Saturday, October 02, 2010

It’s only been in recent months that the apparent lack of elevation in our garden started to bother me. Don’t misunderstand me. I like low-sprawling perennials, waist high hedges, easy to pick vegetables and the uncluttered, restful, empty space the green lawn provides (when it’s green!). But what I began to notice is that they all seemed to exert a continual pull on my eyes to focus downward. Suddenly, I didn’t appreciate that any more than I appreciated their apparently constant clamor for attention and validation.

Of course you are absolutely gorgeous, beautiful! And, you.. yes, I love your brilliant, showy colors. Your scent indeed is intoxicating, darling. And yes, you will make a great creamy soup in a few weeks. …But… what I really need right now is something that would cause my eyes to look up, rather than down… towards that outrageously blue sky, and the puffy clouds in the shapes of poodles chasing their tails, and birds playing in the wind, catching its current…Nothing personal against you, but I need… I need some trees!

So, I started thinking trees.

Years ago our now nine year old son decided to adopt a tiny maple seedling and grow his own tree. Clearly he was way ahead of his mother in being an advanced fore-thinker! He watered it and talked to it. He also forgot about it frequently, so I tried to fill in when his mind was preoccupied with more pressing things like LEGO cosmic battles. He would also regularly stand next to the tree to see who is taller. At first, he was the clear winner. However, the tree quickly closed in the gap and the race became very tight. Years later, the tree has outgrown him, his mother, the backyard fence, his dad, the neighbor’s pool enclosure … at the rate its going, soon the little tree will outgrow the house itself! Last spring we proudly hung up a small wooden birdhouse he made and painted on the tree’s lowest branch and since then we’ve been spying from behind the curtain on cardinals and squirrels paying visits to the Sonflower Cafe.

Planting a tree, I learned in the process, requires an entirely different level of commitment than planting let’s say, a squash or a periwinkle. The latter is here for a season, and then it’s transferred to the compost pile. The tree may very well be here long after I am gone. And that’s a sobering thought. The tree, like any other plant, starts small, sprouting from a tiny seed which came from another tree of its kind. But, I can’t allow its smallness to deceive me, for in few short years, it will transcend everything else growing in the garden. I may not even be able to wrap my arms around its trunk! So, I need to ensure that I pick a good spot for it – with plenty of sun and plenty of space for its roots to grow deep and its branches to spread out high and wide.

As the tree grows taller and taller, we will hang brilliantly painted bird feeders on its branches, and cardinals will make their nests in it, and squirrels will playfully chase up and down its convoluted highway system. But more importantly, with its hands continually stretched out upwards, the tree will exert that irresistible pull on the weary, earth-bound eyes of tired pilgrims to look up. When faced with wordless wonder above, perhaps some among them might recognize that even though we may be made out of the dust of the earth, the very breath of God, the untamable wind of heaven still resides inside our battered jar of clay. Some may pause for a few moments suspended between time and eternity, breathing in slowly, deeply, until their lungs are filled up with the heavenly air and their eyes lifted up, filled with wonder to face the One who lives beyond the clouds and in the quiet abode of their own broken hearts. Those will continue their journey refreshed and renewed, embracing the seeming contradiction, listening to the silent message of the trees all along the way, until one day they are finally at home, safe and complete in His arms.

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