The Circle of Life and Death



This morning the sky was on fire before dawn even as I approached the river whose ripples reflected a purple so deep it was almost inked in charcoal – In the Bosque I noticed that one mule deer had used a juniper to scrape his antlers. Otherwise the Earth emanated precious predawn stillness except for the sound of receding river waters slipping over cobbled stones. It was mild; I thought today might be the day…


The greens I had tipped in prayer and gratitude on ‘the mountain where bears live’ were waiting to be woven into wreaths, and by afternoon the temperature was warm enough for me to sit on the porch under a milky December sun with my clippers and bag of greens.


The sweet scent of pinion wafted through the air as I began to weave my circle of life with pinion, fir, and spruce. I wove carefully cutting smaller fronds without thinking about what I was doing, but beneath my quiet mind an intention was being set to weave a new kind of wholeness back into the trees, back into our broken Earth; S/he who is crying out to be heard through each raging fire, crackling drought, mud ridden flood. My greatest fear is that no one is listening.


My intention is that I will listen; I will be present for the trees.


Frequently in dreams I hear the screams of trees being slaughtered, cut away from their loved ones, left alone to die without adequate nourishment, water, or support.


Here in New Mexico the cottonwoods suffered so in last year’s drought that I wept over them, never imagining that my holy place, a cathedral created from a few graceful cottonwood arms that stretched all the way to the ground would end up being ruthlessly severed and h left on the ground as a pile of useless dead limbs. I raged and sorrowed then, helpless in the face of slaughter, even after I had a dream that in the distance a whole cottonwood spread her bountiful branches over the desert floor. I was grateful the tree soul lived on, but I was grieving my loss.


One day about a month ago as I walked under these Matriarchs in the now parched Bosque, the cottonwoods nudged me to bring one of their broken peeled arms back to my dwelling place and to create something out of it. As I followed directions I discovered I was constructing a memorial to honor the dead. Another dream came; this one reinforced the truth that I must honor all trees, but that I needed to focus on all those that were dead or dying.


Finally I understood that the loss of my cottonwood cathedral might have been making the same point.


For many years I have been reverencing all trees at this darkest time of the year with an emphasis on evergreens because they symbolized the continuation of all life. And in my world each tree I revered became a “Tree of Life.” Weaving my wreaths in their honor was and remains an act of heartfelt prayer. Up until the present hope for a more wholesome, peaceful future has always been attached to my ‘tree of life’ prayers.


But this year it is different. The Earth is on Fire and I must seek a larger context – one that includes the death of all trees and Nature herself.


As Terry Tempest Williams states we “must feel the pain of now and not look away.”


I promise the trees I will do my best to stay present for their anguish, knowing that what I do for them I do for me.


It is hard to admit that I can no longer imagine what I can do to change any outcome – theirs or mine – we are that enmeshed.


I wove the above intention into my wreath and then brought it in. After placing the circle of greens on a small table I lit the wreath up in green and blue lights to honor both Earth and Sky. Life and Death. As I stood over the wreath, the scent of all the boughs filled me with a profound sense of peace.

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