Notes on a Buddhist path

Trees in Platinum Settings

July 8, 2012 By | Leave a Comment

Where you stumble, there your treasure lies. ~ Joseph Campbell

When I lived on a small island in British Columbia, I was surrounded by trees. Trees of the rainforest, ancient cedars and wise elder firs. I walked in their midst daily on my way to work, to buy groceries, to reclaim myself in their covenant of rightness. As many times as I marveled at their brilliance I couldn’t help but feel the antithesis of a worn axiom. The trouble with me was not that I didn’t see the forest for the trees. I was lost in not seeing the trees at all.

Living in a place of such rarefied beauty brought me to a dull slogging of the sameness of it all. Yes, yes, there’s another 400 year old Douglas fir, another clutch of red-throated arbutus, a fallen cedar, a phoenix of leaf and bark resurrecting itself in the Hiroshima landscape of another clear-cut. I stole my breath from the oxygen they heaped into the air and I rode the carpet of their crush softened needles offered to the ground. There were times when I stood in their tall cathedral and thanked them for holding me to the land, yet my reverence was tainted with craving the green, forestless grass of the city on the other side of the water. I fear I pillaged more than I gave back.

My life is now in that forestless space. The city is my home. I feel a familial resonance with the storefronts I pass and with my extended kin riding each day on the bus. I revel in the solid spaciousness of my apartment and the kindness of Don, my building manager. Nature’s presence here is in tamed yards and lines the asphalt streets. There are parks in sizes small, medium and large, and wilderness secluded in spots of tender appreciation and gob-smacked grandeur. There’s the rolling green of manicured lawns and riotous patches of blue, orange and yellow wildflowers exploding into life through broken dreams of concrete.

Sometimes plunder has its own hidden rewards. When I lived on my island I could only see the forest. Imagine gazing into a bowl of diamonds knowing to your core how rare each of them is, yet losing in the vast sameness of plenty any sense of their unique quality. Trees in the city are like solitaire gems cast in settings of platinum dirt and hope. I lose myself in the symphony of cherry blossoms heralding spring’s awakening each year. I marvel at the delicate crimson breasts of Japanese maple trees as they offer their hearts to the expanse of summer. I hear autumn in the crunch of fallen leaves at my feet and feel winter’s resolve in the bare suchness of grey branches  reaching for the slate seeded sky.

I’ve written before about the horse chestnut tree that grows outside my window. Its leaves and flowers, its strong wide trunk and smooth weathered bark portend all that is good and all that will change. It is my rare diamond held in the setting of people and cars, of streets and sidewalks, its singular presence a heading to guide me through the year.

Now I see the forest and the trees. The big picture is not lost by attention to the details. If anything our connection to all that is bigger comes into focus under the canopy of close reflection. If god is in the details, his home must be in the trees.

When I Am Among the Trees

by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

“When I Am Among the Trees” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst. © Beacon Press, 2006. Source: The Writer’s Almanac.

Image credit: Horse Chestnut by Tess Wixted. All rights reserved.

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