Lest anyone be confused, this is actually an Easter post.
Bonding with a Tree
It’s during this time of the year in particular, early to mid-spring, I think back to my days as a kid in a quiet and rural town in north-central Massachusetts. I always liked to climb trees, scrambling much higher than my mother ever liked–on those rare occasions when she could see me. But there was just something about this time of year that made climbing these tall old vegetative creatures just a little more magical. It wasn’t just that it was finally spring and it was good to be outside. I was much, much better about getting plenty of outdoors hours each winter as a child than I am now. There was something about the new kind of blue above me in the sky, something I could feel coursing through the thick gray boughs long before the leaves budded and returned.
But to the best of my–admittedly often flawed–recollection, the experience never spoke to me about redemption or resurrection or rebirth or anything like that. It spoke to me of adventure. Of wild possibility.
There was a certain camaraderie I felt with the tree. I felt that camaraderie with all trees, in fact. I would feel it when I looked at them out the window of the car, but especially when gazing out the windows of a school classroom, where I imagined the towering and silent sentry trees to almost be extending a certain solidarity to me, a solidarity which I accepted and reciprocated. This was especially true of tall pine trees of all variety. The same way true when I was home, where I would walk the wooded paths, alone, but not really alone because of my friends the trees. We didn’t usually talk or anything, we just were.
The Wild Lands of Yonder Adventure
There was a medium-sized hill in my parents’ backyard that represented the border of a vast state forest. One year, I crudely nailed three small wooden boards into one of the more moderate-sized pines atop the hill to form a basic ladder and expand the horizons of my view. From up here, my gaze was wide. Through the open window of my sun-bright eyes, my soul would soar over the roof of my house and my closest neighbors, and, in fact, I could keep watch over the entire small neighborhood of one-acre lots. I imagined large birds like eagles and hawks doing the same thing. Sometimes they really were.
I saw more than that, too. In the general west northwest direction, I saw where adventure really lay. It was as though a line, giant and straight, of nothing but pointy green pine peaks all the way out to the horizon. This emerald path sparkled and cascaded like the sea itself, and I knew a part of me could always be found at the end of that horizon, in that place where magic dwelt.
Fast forward many years, and I find myself across the border in southwestern New Hampshire. Suffice it to say that I ended up here by accident. Nearly everyone knows that I hate New Hampshire. There were years I paid taxes in Massachusetts just because I didn’t want to call myself a New Hampshire resident. I lived here for five years before I broke down and got a New Hampshire license plate and driver’s license. To this day, I follow Massachusetts politics like I am still a voter there and I follow New Hampshire politics like someone who lives in Boston–which is to say, not at all (seriously, it’s really boring, guys).
I want to be perfectly clear: I grew up in north-central Massachusetts in a rural town on the New Hampshire border. I am not ignoring or neglecting this fact. There is a difference between what lies south of that border and what lies north of it. That’s indisputable, my friends. Let’s list off some very basic things to hate about New Hampshire:
- It’s a state where it snows all the time, which would be fine by itself if not for the fact that nobody plows the roads when it snows. At least, not until we’re really sure the storm is definitely over, by which time it’s way too late for anyone who has to actually drive someplace like, you know, work.
- It’s a state where it snows all the time and nobody ever puts salt on the road. Really? In a civilized first-world country?
- They have no income tax, and I know this sounds like such a great idea, until you have to go to work in the middle of a blizzard and nobody has plowed the roads because ain’t nobody got money for that.
- It’s the only state in Proud New England that has neither medical cannabis nor decriminalized cannabis, and the only state besides Vermont that doesn’t have both.
- If you take a leak outdoors and get caught, you have to go on the sex offender registry.
- State Troopers are found lurking in every town on basically any given road, not just big highways. What the hell is that?
- Really poor driving. No, seriously. I know everyone thinks of “Massholes” as being the worst drivers in the world, but that’s just how passive drivers from elsewhere who perceive “aggressiveness” and “offensive driving” as poor skills. I’m not talking about people taking what’s rightfully theirs and getting where they need to be. But in a state in which rotaries (sorry, they’re called “traffic circles” here) are popping up everywhere like dandelions a couple weeks from now, nobody seems to know how to use them and I almost get creamed by craze-bags doing the full 360 in the outside lane at least twice a month.You’re not supposed to do that. Also, just as importantly, there’s a real problem with the concept of “merging.” Seriously, the bold text is for the people I drive with every day: When I’m on the road you want to get onto, and you see the upside-down triangle with the red outside and the white inside and a word in it, that doesn’t mean that I need to get out of your way so that you can get on the road I’m on. It doesn’t mean we’re going to take turns. It means you can get on my road however you want to, as long as you avoid me. If you see my speed and hit the gas and get out in front of me, great–as long as I don’t have to slam on my breaks. If you see my speed and slow it down and snake out behind me, well done. But you can’t go at the same speed as me and get on at the same time as me. That is not permitted.
- The schools are pretty bad. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and trash them. But everybody knows they’re not great.
- I don’t like jacked up pickup trucks and I don’t like what passes today for country music. Not everybody here has a jacked up pickup truck and not everybody likes country. Just more than I would like.
- You have to register your car at the town hall. What does the town hall have to do with car registration? Nothing, in my mind. You have to deal with this during your birthday month every year. Apparently that makes it easy for someone to keep track of–I’m not sure whether that’s the drivers or the brilliant state. So you have to write checks, because that’s all they take, and I say checks in the plural because one check will go to the state and one check to the town. Everybody gets a cut and they don’t want to deal with splitting it up themselves. You walk in having no idea what you’re going to pay. It’s based on the weight of your car and the age, and I would have loved to have been the dude who comes up with that formula. Then you go and get your car inspected. Here, this ordeal is not a simple checklist and emissions test to determine that the car is drivable and you aren’t polluting the world more than your average driving peer. Here, a mechanic looks over your car, makes a list of things that could be fixed, and fails you for all of those things. I mean, it’s a great racket if you’re a mechanic.
All right, that’s enough. You get the idea. But it turns out it’s not just the passing of the seasons that has great influence on me but the passing of the years themselves. As I grow older, even in my most anti-Granite-State moments, I’ve learned to check myself a little with a question: Are those the things that determine whether or not a state is great or good or bad?
The Land, She Speaks to Me
Lately, the state herself has been making its case to me that the answer to that question is no. She’s been able to do so because I’ve opened my ears and permitted myself to hear her. It’s only been during the last two or three years that I’ve been able to quiet my life and my mind into a place in which I can see and hear and pay attention to the changes in the land and the trees and the grass and the birds–all the dark valleys and rivers and lakes and mighty mountains that make up this admittedly majestic plot of land–and maybe even commune with all that just a little bit.
The structure provided by writing this blog on a regular basis has provided me with a framework I use to remind myself all the more of the need and available ability to do it. Together, we’ve weathered the transition, along with this land and sky, into end of the harvest, the days of the dead, the retreat of the light, and the thick of winter. Now we arrive at another place–a place that’s familiar to all of us but we’re sharing together for the first time–the place of rebirth.
One of the great–and arguably the most difficult–spiritual truth found in nearly every path and discipline is that if you want to be reborn, you have to die first. I’m not talking about being a suicide bomber. This is a profound metaphor, mostly. Since it’s Easter, the most obvious voice from among the prophets would be Jesus. He actually says some variation of these words in three of the four Gospels, but we’ll use the passage from Luke chapter 9, verses 23-25, New Revised Standard Edition:
“Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?'”
But fortunately for all of us, the earth outside does not speak to us today of death, and I will not speak to you about it, either. I call attention to it to joyfully remind everyone that the death is over. We already did it. The earth is done with that. So is the air and the water and the sun. That’s what the winter was, and winter is done. It’s not that we’re reborn or the grass is reborn, it’s that everything is reborn together. If there’s anything worth celebrating, that’s it right there. This is a time of the year in which, if you choose to align yourself closely with the broad flow of the time, you will be able to accomplish great things over the course of this year.
Some may remember earlier posts at mid-winter in which I encouraged everybody to still themselves, soak in the last few weeks of winter’s spirit of hibernation, and prepare for the spring spring-board to come. If you did, great. If you didn’t, it doesn’t matter. Just jump right in. The elements that comprise your life and what happens within those elements in the course of the year is no different than the growing of crops. It is getting close to planting time. Get your seeds ready. Make sure you know what they are. Together, we’re going to plant our gardens, and we’re going to tend them, and we’re going to grow all the fruit we possibly can.
Death is hard and we’ll deal with it again in eight months or so. This is the easy part–all that’s’ required is intent. After all, you can’t grow fruit and vegetables in a garden by accident.
To wrap up, I’ll return to something I said at the beginning. Sometimes there’s just no accounting for when you are going to suddenly or randomly realize something. This year, I’ve been very conscious of the land’s return to life, and I’m very excited about it. I think it was a week ago today that I was driving on one of my favorite winding back roads, lined primarily by my friends the pines. There was a stone wall along the right side of the road during this stretch, and as the early evening sun (thank you, Daylight Savings Time!) shone golden rays through the jagged branches and bright green needles, the pines and the rocks shouted at me in a kind of chorus, and they broke through something in my mind. Suddenly I was consciously aware of something I instantly felt I’d known subconsciously or unconsciously for quite sometime: This is my land. These trees are my friends. So are the rocks in that wall, and the half-rotted leaves from last fall carpeting the forest, and that sunshine and those hills and–the MOUNTAIN.
I belong here. From the soil to the sky, this place in space calls to me–and I call back. I’m a part of it and it’s a part of me. It is together that we are flying through space, even at this very moment that I type. My job might not be right for me and some years my personal entanglements have been far from harmonious. But one thing that I know now openly to be right is my geography.
And I love it here.
Last interesting thing to note – when I looked with awe upon the pine-sea horizon to the west northwest, that horizon within which I knew the tales of magic were written, I was looking here. That’s not a metaphor–look at a map. Here I am, right now, nestled in my home in this magical land of adventure at which I once gazed and dreamed longingly. If I’m not going to recognize that and be grateful, may the cosmos punish me in whatever fitting manner I deserve.
This place is a blessing, I’m sorry for maligning it all the time, and when I hear the voices of the land, it’s no longer any big deal that people drive poorly and drive absurd trucks and vote for weird things. I don’t have to embrace all that, but there isn’t much sense spending any time hating it, is there?
So happy Easter. Whatever you believe, real or imaginary, the fact that the Son of God lives is probably something to be glad about. The emergence of an elusive spring, and all the fertility and growth associated with it, is something to be glad about. I might as well say happy Passover as well, since it’s also good that, for at least one more year running, God decided not to kill all the firstborn in every household (especially since, in my family, that would be me).
So be glad. Gather your seeds. And love the land you live with.