She shares about visiting a logged forest clearcut with friends. About how one wants to avert one’s eyes from devastation, from pain, from ugliness, from loss. Yet she and her companions remained in the scar of the decimated woods and lingered there for days.
The group questioned: what would happen if they simply settled into this damaged place observing the land and their own responses to it? Their intention was to get to know this place that they heartily wished to run from.
They practiced gazing as they lingered. At first the situation seemed so bleak and hopeless. Sorrow rose. But as the group continued to explore, to gaze, something else emerged. She called it fascination. Details emerged such as the color of bark, the pattern of rings on the trunk. Birds sang. A tree trunk supported her. And later she felt glee arising and began to feel the wholeness of the broken place appear.
I read this article with great interest because I’ve done the same thing. So many sacred special parts of the woods have been destroyed in our decades here in the Upper Peninsula. Companies and logging families view the trees as crash crops like a field of green beans or sugar beets.
It’s possible to form deep friendships with the trees, with a cliff rising toward an unexpected open area, a bubbling creek surrounded by cedars. Friendship with nature can be as deep–and sometimes deeper–than friendship with humans.
About a half mile away from our house the logging trucks have been singing day and night for weeks. They’ve clear-cut huge swaths. When we pull off our back country road we’re greeted with a new view. Empty space dotted with unwanted evergreens. Slash. A lone dead poplar nobody wanted. An entirely new horizon.
The woods where I discovered the dead porcupine? No more does it exist in its old form. The place where I wandered through cedar swamps to sit atop a magic hill? No more. And it’s too hard to walk through the brush and bramble to get there–at least that’s what one’s mind keeps insisting.
A few years ago they came for my beloved hemlock forest, Marantha. When one names the woods, you know they’re beloved. I called the forester and almost cried. Luckily, he was one of the “good” foresters, the ones who cull responsibly. They cut the hemlock and pine and whatever else with top market value and left me weeping silently.
When one is on a spiritual journey one knows that all of life is precious–even a clearcut, even logging, even the death of one’s special tract of woods. So I forced myself to venture within the devastation and sit. Like Trebbe and her friends, I lingered and gazed.
When you first gaze it’s impossible to see beauty. You see scars and pain and death. You see slash and brush. You see ugliness. You can barely stand to look, to remain, to stay put. You long to run away to the ends of the earth, to an imaginary place which remains pure and unscathed for evermore.
But if you linger you’ll begin to see. You’ll see new life growing, little greenery pushing upward from the forest floor. In summer, you’ll see raspberry bushes aplenty brimming with deep red berries. Perhaps you’ll hear squirrels scolding your visit or birds winging down from remaining branches to nibble treasures in the fallen bark. Perhaps you’ll simply admire the patterns of dead branches stretching like octopus feet from a spiny fallen warrior. Like Trebbe, you might witness a mother black bear and two cubs making their way across the brush like acrobats.
If you’re lucky. If you’ve lingered. If you’ve allowed yourself to gaze. If you haven’t turned away in your sorrow and shut down prematurely.
The devastation taught me about my own personal woundedness, just like it taught her group. When one stays present with devastation one learns more about grief, about sorrow, about the thoughts and feelings which lead to suffering. About ways one refuses to stay present with pain. And, yes, eventually, sometimes, one arrives at this place of forgiveness–for the loggers, for the timber companies, for one’s imperfect self.
It’s even possible to find deep joy and delight in the midst of devastation if one doesn’t avert the eyes too quickly. Unexpected grace sometimes arises. You may even realize the interconnectedness of life, the impermanence of it. It can humble you. It can inspire you.
I am reminded to face pain and devastation more courageously when it arises, as it oft arises in life, in the outer or inner world. To look more deeply. To gaze at the many facets, to linger with subtle teachings.
To glimpse what life still generously teaches from woundedness. To witness new perspectives which emerge from the slice of a chain saw or the shifting of a human heart.