Yesterday I sat with my back against an ash tree. Its top branches waved in the wind about 85 feet above my head. Barry had pointed out the ash earlier as we peered at it from the kitchen window.
“Look at the ash this year, Kathy,” he said. Its crown holds feathery-looking seed pods. Most of the leaves have fallen unto the earth, but the seeds linger on. Wikipedia says they’re samara seeds whose shape enables the wind to carry the seed farther away than regular seeds from the parent tree.
Call the seeds wingnuts, or helicopters, or whirlibirds or whirligigs. There they fruit on top of an 85 foot ash, pregnant with baby trees.
I actually love this tree because of the odd way some of its arm-branches bend. It’s not your usual tree (if there is such a thing as a usual tree). The tree is nobly itself. It’s not afraid of difference. It’s not trying to impress its neighbors, those poplars and maples. It will not kowtow to the mighty oak. The ash does its ash thing without tree society criticizing. As far as we observers can tell.
Thank goodness it reaches toward the sky outside our kitchen window. Someday it will fall back into the arms of the earth, all 85 feet of it, and if I’m still alive I will mourn it like a lost friend for a day or month or year before probably forgetting it even existed free and beautiful in the changing seasons.
I have been contemplating roots for the past several days. Growing roots out of the bottom of my spine and legs and feet. (They are invisible, so you can’t see them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not present.) Thinking about rootedness. One of my spiritual teachers says that the body loves feeling grounded, rooted, solid. It loves when it feels it belongs to the earth.
It’s interesting walking around with roots. My body seems to relax. Sometimes it takes us a long time to truly make our home on this planet, to feel like we’re exactly where we’re meant to be. Roots hold us gently, with love. Their tendrils sink lower, lower, lower. We’re nourished in ways we didn’t even know we needed.
Yesterday, in the overcast afternoon, just after a walk up and down the road, I settled my back against the ash. Breathed in, watching breath move up the spine of the tree into its arms and branches, way up there in the sky, all the way to the whirligig seeds blowing in the wind. Breathed out, feeling breath move all the way down into the invisible tree roots, all the way down into the earth’s humus-soil, all the way down to China and beyond. (Just in case you were told as a child you might possibly dig to China if you shoveled long enough.)
I wondered if the ash is truly aware. Alive, yes, that’s for sure. Aliveness dances in its entire essence. But IS the ash aware in the same way that you’re aware of these words? Is the ash aware another being sits at its holy feet? Everything in me wants to say yes, but something still doesn’t know. It’s a mystery, this awareness that breathes us. What do we know for sure except we’re sitting under an ash, breathing up and down, up and down.
This morning I thought about writing about breathing with trees. Like Kevin Costner dances with wolves. I wanted to urge all beings to breathe daily with trees! Have you taken your tree vitamin today? Have you soaked in your maple or elm or ash medicine? Have you lingered with your spine against a tree and simply breathed in and out? This is where I would usually end a blog post, but something is changing in me as I breathe with trees and grow roots into the darkness.
I thought about sitting against a tree in an urban or suburban setting. How challenging it would be for me to prop against an apple tree in my mom’s yard for all the neighbors to see, or a palm tree down in Florida beneath the condo. An almost invisible inner voice would whisper: what would everyone say? What would they think?
In the evening dusk, perhaps, or the night-time dark, yes. In the woods, yes. Maybe even in a park, where lounging is encouraged in our society. But against random trees, out in public? I can feel layers of resistance arising. Years of conditioning which insist: You can do this, but not that. You can act this way, but not that way. Behave in ways so that people don’t think you’re too weird.
Even Kevin Costner didn’t dance publicly with the wolf. But the natives saw him, and recognized his spirit, and named him: Dances with Wolves.
Along with growing invisible roots that reach deep in the earth, I have been exploring meeting all sorts of feelings and emotions that have been deeply buried for much of this lifetime. I am letting shame, guilt, anger, frustration and not-knowing come up into the psyche, out of their secret hiding places in the flesh of the body. Not turning toward the positive too quickly. Not embroiling into old stories. Just simply allowing the socially unacceptable feelings to surface and letting them be digested by space and time and breathing and roots. Allowing them to be.
Seeing that this is all OK. More than OK. Someday I may even have the courage to breathe against a tree in public even if it makes me or you uncomfortable. In the meantime, I hope to breathe with trees again today in the womb of this woods.
Reflection question: would breathing against a tree in public make YOU uncomfortable? If your answer is no, can you find a similar activity that would make you nervous or less than confident? Can you even pause for a moment to breathe in and allow and digest that wobbly fear? (No need to publicly share if that would make you uncomfortable–but maybe just think about it.)