I was walking home along a city bike path recently, several weeks after a devastating freak autumn snowstorm took down countless trees in western Massachusetts, where I live. I noticed for the first time since the storm that a tree at the juncture in the path where I turn to go home, was totally destroyed. This big, broad tree that kids love to climb because its branches are low and horizontal and it is thus so easy to get a foothold on, was cracked as if it were a wishbone torn in half by a giant.
Just then a woman and her grown daughter bicycled past. The woman dropped her foot to the pavement to brake her bicycle and said to her daughter, “Oh, look at that tree, it is so sad.” The daughter reluctantly slowed her bike, and paused just long enough to roll her eyes and say, “Yeah, it is.” But I could see she didn’t mean it.
I could sympathize with the daughter. Usually when I’m on the bike path I’m taking a walk or pedaling at a good clip because either I’m “exercising” and trying to keep my heart rate up, or I’m heading home or to yoga class and I’m busy and have things to do. I want to keep going.
But on this day I empathized even more with the mother. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t blame her for feeling sad, I wanted to say that I feel sad, too.
It seems like a natural reaction when looking around at so many mighty, beautiful, trees toppled or snapped like toothpicks. But to pause and say, “I’m so sad about the trees,” is considered to be childish, or even crazy.
I’m sure the woman on the bike path’s daughter thought her mother was being overly sentimental, or even a bit weak-minded, for wanting to take that moment to mourn the loss of that one beloved tree.
I’m still mourning the loss of the trees, and trying to get accustomed to the unfamiliar new outlines of trees that have been re-sculpted by the heavy winds and limb-breaking wet snow.
I’d like to claim I’ve always been sensitive to nature, but the truth is that it has been during the last several years, when I began listening closely to my dreams, that my awareness of nature has increased. Since then I have dreamed of flying over trees, looking at light-drenched trees, and being shown broad leaves from exotic trees that are marked with magical-looking symbols, to name a few of my night-time encounters with trees.
It’s as if the dreams, like Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, were trying to get me to hear the voices of the trees. And now that so many have fallen, I can’t seem to wake up out of the awareness of their grace, power, beauty and suffering. Nor do I want to.