investigate it’s source. There was the smell of smoke and gasoline, burning oil and wood filling the air, intermingled with the faint delicious aroma of new budding apple blossoms and forest mulch just waking from winter sleep. A gentle spring breeze whispered over the mountains, carrying with it the guttural moaning of whirring blades ripping through wooden flesh and sappy blood.
The divergence of the two, temporarily plastered me to the spot and I reeled for a bit in the “What?” of that moment. A perfectly lovely old tree, in a burst of spring life, filled with delicate pink blossoms and impending heavy, juicy fruit, that fed the deer and other weary scavengers (and sometimes myself) all the way into winter, was being taken off at it’s knees. That was the immediate reality in this world of wonder and magic.
Then came the “Why?” of it. Was it somehow in the way? Were gasoline and oil so plentiful, and this one way to use some up? Was the possibility of having fresh, real apples somehow seen as an unwelcome gift in a wavering economy? Or was the tree simply not seen at all, merely an unwelcome weed in an otherwise pristine plot of grass (that required more mowing, more gasoline and oil)? Yes, that must be it, I reasoned, insanely looking for answers that would quell the growing sense of grief within me. For the old tree had partially fallen across the property line two seasons ago and spread itself out over the field to rest, after many years of standing stalwart against the mountain wind and storm. But it was still alive, very much alive – – carrying on, spitting-forth pink blossoms and fruit year after year.
How many years had it been the faithful sentinel and life giving entity to the land? Who and how many had gleaned sustenance from its existence? Yes, that must be it, for now it would be much easier to mow the grass under it (which would probably not grow much anyway in the tree’s shadow) and making the grass around it neat and tidy (this being an open field in a rural area, that of course was paramount).
Enter the cynic, followed by Anger, accompanied by its steadfast companion Judgment; thus the focus on the “They” that delivered this unwelcome Tuesday afternoon lesson. Familiar words of contempt, and condemnation at the “Whom” of it, filled my thinking-ness, but did not rest so easily in my heart. My physical body began its well worn route along the map to grief; the shoulders rounded forward, sinking the heart further and further away from honest confrontation; the head on its way to a droop, avoiding seeing out in front – – only the ground under my feet, where I stood safely on familiar ground, avoiding completely the lesser known “new” territory of love and forgiveness.
Conditioning and entrenched fears set upon me like a comforting old friend, a ragged baby blanket carried for eons that gave me shelter and protection from participating too much in my own growth. Before I knew it, I was becoming that which I disdained, a reactive machine that spewed out that which was fed into it. This place I knew well. Was it the present I was feeling? Or a thousand lifetimes of loss and dread? Remembering too many times of losing that which I had come to love, that which I had begun to hold onto, missing it possibly before it was ever gone? Driven by a guiding emotion that cued other unpleasant emotions, the body following to compound this speeding train of firing neurons? Staying put? To repeat this pattern time and time again, until I got it? Until something grander than myself, the tree and those that maimed the tree took hold?
The “whodunits” and “whys” began to seem less important, melting into the now of, “it is done” and it became clearer and clearer to me that all that was left, was moving forward; changing myself, old patterns and responses, realizing it was these very things that brought about the tree’s demise and my own grief in its passing. What we react to, we become. What we hold at arms length is what saturates our heart. So I make it my job to identify the emotion and reaction that does not serve the highest good (mine, theirs, or the tree’s) and transmute it with it’s opposite; and as is often the case – – easier thought than done; not a completely clear or previously mapped course set out for me.
The chain saws subsided and peace slowly returned. I came back into the house with yet another lesson to integrate and process in the days to come. Just inside the door I felt a familiar presence return on a breeze from the trees overhead, one who had seemingly left me centuries ago to wallow in my grief and despair, without him. This energy followed me inside and brought with it the image of whirling, dancing, pink apple blossoms that engulfed and twirled around me in the living room, filing the air with fragrance and the essence of pure joy and release. I felt this presence embrace me, then whisper, “Dance. Celebrate the life of the tree not the illusion of its passing.” And I danced until I felt abandon and grief became joy. And for the first time in a long, long, time – – I did not miss him or fault him for going on his own path without me.
Whether I shall remember the essence of this, in the days and weeks to come, I do not know. Probably not. But now, at least now, I realize the opposite of grief and conceive the power by which I can summon it; that even if I cannot control my immediate emotions, or deep rooted feelings of the heart, I have the power to change my body’s response to them and that is a good place to start – – to shift me, thus shifting everything.
Later that evening I went up to visit the remains of the old tree. The burning efforts had been unsuccessful and piles of pink and green budding branches, still smiling in the delight of their own self, lay heaped in great lonely piles. I did not feel sadness, loss or grief as I broke off some of the branches, caressed them to my chest and walked back to the house. I placed them in a vase of water in the living room. Who knows maybe a new tree will take root?