The Oak is Declaring the Glory of God

Last month, the Office for Sustainability and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at the university where I work held a celebration. It was to honour the establishment of a small, but mighty, “forest” planted beside the Indigenous Student Centre: a small stand of trees that are in various stages of maturity, reflecting the diversity of trees in our area. As a part of the Canada 150 celebrations, “Tree Canada” provided a grant that funded this project. Part of the news release associated with the event noted that trees are symbols of “growth, strength, sustainability, hope, and peace.”.

I went to the dedication event, which involved some Indigenous prayers and rituals, speeches from Tree Canada and the relevant offices. Pictures where taken, food was offered, and at the end of it all, we were invited to go to a tent to choose a tree to take home. I texted my wife with the list of trees on offer, and she suggested that we go with a Bur Oak. So, I went and grabbed the tree slip, and brought it home at the end of the day. She seemed a little dismayed at seeing it. It was no more than 8 inches tall, but we both agreed that you cannot gainsay the joy of a tree, no matter its size. We sat down in our back yard with a cup of coffee in hand, deciding where it should go.

This is no easy decision. At the event, one of the speakers reminded us that these slips can grow to be huge trees: “Think about where you plant them!” was the watchword. We sized up our yard, imagining that one day, this little fellow would grow to be 15 to 30 metres tall. This would take some time, given the speed at which the Bur Oak grows. It is an interesting task, to hold a tree you the palm of your hand, imaging that one day it could well be the most significant feature in your back yard, likely long after you have passed on the property, and perhaps have passed on – period.

After much deliberation, we finally found a spot, and planted the tree with some wire around it. We have had an unusually active crop of rabbits in the area these days, and they indiscriminately eat everything we put in the ground, so we wanted to be safe. Shortly after our planting, we flew out west for some holidays and time visiting family. Upon returning, one of the first things we did was check on our little oak, but were devastated to discover it had disappeared! The wire was strewn on the ground, and coming up from the ground was nothing.

We lamented this loss, mindful that the ways of nature are not always light and joy. Yet, this too is a part of heavens declaring the glory of God. In the midst of life is death as surely as life is in the midst of death. We didn’t exactly shed tears, but it was a sad moment. In due course, the loss was left aside, and we prepared for a trip to Ireland.

Just yesterday, some weeks after the loss of the oak, I was poking around where it used to be, and was utterly astounded to see poking up through the soil a fresh shoot. I called my wife over, and we are most certain that this is the beginning of an oak. Could it be that the little tree set down a root that is shaking its fist at the rabbits and their indiscriminate foraging? Could it be that a tree truly is a symbol of “growth, strength, sustainability hope, and peace”? This may well be the case. At any rate, we are cheering on our little tree, and imagining our yard in a hundred years or so, with a mighty oak speaking peace to those who set their eyes on it.

Advertisements

Eden on Edge

Today the sky slipped me a secret.

She opined that

I will know no joy

apart from hearing

swans’ wings beating as Bach

aside from seeing

wave wrestling wave

without smelling

fresh baking kissing coffee

and tasting

salt on skin

feeling

flesh shiver at the intuition of

whirling oaks
and burning bush
and Eden on edge.

Site of Silence

With a solid footing of snow, I decided yesterday was an fitting occasion to head over to Bechtel Park for a Nordic ski. I am more inclined to go to a local golf course, largely because it is so very close. But time was a bit more spacious on January 1, and so I jumped in the car and headed about 8 km north on the express way so that I could ski the set trails at Bechtel.

It was actually a bit icier than I was anticipating, and so after a few swings around a couple of trails I crossed a little bridge over a small creek and inched my way on a path neither groomed nor friendly to cross country skis. I eventually always do this when at Bechtel. I usually take along a small thermos of hot chocolate and get far enough away along the creek’s side to know that I won’t likely be meeting dog walkers or other skiers. Yesterday, I took a few photos with my phone before finding a fallen tree to function as my chaise. It wasn’t long before I noted a pair of cardinals across the stream in one tree, and a pair of nuthatches in another. I was transfixed by them. I’m not a birder and really know next to nothing about our feathered friends, but every now and then I find myself drawn to them. After a time, I made my way along the path back to the parking lot, realizing that I had not taken any photos of the birds, but happy enough all the same.

Later in the day, I listened to a podcast on “On Being.” Krista Tippett was interviewing Gordon Hempton about his work to reclaim silence in our world. Noise pollution is his concern, and he makes the rather audacious claim that silence is about to become extinct. Silence, please note, is not for Hempton an absence of sound but a dearth of artificial sounds. He spoke at length, and eloquently, about learning to listen, and the curious fact that humans are not hard-wired to hear humans as much as certain other animals. Our auditory interest in humans is a later overlay. He spoke in particular of our ability to catch the song of birds, since their call often indicated a locale of some importance for the primordial homo sapiens. It seems there is a deep seated reason for my attraction to bird song.

Hempton spoke eloquently of our need for listening. He claimed that ours is a world pre-occupied with sight. Learning to shift our focus from eyes to ears, and then to hear what comes naturally is no small task. Luther, the famed Reformer whose 500th anniversary of the posting of 95 theses (which is said to have kicked off the Reformation) is being commemorated in 2017, spoke of the church as a Mundhaus, or place of hearing. He made mention some 500 years before Hempton of the curious fact that ears do not have lids like eyes. Hempton made the case that this makes sense from the side of evolution because hearing is how we best discern who or what is in the environs. Luther made the case that this makes theological sense because hearing is passive in a way that is not quite true for seeing and so an especially apt receptor of words of grace.

Yesterday I was delighted to both see and hear the cardinals and nuthatches, and I was also very happy to look up at the clear blue sky and see snow laden trees branches form a frame for that heavenly blue as if they were playing the part of stained glass. Hempton calls the great outdoors his cathedral, a point I can appreciate even while I am quite content to let cathedrals be cathedrals and nature be nature. Both have things to teach us. Both provide both moments of rapture and occasions of deep awe – in their own way. But I am happy to hear – and see – in both evidences of hope and healing. Both can be for me sites of silence.

Arboreal Lessons

Our tree is not ours, but it
allows us to imagine it
so. It has much to
teach us, each
fall shedding
its skin,

leaving a leaf on step,

which when wet plays

the mirror and so

allows me to see my eyes

on its veins. It minds me.

This tree, with its leaf, speaks to me of creation and its end.

It knows intimately
the wager of letting
go: falling from
branch’s security.

It knows of farewells
and weeping
and the beauty of
ochred red against verdant grace.

It knows that this blue
globe we call home is
ocular: God’s seeing us.

Deep calls me deep

20160726_175802 (2)

Lake Superior, near the Pictographs

 

This silver on blue – sun
kissing inland sea –
undoes me. My breath is
taken away like
air by flame and
I am oddly afloat.
What is this lake
doing?
It works
me profoundly:
deep calls me deep and
I feel its swells in
portending and subterranean
ways – waves of watching wash
me free from not-seeing
this sea, this greatest lake
that measures me:
I am found
wanting
more of it,
of its Maker.

Just Before Dawn’s Light

Here is light plating earth;
sliver sightings of a world not yet

green nor gold, a

pre-dawn pewter that

stems birds just

at the cusp of their awakening

taking choristers’

breath away. All of

this before gold

gilds the earth and

me in wonder at its incipient

coronation – a beneficiary – at this

now silvered sight that

calls, nay, bawls us all into being as

earth is born yet again.