Yesterday I trotted down the hill to water my cedar garden with a container full of mineral rich rain-water. I opened the gate and entered the enclosure Marcus had fashioned. The wire stretched around the back of Trillium Rock and followed the uneven contours of the land ending at an entrance that completed the meandering oval. We hoped to protect the baby cedars that had been planted inside from being damaged by woodland grazing animals.
I felt a sense of peace as I entered the space but was unprepared for the strange blurring of boundaries or the heightening sensation of dissolution followed by oneness that stole over me as I stood there quietly. Simultaneously, I could feel myself being connected as if by invisible threads not just to the seedlings, but to the whole space on a level that also dissolved differences. Dissolution and Oneness. The experience peaked and then evaporated leaving me standing there wondering what had happened even before I bent to water and inspect each seedling. Most peculiar, the two sensations – Dissolution and Oneness – suddenly seemed to me to be the same experience.
I also thought about the feeling of being connected by threads…Could it also be that the cooperative mycorrhizal network beneath my feet was drawing me in on some level, possibly communicating its desire to include me in something that was beyond my conscious ability to comprehend? As fantastic as this idea sounded, I thought it might be true. I imagined being part of a wild decentralized underground fungal network that stretched across the continent under the land and sea, a network without a center, yet one whose minute hyphae probably explored every inch of this earth, each root tip branching, learning adapting, changing… Yes, anything was possible.
As I watered each seedling looking for changes in leaf structure or color that might indicate problems, I left this mind-bending tangle of possibilities behind to reflect upon other events that led to creating the garden…
Two years ago I lost a beautiful adult cedar that I had planted in front of the cabin to winter deer grazing. I was still mourning the loss of my Guardian tree, one that my friend and neighbor Mark had let me dig up from his land 15 years ago.
Last year I replaced it with another cedar seedling, left for the winter, and returned to discover a really nasty tree-hating neighbor had pulled apart my rock garden and crushed my baby cedar.
This summer after an earnest conversation with Mark who complained that too many deer were eating the cedars before they could mature, I decided to dig up some seedlings to plant them around here somewhere… I asked my young friend Marcus, Mark’s son to help me.
I chose Trillium Rock as the backdrop for the cedar garden because I loved this granite stone that overlooked the brook. My brother’s ashes had been lovingly placed in the ground on the other side of the glacial boulder that was covered in lichens and moss. Recently a new three lobed trillium graced the top of the rock. A poignant memory surfaced one evening when I was down there a few days ago: my brother had given me a cross section of cedar that looked just like a flower for Christmas the year before he died…He loved cedars too…
In front of the stone Marcus had felled a couple of dead trees leaving beautiful tree patterns that lay flush with the uneven ground. These created perfect niches for seedlings to thrive in rich woodland soil. A small forest was sprouting inside the enclosure – spruce, hemlock, a clump of balsams, ash, and maple seedlings were thriving, and just to the right of the enclosure stood a young adult cedar who, thanks to the tree felling, now had full access to the sun. I knew that trees helped each other and their kin and I hoped the adult would adopt the seedlings after they were planted, encouraging their growth by funneling nutrients to them by way of the underground mycorrhizal network that supported all the trees in this area.
After digging and potting up my six seedlings, Marcus arrived with a clump of cedars his father had rescued while mowing his field! I cared for these too until that last day when, at my request, Marcus dug three more cedars from a nearby ditch to save them from road slaughter, and we planted all but one, bringing the cedar garden to life in the process.
Marcus dug in the remaining cedar near the spot where my Guardian cedar once stood… he reminded me that this little cedar would have access to nutrients from the decaying roots of the Guardian tree, a thought that pleased me.
Although I knew that I wouldn’t live long enough to see any of these trees reach adulthood (cedars grow slowly; they are second succession trees) Marcus certainly would, and I loved the idea of a cedar grove springing up in front of that rock. One day my ashes would provide these trees with precious minerals… I also loved the idea of being able to nurture another cedar that grew so close to the cabin.
Ever since the idea of creating a cedar garden became a reality in my mind I began to see cedars in places where I had never noticed them before. I would be walking along a familiar woods road, when I’d get a weird feeling – it often seemed like something was watching me. I would look up and a cedar would pop into view – one I could have sworn had not been there before. I also discovered seedlings hidden in stone walls – in much the same manner.
I reached two conclusions regarding these odd experiences. The first seemed to come from the trees directly. The cedars were communicating that they appreciated my love and my concern for their welfare by capturing my attention. They wanted me to see them to let me know that.
The second one made me laugh. I thought Nature might have a sense of humor and was showing me how much I routinely missed even when I thought I was perceptive!
What I didn’t know was that Marcus, who spent as much time in the woods as I did, was having the exact same kind of experiences. When we traded stories Marcus remarked that as humans (although) we are limited by our perceptive abilities – if we focus on and are deeply engaged with cedar trees we learn more about the cedar story – but this doesn’t mean that relationships with other trees disappear. He believes that with improving focus and attention it is possible to extend our perceptive abilities to include having relationships with other tree species too – at the same time – an idea that really intrigues me. My sense had been that there is a foreground and a background and that we humans can’t inhabit both places simultaneously.
It’s probably important to mention that both of us have intimate relationships with trees and talk to them routinely, believing they respond to us primarily through our bodily senses. Rarely, through words. More frequently through sudden insights. With 50 years between us – Marcus is 21 – it amazes me that this boy and I share such similar perspectives.
For over a month I have been entering the garden through its chicken wire fence at least once a day. When I water the trees both Marcus and his father are never far from my mind. Gradually I have come to realize that the cedar garden is a place that includes not only the cedars (and a beautiful patch of land), but two other people besides me. Together we have created a community where kinship becomes reality.