Sunday, December 03, 2006

Trees .. and we ...

When she first visited me in the hospital Maggie brought me this excerpt from a poem by Robert Bly:

We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
the trees that are broken,
And start again, drawing up from the great roots.

I have thought about this. It is my contemporaries who remind me of my aging for they are more attuned than I am to the toll time is taking on us. I have been a bit vain and proud of my energy and invulnerability although this year could be called, as Queen Elizabeth called the year of Diana's death and the awful fire at Windsor Castle and the media fury at royalty, her "anno horriblis." This year has been mine. Despite cardiac surgery in January, breast biopsy in the early fall and now this hip replacement, I have difficulty feeling I'm losing my leaves and becoming broken. Pure denial.
I am now walking with a cane, easily ... but not confidently. "Broken" ... it bothers me to say "broken." But, yes, the roots have been growing safely underground where the storms cannot snap them as they can the limbs above ground. I see in myself the determination to have this period behind me but I also know that my energy lessened. I have to pace myself more slowly than I would like. Pain has taught me fear and caution.
I think, as I read Bly's words, about the work of quilt artist Dottie Moore who has explored trees as centerpieces of landscapes in many of her art quilts. [I tried to scan one just now and did not succeed but maybe tomorrow I'll figure out what I did wrong and print it above this post.] I have seen several of her wonderful quilts and have learned about trees from them and from her thoughts in conversations. Roots became important in her tree depictions some time after she had done many graceful trees in expanding landscapes. At some point she began to think more about the immensity of the root systems many trees have. She tells viewers that which we may know intellectually, that roots are often more extensive than the branches ... and as we grow older, as Bly tells us, after any break we can draw strength "from the great roots."
The tree above was at the Stone Forest in Yunnan, a labyrinth of tall, dramatically twisted and sharpened karst stones shaped by wind and rain. The occasional trees among them were a living counterpoint -- hard, of course, with their weathered bark and twisted limbs but emotionally softer. Like so many tourist attractions in Yunnan, the Stone Forest was crowded with visitors, mostly Chinese. I kept trying to imagine it empty of people except myself -- it would have been awesome and scary because of it's complex passages. But surrounded by a few hundred other people one cannot feel lost -- confused, crowded, even oppressed ... most of which I felt. I liked the stones but I like this tree for it's aliveness.
I have much reluctance to write about what strengths I draw from the roots. I mistrust those people who talk about "inner strength" and such. I think often of a spiritual I've known most of my life with the like "everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't-a goin' there." Which has usually translated to something like "those talking about doing good deeds aren't actually doing them", The Tao Te Ching has several verse that say essentially the same thing. So, enough about the "great roots' -- one grows them naturally as one grows older -- if one is a serious person and is not lost in frivolousness.

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