October 14, 2005

The Maple's Murmuring

Joanna Macy, in her memoir, Widening Circles, writes of a favorite maple tree on her grandfather’s farm where she found solace during an uneasy childhood. This maple tree stood alone, and was tall and graceful. Joanna writes that from age 9 to 17, she climbed that tree, and when she entered the lowest, waist-thick branch and slowly pulled herself upright, she "entered a solitude that was more than my own. It was a protected solitude, like the woods near the north pasture, but different because here one single, living being was holding me. My hands still remember the feel of her; the texture of the gray bark, the way it rippled in folds near the joints, its dusting of powder. As I climbed up into her murmuring canopy, my heart quickened - from fear of falling, and from awe. Caution felt like reverence."

"The maple tree did not invite pretending games. I only went there alone. It was a place to be quiet, a place to disappear into a kind of shared presence: the being that was tree and me, with the light coming through. The light is what I remember most of all; high and wide around me, it shaped a luminous, breathing bowl. It danced through the leaves, glowing them green and gold. It stroked the limbs with flickering shadows. When I sat very quiet, the play to light seemed to go right through my body, and my own breath was part of the maple’s murmuring."

Joanna’s beautiful recollection led me to reflect on spaces and moments for finding solace, and how it is that one is able to turn to find this ease and sense of awe. Surely this is available to each of us at any moment, as close as the tree trunk and the branches that hold us. Within our own field, opening up right inside of our being, an amazing energy is available to hold us, to breathe with us, and to gently shelter us. It is as available to the nine-year-old as it is to the ninety-year-old. This shared presence is the being that is you, with light coming through. Just as Joanna did, in a moment of sitting quietly in gratitude and simply turning into this ease, your voice and the maple’s murmuring become one.


cdog said...

Yes - solitude is so important, underestimated in its importance for a healthy life.

My solitude this week was hiking into a wilderness area, knowing a storm was coming. I set up my tent beneath by a large rock, sheltered from heavy snow. The storm did come - I woke at night and listened to the blizzard winds blowing it through the trees.

I didn't feel alone - because I had my three border collies to share the mountains with. We had the entire wilderness to ourselves, except for the deer, coyotes, lions, etc., I could see on the way out that ours were the only human tracks in the snow.

Check out the images I took while up there:

Akilesh said...


Thanks for sharing the images, stunning beauty. I can feel the love affair you have with solitude. You recognize, and live, the basic health that comes from giving yourself over to the solitude found in raw nature. While we think we have brought nature under our control, it remains utterly, blessedly, out of our control. You seek out the domain where this out-of-controlness is ascendant, and you immerse yourself there, exposing your soul to the healing balm of fresh silence.

Then you return to the pixilated world of illusory control and extend what you have found to us; you share your bounty of health in the form of a photo collage. From the realm of solitude to communion with others. This is beautiful. I am grateful for this gift.

You would understand the joy in coming across bear track, piles of scat filled with mountain blackberries, and a few days ago, coming over a ridge into the company of fourteen or fifteen elk - at ten yards off. Basic health that ripens us without words.

Paul said...

It's great to have some day to day contact with nature in our lives. I think it somehow helps to humanize us.

isaiah said...

"Surely this is available to each of us at any moment, as close as the tree trunk and the branches that hold us.:

Yes, even closer and right now waiting for us to fully collapse into cradling arms.

Joanna Macy's recollection reminds me of when I was a boy and how I, too, would lose myself in my woods and climb my favorite tree, a huge, sprawling oak, and sit for hours in silence. I felt quite at home resting there. I never felt alone there- have very seldom felt alone in my whole life although I can be somewhat the introvert.

There has always been the otherness, the peaceful shared presence and awareness in my life. In nature and in our truest nature...we can find ourselves.

gratefulbear said...

The maple's murmuring reminds me of a passage in one of Thomas Keating's books, which I quote here at length:

As the sense of belonging to the human family as a whole continues to grow through contemplative prayer and practice, this oneness extends to the earth, the environment and, indeed, to all creation. One begins to perceive all things in God and God in all things. The Divine Indwelling perceives Godself in everything that exists.

An example of this new way of seeing reality comes to mind. I often take a walk through a grove of aspen trees on the monastery property where I live. Aspen leaves are extremely sensitive to the slightest breeze. Even when the air is still, a few leaves will always be stirring. Such was the quiet reception I received as I walked into this grove on a certain summer day a few years ago. All of a sudden, a stiff wind came up and rushed through the grove of aspens. All of the trees with their leaves sprang into action. Every leaf was shaking wildly. Branches were bending this way and that, and giving the impression of applause similar to a standing ovation. It seemed as if the aspens were waving at me. Eagerly, I waved back to them, trying in vain to imitate their tumultuous greeting.

But were the aspens really waving to me? Or were they waving to God in me?

I waved back to God in them! It was a marvelous exchange: God in me being God in them.

--Thomas Keating, in his book "Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit"

PS: Meredith, thank you for your very kind words at my blog. I greatly appreciate your love and support. (((cyber-bearhug)))

Larry said...

It hasn't been so easy for me, Meredith, but I do remember one place that used to do that for me. I went there often though it was miles away.

Stressed with the problems of being a pastor to a large congregation I used to flee to 'my place'.

It was what we called the New Found Gap Road, to the top of Ole Smokey. When my wheels began that ascent, and those trees began flashing by, and on and on-- hey a real experience. But at the very beginning my mind quieted. Everything fell into place; the tension was gone. This was God's world and oh so super beautiful.

Now we live far from the beautiful mountains in the flattest land you can imagine, but the ocean is an hour's drive. The peace is there of course.

And probably a lot of closer places-- if I had time to look for them. Hey, our back yard is pretty good.

Ruth said...

Do you think trees have consciousness? I remember an Osho story in which he had a close relationship with a tree and grieved over leaving it when he moved away to college, more than leaving his family. And he felt the tree grieved his leaving too.

Who can know these things, except each of us, within?