Shining Encouragement

24 08 2015

Dancing girl with sunflower 001It is summer and I am walking up the hill through a tree-covered archway on a dirt road, as I have done regularly for the past thirty years. I pause, as usual, at the Dancing Girl, a spindly hemlock with its trunk and roots resembling a gracefully moving young woman. But today, a few feet away from her splaying roots, in the gravelly till of the roadside, I catch sight of a splash of yellow rays and I stop short. Dead in my tracks, as they say.

For years, I’ve noticed this tree, with its roots exposed and clinging to rocky outcrops. They resemble legs, its trunk a torso, and its branches the swaying arms and head of a dancing girl. For decades, I’ve hiked up this dirt road and encountered a host of oddities, including discarded condoms and bundles of the Hartford Courant, enormous dead fish, blood-red saprophytic plants, and glimpses of fisher cats and red fox. One day, I was stung under the rim of my glasses on my eyebrow by a yellow jacket. Another, I tumbled head over heels into a ravine for no reason at all. “Okay”, I’ve shouted to whatever essence was floating around me. “Enough. I will find and tell your story.“

Now, I have started my story, writing what I was meant to write. It has taken me years, decades. All this time, I walk by the Dancing Girl and pay tribute, thanking her, my muse, for this story. Giving the Dancing Girl updates on my minuscule progress, I watch her succumb to hemlock wooly adelgid and become a bare skeleton, as her tops break off and her bark chips settle on the ground. Yet, she still clings to the rocky roadside.

I have begun, the story is being told, and as I write, I discover it’s not just the Dancing Girl who has changed over these years, but both of us. I have moved from one who identified the species of trees and gave all things names to someone who experiences those things’ presence. I have changed from one who experienced those things’ presence to someone who realizes I am actually those things, just as they are me. We are all interconnected, and all filled with the same grace that permeates our world, if we are open to it.

I pass through the tree archway, no longer evergreen hemlocks but tall swaying oaks and maples and ash. But there I am, naming again. I open my heart to these sheltering trees and I hear them whisper, “We will protect you.” I sense it so strongly; I feel tears of relief. I belong, I am them, they are me, we are part of this living organism, this earth. My role is clear: to live as present and harmoniously with life as is possible. And to tell others about it.

“We have begun, the story is being told.” I tell the Dancing Girl, even though she is dead, that her tale will now live on past her decaying trunk. I encourage her to let go and crash to the ground and finally come to rest. Yet, she stubbornly stays.

And now, today, I am startled by the splash of yellow. A small sunflower has pushed up through this hostile, shady, nutrient poor, salt-filled substrate and is smiling at us. He humbles me in his simplicity and beauty, optimism, and sense of continuity. “Dancing Girl,” I say, “you are still here.”

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