Friday, August 12, 2011

Grandmother Tree

Having already outed myself and my spiritual beliefs with this public blog, I am now poised to jump off the "woo-woo" end:  Follow me if you dare and at your own risk. I will not defend any of what I am about to say.  I can only tell you the truth as I experience it.

Some of you may know that I have a special tree near Cloud Cap, the 100-year old cabin at the timberline of Mt Hood that my family has been going to since I was born.  It is an old pine tree just far enough away that it can function as a kind of retreat when the lodge gets crowded, but close enough that I can keep an eye on the place and can walk there easily regardless of my state of health.

I sat in meditation under that tree every day during my three-week sabbatical on the mountain with Handmaidens Amy Zenger and Patty Flynn after my first encounter with breast cancer in 1997.  And I have sat under that tree every visit to Cloud Cap since then.  We grew to have a relationship, that tree and I, unlike any I have ever experienced with a being outside of not just my species but of the animal kingdom altogether.  I came to call her Grandmother Tree, (although I do not think I ever shared that name with anybody) and she was a generous and wise teacher.

She's the dark one in the center, behind the rock.
Was, my friends, because she is gone now.  The Gnarl Ridge fire that re-ignited in September three years ago, surprising humans and devastating so much of the forest near Cloud Cap and Tilly Jane (but miraculous spared buildings in both locations) took her life.  Her snag is still there.  It is beautiful.  I sat beneath it.  I reached out to her and she is gone.  There is a beautiful absence where she once was.  And in that silence I could hear even subtler voices-- the scorched rocks around me, the earth itself was whispering.  Life comes and life goes.

Grandmother Tree had been dying since I met her.  She told me so herself.  She was probably the oldest being I'd ever encountered-- certainly the oldest I held regular conversations with-- but she was a whippersnapper compared to the rocks surrounding her.  Life comes and life goes.  And that is not a problem.  Even the rocks came into being once and will cease to be some time, changed utterly into pumice or sand or soil.  All of our individual lives have come into being by means we acknowledge as miraculous-- whether we acknowledge the spiritual aspect of that word or not;  clearly, we arose by means outside of our human control.  And we will cease to be (in spite of medical science or hubris) just as miraculously.  It is how things work on this planet.  Things arise, things are, things fall away.

And is there something that remains?  Grandmother Tree would say yes.  But she was not here to tell me that herself.  She is "changed, changed utterly."  But she left that message for me.  Her very absence had a message for me.  We come and go, and our lives matter.  What we do with our lives matters.  She is gone-- as my mother is gone and my father is gone-- but my relationship with them remains.  Love remains.  Her death may be the final teaching she left for me.  I lean into the spaciousness she filled.  I lean into to the vast, slow, near-silent voices of the rocks, the ever-young chorus of wildflowers springing up in abundance where they were once daunted by the shade of old-growth forest.  Everything passes, love remains. Things co-arise, conditioned by one another.  Everything passes.  Love remains.

Thank you, Grandmother.  May all beings be blessed with such teachers, know happiness, be free of suffering, remain connected to joy, and dwell in equanimity.


  1. I have heard that people are having trouble commenting so I thought I would try it myself.

  2. Beautiful picture of the tree and the mountain.

  3. I just happened on this posting.... my gosh, how beautiful.

    Thank you.