Regaining some footing…

I was thinking recently about birds. And insects. And growing trees. You see, there are these trees around my mom’s house that are over 450 years old. I grew up staring up into them as a kid. I would lean against them and look up at the bark, the branches, the needles… I would see how the trees seemed to reach out to each other with long arms. I pictured them talking to each other underground, where I was told their roots connected.

The ants would pour up and down them, and I wondered if the trees felt tickled. I would have, had I been the tree.

Then I wondered if the trees ever had the urge to interact with the birds who landed on it’s branches. Like a gentle giant, I imagined the tree playing the same gotcha games my grandfather did when he would pretend to steal my nose. In my mind I saw the bird giggling like a little kid. I almost could feel what the tree would feel, a gentle bough of a thumb that would bend and explore the roughness of the bird’s tiny scaly feet. The little bird would giggle, then fly away, its busy and young life no match for the hundreds of years the tree had been rooted in the ground. The tree would watch the bird fly away, knowingly….like a grandparent watching a little one run back into the playground.

I would have thought these things, had I been the tree.

I often wonder about these ancient prayer trees, the ones with smooth bark… the ones that a Ute shaman saw while walking gently across the land. What an honor for the tree to become, say, a medicine tree — to offer its blood beneath its bark to heal the tribe. Or, to be bent and bound at an early age, serving as a burial marker for a member of a tribe.

What an honor for this young tree, hundreds of years ago.

As the other grandmothers and grandfathers of the forest looked on, they would all be holding space for the tribe to gently wander among them. And the tribe, in kind, would be knowing the land, loving the land, respecting the land… communicating with the tree as reverently as if speaking to one’s own elder.

That tree has grown, motionless, watching the age of humans encroach around it. The same tree that allowed me to lean against it now hears the passing of too many cars… the road widened, the intersection now so busy they may need a signal to stop the accidents. I often wonder if the tree dislikes the noise. I wonder if it notices the warmer days, or the trees budding around it at odd times. Like now, in November. I saw buds the other day.

I have a friend who talks about “human speed.” He rides his bike everywhere, has an outdated phone, and is not on the internet much. I have begun to tune into more of these people, and have recently embraced it. I have deleted and thrown out any and every part of my life that does not serve me.

Did  you know that blue light from your phone will keep you from sleeping? It will.

Human speed. A child’s speed. An elder’s speed. Slow enough to notice the trees, to wonder again if ants tickle the bark of a 450 year old Ponderosa Pine.

Whatever happened to humans living lives worth living, without the idea of a report on their day, shared with an invisible audience? Whatever happened to us being simple animals, reverent, inspired, and humbled by things like stars and storms and the interconnectedness of the life around us?

Trees, birds, ants, mushrooms…. they live their lives… they really live them, in the moment, fully, without pretense, without ego… they just live.

One of my favorite quotes is by Alfred Russel Wallace:

It seems sad that on the one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions, doomed for ages yet to come to hopeless barbarism; while, on the other hand, should civilized man ever reach these distant lands, and bring moral, intellectual, and physical light into the recesses of these virgin forests, we may be sure that he will so disturb the nicely-balanced relations of organic and inorganic nature as to cause the disappearance, and finally the extinction, of these very beings whose wonderful structure and beauty he alone is fitted to appreciate and enjoy. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man. Many of them have no relation to him. The cycle of their existence has gone on independently of his, and is disturbed or broken by every advance in man’s intellectual development; and their happiness and enjoyments, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigorous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone, limited only by the equal well-being and perpetuation of the numberless other organisms with which each is more or less intimately connected.

Alfred Russel Wallace, The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-utan and the Bird of Paradise, A Narrative of Travel with Studies of Man and Nature (New York: Dover, 1962 [1869]), p. 340. (or, in the 4th paragraph of the 31st chapter)

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