January 16, 2009

Spirits and Trees

From my window, I look out at the 300 year old moss covered big leaf maple.  It's one of the largest of its kind in the area.  Our arborist has adopted it so that it will be cared for like an honorary elder.  As a matter of fact, we have designated it a sacred tree along with a 200 year old cedar.  Each of the trees is along the Path of the Ancestors, a trail within the temple grounds that marks the lineage of our matriarchs and patriarchs.  The big leaf maple marks Bodhidharma, and further along, the cedar tree marks Dogen Zenji on the historic link.

At times, the huge trees of the Pacific Northwest seem dark and ominous.  The sun we get can't reach the forest floor because the canopy is dense.  Lately, our soil is acidic so that moss has generated on the tree bark and on much of the ground surface.  It begins to look like a place where Hansel and Gretel got lost in the archetypal forest, and it makes the open areas seem like an old, venerable Chinese garden.

In all of this, the trees have a profound spirit and presence.  We have big leaf maple, cedar, spruce, fir, pine, alder, apple, plum, cherry, and bigger than some of the trees, a bamboo, which is not a tree.  Billions of seeds get thrown down every year with seedlings declaring their rights every spring.  What was once a dense evergreen forest is trying to stage a comeback, and we negotiate exactly where they get to launch their offspring with humans having the upper hand.  Too close to the house and we're in jeopardy.  And then we do want to save our view of the lake.  What a struggle.  Unattended, the land would revert fairly quickly to an evergreen forest because the big leaf maples cannot develop the same girth to support long life with the amount of wind and rain we get.  Except for the stately big leaf maple Bodhidharma tree!!

It takes persistence in the spirit of a tree to find its way to light.  Like ourselves, finding our way to a deep consciousness takes as long as a tree to root and simmer and develop.  The consciousness of the tree is deep in the ground and we receive the mercy of its flowering crown above the ground.  Perhaps it's not different with humans.  We take root, struggle to find the sky, and continually throw down the seeds of our lives.  An elder from the Nisqualli Native American tribe came to visit recently.  We stood together looking at a stand of evergreen and he said with a bit of a laugh, oh you've got lots of the tall ones here.  He didn't mean the trees.  He meant the tall people spirits who dwell among trees.  Can't you see them, he said, they're standing right there in front of you and they're looking straight at you.