Hemlock trees and me

Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing there is a field, 
I'll meet you there.
-Rumi

Overlooking the patch of woods before me, I sit to pray in the quiet of this morning, surrounded in stillness and bathed in grace. My eyes light upon the flush of green at the tips of the hemlock, and I smile, brimming with hope and delight.

When we first moved into this cottage eight years ago, the Hemlocks were already devastatingly diseased. Matriarchs and adolescents alike had been infested by the Woolly Adelgid, which had infiltrated these woods decades ago. These invasive insect pests draw sap (the life-juice of the trees) and interfere with the trees’ ability to take in nutrients. As with other invasive species that have done such damage, often widespread and irreversible (think Chestnut blight), these trees had not co-evolved with those insects, which were accidentally introduced to their environment all at once (by the standard of earth-time) and so they had no natural defense against their assault. Nor were there critters here that had evolved to consume them. By the time we settled into our home here, the green flush of needles was long gone from limbs, branches were brittle and dying, and many of the trees were gray skeletal remains of what they once had been. I was told that many were too far gone and should be given up on.

Indeed many were, but I began feeding the roots of those with even a trace of life. The nutrient substance I used also contained small amounts of a systemic insecticide that the trees could draw up to provide some defense (My trees are not near any water source, nor does this land drain onto the street where any runoff might enter the stormwater drains). With the infestation in check, the trees have been able to once again take in nutrition – sunlight, minerals, water– and begin to heal themselves.

This week is the time of year when those bright green needles flush at the tips of the limbs. Their midspring appearance fills my eyes with delight, and I feel enveloped in hope. Here is a sanctuary and shelter not merely for my heart but for beings who will nest in their branches, take nurture from their cones, grow in the coolness of their shade, and make burrows in their roots.

Somehow, I have loved them back to life.

This morning I see that they are returning the gift, reminding me that I too can stay green if I take care to tend my roots with the right kind of nurture and be vigilant about what I allow to invade my spirit that might prevent me from taking in (and seeing) goodness. They are gently reminding me that it is never too late to nurture myself back into life, and that what I choose to feed myself will make a difference in how my own branches reach out into the world. And they have made me ponder the negative toxin that has entered my own internal landscape, which has threatened to dry and brittle my heart.

This has been a difficult year for many of us. And yet, my experience has not been that the corona virus has been the devastating event. Rather, my dis-ease has been the associated slow creep of a hardness that has come from that other viral invasion of our day– the mass infestation of divisive negativity in a world where judgment of the ‘other’ has gained traction and gone viral. While this has been a slowly spreading infection of human culture for several decades now, it seems these last 12 months, as it mutated from issue to issue, have reached a tipping point where it’s widespread corrosive effect is becoming more visibly evident. ( but of course, this human tendency to demonize the other is not new, else the caution to ‘judge not’ would not have been so needed 2000 years ago, else genocides and slavery would not have been able to take place. It just seems that today, the capacity to be bombarded by mass waves of negativity is so much greater. We have not evolved to withstand that kind of overload).

In these divided times, we all have been challenged to understand the heart of the “other.”( and who we perceive as ‘other’, of course, depends upon where we are standing.) But as I noted here, over a month ago, I had become aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that bitterness and anger, cynicism and judgment, name-calling and even disdain had begun creeping their way into my heart, drawing life-giving sap from my spirit . These feelings infesting me threatened my well-being far more so than that other virus, making it difficult to keep myself rooted in Love, and had begun making me feel a bit brittle. My stop gap measure against that onslaught had been to desparately seek understanding in an effort to keep my mind open, my heart soft…myself green, if you will.

But, in the end, as is often the case for me, a dose of nature heals, and trees are often my teachers.

Twenty years ago, I was graced with a dream. I guess that is what you would name it, though it felt more like a visitation to me at the time. I was in a great deal of pain at the time, and in a very dark place. I have written about it here in the past, but from time to time its message resurfaces for me, shedding new light each time that it does. I fell to sleep sobbing that dark night, and the Love that came to enfold me is like nothing I have ever experienced. (so much so that when I awakened the next morning, I wept once again as my feet hit the floor, yearning to return to that place). While being held in that Love, a voice told me to gaze upon what i was being shown. There was a great tree/cross being poured into from above by a brilliant LIght. I was told to let myself be filled that way, to notice the roots of that tree/cross and how the Light was also flooding those roots. Then I was asked to see that the tree was being filled from those roots, light being drawn up the trunk, where the it was naturally, effortlessly overflowing from its outstretched arms/branches. There was nothing more I needed to do, the voice had said, but to let myself be filled that way, with Light and Love. At the time, i was suffering alot from feelings of unworthiness, rejection, abandonment, unlovability and loss.I thought i had to do something/change something about myself in order to earn Love. The message that I was Loved and Beloved just as I was was so healing for me at the time.

All these years later, the dream is still vital, however its message has subtly shifted for me. No longer is it one of individual belovedness for my own healing, but has become a lesson in how I am to receive Love, to stay aligned with it, to keep myself grounded firmly in it, so that I can Be Love in the world. I am not here to merely receive Love, but I AM here to Be Light. We humans are meant to be manifestations of Love– to make the sacred qualities of compassion, mercy, beauty, peace and hope Real. (As trite as it may sound, there are no hands but ours.) Without us, Love is just an ideal, an energy perhaps, but not a tangible reality. The dream was a message of what it looks like to incarnate Light, of what I am called to do and to Be.

Sitting now, at the feet of these wise trees, that dream is recalled. They too are taking in light and transforming it into something corporeal and beautiful. They too are drawing that energy to the earth, sending it deep into their roots (where we now know they also transport it to others) They too are breathing out that which others need to survive and to thrive, and extending their greening limbs in offering.

I understand now that I must take care to feed my own roots and ground myself in love. I must safeguard my heart by making myself inhospitable to infestations that threaten my own life-giving verdancy- infestations of negativity, cynicism, judgment, hatred, and “othering”, which make me brittle and grey.

I imagine myself drawing in goodness, letting it fill me, sinking it deeply into my roots. I imagine it flowing up and out through my limbs in offering. I seek to align myself with Love, so that when i open my eyes that is how I see, when I open my arms they will be opened with compassion and grace and forgiveness– for not only those ‘others’ who know not what they are doing, but for myself too in the ways that I will fail to see and Be Love.

A daily practice such as this makes it possible for me to draw from that well in my ordinary life, making of my mundane existence something sacred. In places where my outstretched limbs might offer welcome, shelter, nurture, or shade to another, I become a place of sanctuary in a bedraggled world. And I do feel it softening me. I feel a softening of my reactions, a softening of my gaze, a greening of my compassion. It has become an antidote that I can return to again and again when I notice those old patterns and new nagging negativites threaten to overrun me or block Love’s flow.

May it be so for you too.

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