Two days before Christmas I stand in these woods, snow flakes linger on their way to the ground, the slight wind moves them in a vortex motion, and my spirits are steadily rising. It’s cold enough so that I am aware of each breath as miniature clouds form in front of my face and dissipate as the cold breeze carries them away.
My parents were not terribly religious. Their faith was not directed towards any church. But still, my mother would drop my sister and I off at church or Sunday school in hopes that through the natural processes of osmosis we would absorb spirituality. And although I would no longer consider myself as a Christian, only because the movement seems to be anchored in exclusivity, I admire the belief in Christ and his long remembered message of peace and love; two principles sorely lacking in our culture. I often think that if the purity of his message was revered we would all be greatly better off.
I am a spiritual man. I come to this forest for peace, love, and a better understanding of who I am. My integral relation to this Earth is defined by not who I am but what I am. Like the rest of this planet I am principally comprised of star dust; remnants of an expanding universe that has collected on our planet. We are literally from the heavens and to the heavens we shall return. This is a comforting thought in these stressful times when we look for answers outside of our personal experience.
This very large eastern hemlock that stands next to me stands alone. It is outside of the large grove of hemlocks that covers a third of this side of the mountain. This tall tree is a more permanent fixture on this planet than am I. Judging from its three foot diameter it is perhaps 250 years old. In geological time a mere infant, but in human time a Methuselah. That this tree is principally comprised of the same elements as am I is astonishing. That it is arranged in a completely different biological order is wonderful.
I look up the straight trunk so covered with thick branches that I cannot see the top. Snow filters down between the branches and their dense green needles before gently landing on my face. This tree provides good shelter in inclement weather. I have stood here while hunting in snow storms, waiting for the rain to stop in the summer thunder showers, and to escape the heat of the day in August. That I am protected by this old tree is awe inspiring. It stands here requiring nothing from me. I stand here within its shadow and shade. I am the benefactor of its greatness. It gives me shelter. It gives me pleasure. It gives me security. It gives me wonder and stimulates my curiosity. It holds the truth amongst its many branches. Only time will tell if I can decipher these truths. No doubt it will require my return for future lessons.
As I stand here I think of my wife, Maureen, who is one of the most spiritual people I’ve ever known. She gains part of her spirituality from her Catholic upbringing. She still attends church regularly. Not the Catholic Church, but another, similar, Christian practice. She gains another part of her spirituality from practicing yoga. She has an inner strength and calmness that I have not yet found. And, the truth be told, she gains a lot of her spirituality by giving. She gives her love to me and our family unconditionally. She gives her love to brothers, nieces, and nephews: all hold a piece of her heart. She gives her love to her students who she hopes will have joyous and productive lives. She gives her love to her many friends who have all helped define her. She is not about herself, but her place in this Universe. Happiness for her comes from making others filled with joy. I cannot help but love Maureen with all of my heart and soul. In many ways she is my spiritual mentor.
The grand hemlock above me groans as the wind pushes against its many branches. Black cap chickadees line up on some of the interior branches as if waiting in a queue. A few tiny cones drop to the ground under pressure from the wind. This is a good place to be on a cold, windy, winter day. I am caught within the protective womb of this tree for the time being. The cold bites my cheeks above the warm part of my face beneath my heavy beard. My eyes water in the cold breeze but the salty tears do not immediately freeze. And I wonder, am I crying from the cold blowing wind or are these tears of joy?
This old tree. It has given shelter to white tail deer in deep snow. It has kept a mother coyote and her pup cool on a sultry summer day. It has provided the foundation for a nest full of black throat blue warblers. The roots of this massive tree hold the fine particles of the soil in place. Within the shade of this tree grows yellow birch saplings, goldthread ground cover, and a contingent of fungi that require both moisture and shade.
The tree and its immediate surroundings are an ecosystem. An ecosystem that is part of the larger forest mosaic. And a forest mosaic that is part of a larger earth-wide life force referred to as Gaia. One planet. One living organism. One balanced living entity that we call Earth.
Looking towards the sky I see that the clouds are breaking. A hint of blue teases my desire for a little winter sun. A ray of sunlight sends a beam through the branches of the majestic hemlock under which I stand.
One strand of light glances off of my face.
I am alive.
I am well.
I am blessed.
And to all of you who read this may you have peace and love in your heart. May you share your goodness with someone else. May you understand that you are blessed. And may you love our planet and treat it with the respect that it deserves.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in December 2012