A number of weeks ago the man who owns this property hacked off the limbs of some graceful arching cottonwoods, destroying forever the cathedral –like arches that I walked under every day as I gave thanks for these Matriarchs of the Bosque, while carrying the knowledge that there will not be a new generation of these trees to replace the old ones that die. The high desert is drying up and young cottonwood saplings must have adequate water to live long enough to produce the deep taproots that will nourish the trees from below.
Being with/under and feeling the benign presence of these gracious cottonwoods for the past three years has taught me more about how important it is to focus on feeling gratitude for now than any other feature in this high desert.
Witnessing the destruction of the arches while walking under the weeping chopped up arms initially unhinged me.
At first I made up a little song to sing to the broken trees when I walked under them, knowing of course it was too late. Nothing could restore those dead arms.
Gradually, I came to the understanding that the cottonwood cathedral, a prayer place so sacred to me, also reminded me daily that being emotionally present for these trees helped me to balance the destruction of the natural world that I saw occurring all around me.
When I dreamed that in the distance I could see a magnificent cottonwood with her graceful bare canopy whole, and opening like like a flower, it seemed to me that the soul of the cottonwoods was trying to comfort me.
I had no idea what I was doing the day I picked up a bare limb and brought it back to the house, positioning the cottonwood right next to my steps so I could see it every time I walked in or out of the house.
Next I gathered boulders to ring the base of the dead tree. The slim trunk sitting on its bed of stone felt just right…
When the seasonal wheel turned into November I retrieved tiny clear crystals from my closet and placed them on my Norfolk Pine inside the house. Rainbows danced over the adobe walls. I also ringed the base of the pine with white lights. This is the time of the year I honor the life of all trees as part of my spiritual practice.
The very next day while coming up the steps I had a strange insight about the dead cottonwood limb. Honoring the life of all trees was no longer enough. Now I needed to honor trees in death.
That afternoon I wrapped white lights around the severed trunk and lit up ‘the tree’ at dusk.
Over the next few days I placed scalloped heart shaped cottonwood leaves around the trunk attaching them to the wires that held the lights… Just yesterday I realized what was missing. I needed an empty nest to grace the amputated limb.
A trip into the Bosque provided me with the latter. The cup was nestled in a few branches of desert scrub. When I attached the nest to the sawed off limb obscuring the work of the deadly chainsaw it finally occurred to me that I was creating art.
I dug through layers of dead cottonwood leaves until I found their flower –like shells – the seed casings that once held cottony balls of fleece – those seeds of the future that could no longer take root.
When I placed the petals in the nest I added four more stones, not just to anchor the empty pods down, but rather to reinforce the reality that stone ‘eggs’ cannot give birth to new life. A base made of Boulders made the same point.
Last night when I lit the ‘tree’ with lights that shivered like cracked stars I felt like I had unintentionally created a new sacred space with my sculpture.
And for the first time since the severing, a sense of peace permeated my once bereft body, soul, and spirit.
Art not only bridges the ordinary world helping us to access the sacred; it heals in life and death.