All that is trying to save us

By Anna Blaedel

true, this isn’t paradise
but we come at last to love it
for the sweet hay and the flowers rising,
for the corn lining up row on row,
for the mourning doves who
open the darkness with song,
for warm rains
and forgiving fields,
and for how, each day,
something that loves us
tries to save us

–lucille clifton

At dusk on the evening of the last New Moon, just a few days ago, I was chopping garlic and grating ginger when the light in the kitchen shifted, startling me to attention. The sky glowed golden, then orange, then fiery red like the leaves falling from the sugar maples outside. The setting sun shining off the trees shining from the receding light. It was magical. The kind of magic attempted by filters and cinematography and such. I kept running outside to gaze and gasp, then returning to my cooking only to catch the light change, and run outside again.

Ross Gay writes of the delight that bubbles up and spills over when we pause long enough to praise “the mysterious and tender touching we are so often in the mdist of.” Trees touching sky, sky touching horizon, beauty touching me, inviting me to encounter the gorgeous aliveness stubbornly and softly pulsing through this world, in each moment.

I am, for better and worse, very permeable to my surroundings. I feel deeply, and am easily and often moved by the countless touchings constituting our days. The final leaf falling from a now bare-branched tree can leave me weeping with grief over all that is being lost. Witnessing the tiniest act of tender kindness can restore my sense of possibility, of faith in life.

This autumn, acorns have been enchanting me. The accumulation of acorns in my pockets are starting to spill over onto my desk, the coffee table, the kitchen counter, the altar by my side of the bed. Julian of Norwich found all the evidence she needed of Divine Love in a single hazelnut, cupped in her hand; I’m finding it in the variety of acorns, offering encounter.

There are twelve different species of oak trees that are native to Iowa, each with unique acorn offerings. Red oaks and white oaks, growing and germinating at different paces. White oak acorns sprout soon after they fall; red oak acorns spend the winter dormant, and sprout in the spring. Chinkapin oaks and pin oaks, with their excellent shade and small, striped fruits. Bur oaks, slow growing and skilled at endurance, adaptable to a wide variety of soils, both drought and flood resilient.

“It’s easy to look at the contour of a forest and feel a bone deep love for nature,” writes Jarod K. Anderson. “It’s less easy to remember that the contours of your own mind and body represent the exact same nature and deserve the same love.” This less-easy-remembering is an invitation this autumn season is offering me, and perhaps you, too. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about how we live in a world of wonder and of wounds–how our planetary home holds both the majestic mountain and the strip mine, the ancient redwoods and the clear cut void–and how both gratitude and grief are honest responses to these multiple truths constituting our reality.

We are made of contours both enduring and ephemeral. We grow and shed, transform and heal, at different paces, in infinitely varied rhythms. We are each and all invited to love that which is mortal, and to protect what we love. We are invited to shed the stories that no longer serve us. We are invited to grow, and to rest. We are invited to linger in the threshold portals between this moment, this life, this world–and the next–with imagination, and creativity, and dream. We are invited to cultivate seeds for collective life lived otherwise.

I don’t presume that these oak trees love me, but I do know that I love them, and that every day I encounter them trying to save me, and that I want to do my small part in trying to save them, too.  When I am among trees, I remember how precious this moment is, how fleeting my life is. I remember that the story of my life is a tiny part of an ongoing story of collective life, one that is not new, nor is it finished. I remember how we flourish when we have what we need and we flounder when our needs go unmet for too long, and how our flourishing and our floundering are both measured, if they mean anything at all, collectively. I remember how, when resources are scarce, trees that have what they need send out signals and share nutrients with the trees most in need, rather than hoard and compete. I remember sacred wisdoms that root me, and how these wisdoms inspire me to ground deep into the soil and widen toward the sun and rest dormant as needed and send out new shoots and reach for the other lifeforms constituting the ecosystem in which I live and move and have my being. I remember what a gift it is to breathe. I remember how to breathe. I remember how trees help us breathe–literally conspiring with us–to love a world that is not paradise, not even close, but one that is loving and saving–rooting us and rooting for us–and our collective flourishing, nevertheless.


Anna Blaedel (they/them) is cofounder and co-director enfleshed, where they tend to the theopoetic intersections of spiritual, academic, and activist engagement. Anna chaplains University of Iowa students, and is a doctoral candidate in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division on Religion. Waking before dawn, lingering in poetry, being an aunt, retreating to the woods or their basement woodshop, tending the garden, sharing silence, and feeding people delicious food are some of Anna’s favorite things.

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