I have been visiting an oak tree at the edge of the field. Her girth allows for a generous (but not overstretched) hug and there is a little bowl at just the right height for resting my left cheek against her bark. I can sit with my back against her and let my mind go still while I listen to the creek flowing by. At our feet, fiddleheads emerge through decaying leaves. The owl, whose echoing hoot I have heard in the middle of the night, offers a midday call from somewhere nearby. The tree bears witness to it all in every moment.
For me, the fullness — of life and death, night and day, stillness and movement — is a lot to take in. I feel my mind wanting to compartmentalize and segment. I notice the temptation to close some of it out and only take in small bits. Yet my senses just want to absorb, to let it all in. This fullness is certainly the gift of this life.
Earlier this week, I had noticed that the leaves on the littler oaks were in various stages of emergence. On some trees, the yellow-ish cone shaped pods at the tips of the branches were still tightly bound. On others, the cones had ruptured, exploding with stalks several inches long and small, lacy red leaves hanging limply. On still others, the leaves appeared hydrated and filled out. Still red, they appeared stronger and more full.
Yesterday, I went to the hugging tree, curious to see how spring was unfolding for her. I was surprised — and then not surprised at all — to find that each stage of emergence was present. Each branch was unfolding at a different pace and some branches even contained multiple stages of opening within a few inches. I cupped my hand under one of the branch ends and studied the tight cones, the limp leaves, and the stems that seemed to have jumped through the bursting cones. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a flicker of movement. I turned my head to notice one of last year’s leaves, tattered, torn, and hanging on by a thin fiber. This leaf had probably emerged last year at this time and had hung on through the sun, rain, snow, and wind of spring, summer, fall and winter. As the new season begins and new life is springing forth, it is still hanging on.
I stepped back to get a wider view of the tree and noticed several of last season’s leaves hanging on. Amidst the fresh, lacy leaves whose season of life and nourishment is just ahead, rest the old and broken pieces that are not yet ready to let go. It appears that the old and the new are going to co-exist for a while. It appears that spring is not an all or nothing event. It is an all and everything process.
As the natural world begins to emerge from its winter hibernation and our country emerges from quarantine, I will pay attention to the ways in which I participate in the emerging season. As a collective, we have recognized our interdependence in new ways in the last few months. Our fissures have proven to be fault lines. Even as conversations turn to “reopening” and going “back to normal”, I am more convinced than ever that the old ways of separation, individualism, and exceptionalism are falling. We are already creating something new. Like the spring, it is arriving and I am eager to welcome it. But I will be gentle and patient with the tightly closed buds that are slow to embrace possibility and change. I will give myself fully to the vibrant and passionate energy that wants to work for healing and renewal that honors all beings. I will offer compassion to the old and tattered ways that hold on persistently as new life springs forth. Surely there is something to learn from each aspect.
And, as a new world emerges in fits and starts, I will return regularly to hug the oak. Gazing high into her reaching branches and feeling the strength of her roots below my feet, I will be sustained and encouraged.
What will sustain and encourage you?