By Rev. Anna Blaedel
When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
“She fell like a maple seed, pirouetting on an autumn breeze,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer, opening the beginning of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.
“A column of light streamed from a hole in the Skyworld, marking her path where only darkness had been before. It took her a long time to fall. In fear, or maybe hope, she clutched a bundle tightly in her hand…” As Skywoman falls, the creatures of the earth labor to break her fall, and welcome her into their midst, and create a livable life together.
The indigenous creation story continues: “Skywoman bent and spread the mud with her hands across the shell of the turtle. Moved by the extraordinary gifts of the animals, she sang in thanksgiving and then began to dance, her feet caressing the earth. The land grew and grew as she danced her thanks, from the dab of mud on Turtle’s back until the whole earth was made. Not by Skywoman alone, but from the alchemy of all the animals’ gifts coupled with her deep gratitude. Together they formed what we know today as Turtle Island, our home.”
Indigenous wisdoms have long offered insight into our deep interdependence, and interconnection, with all of life. How nothing and no one lives in isolation, in control, in impermeable independence. How violence is exacted through claims of ownership, and dominance, and mastery. How collective care and healing emerges from minding, and tending, the connections that constitute our world. Our lives are entangled, each with all. Past, present, and future, all woven together. Here, and there, and everywhere, too. Whatever affects one directly affects all, eventually. The Tree of Life connects all forms of creation. Our stories of origins, and endings. How we remember wisdoms born from the past, and create possibilities for our present, and its futures.
I invite you to think of a tree. One particular tree, that you know, and have some relationship with. For me, I think of the red maple that grew in the front yard of the house that held my adolescence. I spent years climbing its branches, cradled in its limbs. Reading, and writing, and dreaming. I’ve spent decades, now, watching its leaves alight, and fall, and decay, and bud, and bloom.
Stay awhile, with this one tree. Close your eyes. Deepen your breath.
What do you see? (Don’t hurry; stay awhile.)
What do you hear? (Go slowly.)
What do you smell? (Linger.)
What do you feel? (Bow often.)
To be saved, we open ourselves to encounters in and with the world.
This opening is risky. It entails “staying awhile” with loss, and pain. Fear, and hope. Our capacity for creation, and destruction. Our incredible power, and our powerlessness. Falling and going slowly and bowing often and shining. Knowing what roots and grounds us, and tending these nourishing practices and connections. Dancing. Offering up the alchemy of our gifts, coupled with deep gratitude for what becomes possible when we open our hands and hearts and lives to each other. Nothing is guaranteed; so much is possible.
May we draw near to the hope of ourselves, through which we breathe deeply, and shine forth.