Sometimes you have to let dead things go
sink back into the body of the Earth
from where they came.
Let them re-enter the cycle of life.
Let them breathe again into the rustle of fall leaves.
Sometimes when the sheltering arms that have surrounded you
have dropped away.
Your horizons are broadened
Your eyes opened.
And you breathe deeper, climb higher, and run freer.
There is a time for gathering in and drawing close.
There is time for opening up and letting go.
Softening the grip that demands that nothing ever change.
Letting go of the way things used to be.
And just watching, to see what grows anew.
One day there will something here
that has never been here before.
During the drought we experienced around three years ago, a lot of the trees in our woods died. Some of them died that year, but we weren’t absolutely sure they were really gone until they got no new leaves the following year. Some of them died the following summer, probably due to having been weakened so much by the drought conditions that they couldn’t rebound. This year, we decided to cut some of them down—both because we heat with wood and winter is approaching and because some of them are so close to the rocks I visit that if they were to fall, they could hurt me. It felt, and continues to feel, like a “selfish” decision by me though to have cut them, like we should have just let the cycle of the forest continue its life and rhythm unimpeded by human interference. It was hard to evaluate the variables of good woodlot management, firewood procurement, and personal safety while also feeling like I was betraying my sacred spot in the woods, betraying the relationship I built there. I still don’t know whether we made the right choice. I do know that the landscape in the woods has changed now.
While my husband and the friends that helped him were as careful as possible not to damage anything unnecessarily and to only cut trees that were most certainly dead, one of those trees fell on a plum tree that I enjoy very much and split off the top part of the plum and several branches. I can hardly stand it. This is the tree for which the strongest feeling of betrayal comes, since it is very much still alive. I know this tree. I know how it starts to blossom early in the springtime, how the petals of the flowers fall onto the rocks like snow when an early frost comes, how its leaves are the first to fall in the autumn and to carpet the rocks with their even, nearly round shapes. It is by far the biggest plum tree in the woods—I rarely see them as big as this.
One of the things I learned from my whole woodspriestess experiment was that it is completely possible to create a deep, rich, full, complex, genuine relationship with a physical space and the non-human life forms within it. As I looked at the damaged tree, I thought though, this relationship now is NOT a mutually rewarding for the trees. I’ve gained so much and learned so much in this space and what I have now returned to it is destruction. I cried over the plum. But, tears do not heal broken trees. Nor do apologies re-grow broken limbs. I have to sit with that. I put my hands on its trunk and told it I was so sorry. I felt my heart beat in my palms in this rhythm: I am strong. I am strong. I am strong.
And then, look what I’ve already been through.
I looked at its trunk then, how to emerges from a small space between two rocks—pushing its way up through very inhospitable, rocky terrain—and how it grows at nearly a right angle to the rocks themselves. This is not a tree that grows straight and tall, this is a tree that arches over the rocks in its own, powerful, individual manner of survival.
I had taken an altar bowl my mom made down to the rocks with me to photograph and after I was done with my pictures, I carefully poured the water from the bowl around the base of the plum and while I did so, I started to sing the Hoʻoponopono song that I learned about from a friend.
I am sorry
Please forgive me.
I love you.
It was still a betrayal of this plum tree. I’m not making excuses about that. However, I will wait and watch and see if it can rise again anyway.
Something that I have always tried to remember is to give life with humility, and to take it with compassion. It feels wrong to cause pain because it is hard to do if you have . I have to remember that I can’t save everyone, be it tree or bee or baby bird. Sometimes the responsibility, the burden, of death-bringing is given to us…to shun it is to shun our partnership with the land. If I wouldn’t lay guilt on a beaver for building a dam or a lion hunting a gazelle, then I need to forgive myself for being part of nature as well.