The root of my tree

I’m no stranger to the therapeutic and healing elements one can find amongst nature. I’ve written before how it is the beauty of nature, being just as it is, that gave me strength.

One of my favourite writers, Omid Safi, was recently walking in the woods, admiring ‘ancient cathedrals of thousand-year-old beauties’ and reflecting on one of the magical aspects of being not in nature but with nature:

When words fall away, when we listen for the silence, and welcome the melody of the leaves, frogs, birds, and creeks, we start to hear the ultimate scripture: the natural cosmos. It is as if each tree, each branch, each leaf, each seed, each handful of soil becomes more luminous than a verse of scripture, revealing all that we have been veiled from.

In taking in the beauty of these trees, he started to notice circles of redwoods, around a shorter, dead-looking single redwood. He was then stopped in his tracks by the sign next to one of these rings:

Hundreds of years ago a single large redwood grew here. Then disaster struck. The trunk of the large redwood was killed, perhaps by repeated and severe wildfire. From here you can see the original tree trunk still standing upright, now a dead and blackened snag.

Despite such terrible damage, the tree did not die. Below the ground, its massive root system was full of vitality. Before long, hundreds of young, bright green burl sprouts began to come up around the circle formed by the root crown of the original tree. Some of those sprouts have grown into the full-sized trees that today stand in a circle around the original trunk.

It is such a beautiful image for grief. And also such a beautiful way to describe the pain of our grief, and our journey with grief – ‘despite such terrible damage, the tree did not die.’ We are grounded in the roots of those who have shaped us, because just like the original tree trunk still standing upright, those we love will always be alive in our hearts. We are the circles formed by the root crown of the original tree.

When I read the words of that sign, I saw myself becoming that full-sized tree that stands in a circle around the original trunk that is my sister. We are inseparable, my sister and I. It does not matter that I cannot see her. She is my tree of life, or as Omid writes:

 May it be that there is a vitality in our roots, and that the charred tree of our experiences gives birth to a hundred new blooms dancing around us, newer versions of ourselves that leap to life from what we would have deemed to be our death.

I also found a beautiful children’s book, called ‘The Memory Tree.' It is a story about Fox, who had lived a long and happy life in the forest, but who was now very tired:

Very slowly, Fox made his way to his favourite spot in the clearing. He looked at his beloved forest one last time and lay down. Fox closed his eyes, took a deep breath and fell asleep forever.

One by one, Fox’s friends arrive at the clearing:

Fox had been loved by everyone. He had been kind and caring. No one could imagine life in the forest without him.

The animals sat in silence for a long time.

The animals then begin to tell stories of their memories of Fox, and the moments they shared. When each animal speaks, the others remember, and smile:

Mouse said softly, “I remember how much Fox loved the sunset. He always sat at this exact spot.”

The animals remembered. Many of them had joined Fox, watching the sun go down.

It was a happy memory, and their sad hearts filled with warmth.

As the animals share their memories of Fox, a little orange plant starts to grow out of the snow where Fox was lying:

Small and delicate at first, and hardly noticeable, the plant grew bigger, stronger and more beautiful with each story.

The animals talked about Fox all through the night. And, in the morning, the little plant had grown into a small tree.

The animals saw the tree and knew that Fox was still a part of them.

And as they continue to tell many more stories about Fox during the next few days, weeks and months, their heavy hearts begin to feel lighter:

The more they remembered, the more the tree grew, higher and higher and more and more beautiful, until it was the tallest tree in the forest. A tree made from memories and full of love.

And the tree gave strength to everyone who loved Fox. And so, Fox lived on in their hearts forever.

I now have this beautiful story where a tree that has grown from the memories of Fox shelters and protects all the animals in the forest, just like Fox did when he was alive, and another story that tells me about a hundred year old tree that continues to give life to the trees that grow around it:

The tree did not die. And our ancestors live in us. We are who we are because they loved us, through and after their earthly life. They live in us, through us, long after their bodies are charred and returned to the Earth.

So I remember that as long as I share my memories of my sister, she has not died. She is the root of my tree, my tree of life, forever my shelter and protection.