Monday, August 15, 2022

A village elder moment

 When I looked over what books & mags I thought I ought to take to Hilton Head for our summer beach vacation, among other stuff I picked up a collection of essays & poems from Orion solely about trees.  Everything had run in the magazine over its forty-year history, which made this an anniversary collection of a favorite topic. 

I was pleased to see an essay by one of my metaphysical heroes, Scott Russell Sanders, included.  I got into Sanders’ writing years ago before learning he has deep Ohio roots which, of course, sweetened the feel for me.  His essay “Buckeye” is primarily about his learning about trees from his father, a government worker at the Ravenna Arsenal in northeast Ohio.  The two took long walks in the woods down by the Mahoning River where Scott remembers learning about Nature’s shapes and textures and smells from his dad.  

The heart of the essay is more contemporary, following Scott walking the long-left family property doing his best to see anything of theirs he still might recognize.  He came upon a pair of weeping willows he and his dad planted as “slips” so many years ago that now were taller than the utility poles.  

When I touched them last, their trunks were smooth and supple, as thin as my wrist, and now they were furrowed and stout.  I took off my gloves and laid my hands against the rough bark.  Immediately I felt the wince of tears.  “Hello, father,” I said, quietly at first, then louder and louder, as if only shouts could reach him through the bark and miles and years.

No doubt it was a powerful emotional experience for a boy coming home.  I certainly can appreciate that when I drive down old Fauver Avenue.  I know we are all gone from 2019, but somehow we still remain.  So much of me was formed in that house on that little yard in Belmont.  It’s easy to feel heartstrings. 

The reason for this essay of mine today is to recount the next part of Sanders’ “Buckeye” story.  As he ambled along, making note of a dead and dying landscape that was product of an ill-advised dam project, a most extraordinary thing happened.  

Then a cry broke out overhead and I looked up to see a red-tailed hawk launching out from the top of an oak — a band of dark feathers across the creamy breast and the tail splayed like rosy fingers against the sun.  It was a red-tailed hawk for sure; and it was also my father.  Not a symbol of my father, not a reminder, not a ghost, but the man, himself, right there, circling above me.  I knew this as clearly as I knew the sun burning in the sky….

The voice of my education told me then and tells me now that I did not meet my father, that I merely projected my longing onto a bird.  My education may well be right; yet nothing I heard in school, nothing I ever read, no lesson reached by logic has ever convinced me utterly or stirred me as deeply as did that red-tailed hawk.  Nothing in my education prepared me to love a piece of the earth, least of all a humble, battered country like northeastern Ohio; 

I learned from the land itself.

And so, I am left to ponder Sanders’s revelation at this time in my life.  As a fellow Ohio kid, I want to do my best to understand and appreciate what our landscape has become and likewise love it best I can.  I so enjoy the stately maples and walnut at our home in Shiloh, along with the flower and veggie beds.  I’m rather fond of walks through the woods at Englewood Metropark and Aullwood. 

But I have this sense that it’s time for me to do more.  Not sure exactly what that is, but I feel like it means more time spent within a quiet stand of mature trees, or quietly walking the shore paying more attention to sand dollars, brown pelicans, and laughing gulls.  I have this sense there’s more for an old man to grok.  

Today’s elder idea:   From Wikipedia:  

Nature therapy, sometimes referred to as ecotherapy, forest therapy, forest bathing, grounding, earthing, Shinrin-Yoku or Sami Lok, is a practice that describes a broad group of techniques or treatments to use nature to improve mental or physical health.

“Spending time in nature has various physiological benefits such as relaxation and stress reduction.”

From me:  For my new adventures:  Healing Trees:  A Pocket Guide to Forest Bathing by Ben Page (Mandala Publishing, 2021).