Consecutive Days Riding: 57 Consecutive Days Blogging: 58
Today’s Mileage: 10 Total Trip Mileage: 512
Today we are heading up Fort Myers beach and will soon turn inland toward our next pilgrimage site. Tomorrow is a special religious day for the Buddhists and a celebration of an important Christian doctrine, the Immaculate Conception. The following day will represent our two month anniversary on the Pilgrimage journey!
As I ride, a specific image hovers in my mind. Yesterday we strolled along the beach at Lovers Key celebrating the shoreline and the beauty of nature. One photo displayed a line of dead trees. I called it “Shoreline Sentinels.” What I did not post was a photo of a tree that had been uprooted. This scene got me thinking about trees and their spiritual significance.
Trees have been used as symbols for individuals, communities, and churches. The roots are the anchor, embedded deep in whatever substrate (dogma) the church holds as truth (sacred scripture and/or sacred experiences). Trees without strong roots might not thrive being prone to fall over in times of stress in life. The trunk of the tree must be strong and sturdy, like the structure of a church (leadership, buildings,mission). A thin or rotten trunk may give way and split in the face of life’s storms. The branches and leaves provide protection from the heat and rain. They capture the light of the divine, transforming it into life giving sustenance (fruit). A sick or diseased tree will not provide fruit or shade and may become little more than a skeleton. It is easy to see why some of the early earth based wisdom traditions actually worshiped trees. Trees provided shade, shelter and sustenance and were recognized as central to their lives. Many faiths see in the tree a symbol for the wisdom needed to survive in challenging times.
Once a mighty tree falls over, whether at the hands of nature or of man, we are afforded a rare opportunity to see signs of a monumental struggle which all too often goes unnoticed! I became aware of this struggle years ago as I would hike around the “clear cut” areas of southern rural forest land. In forming their lumbering roads the large metal monster machines would push aside trees stumps exposing the hidden root structures. I learned to come back a year or two later, after the rains had done their job and the delicate roots lay exposed, the thin root bark peeling away.
When the soil was rocky the roots took on the quality of water! Like a stream or river, rocks did not stop the roots but instead diverted the root’s “flow.” Roots would become stunted and twisted, sometimes forming a bulb or a disk. If you pulled away the loose bark you might find swirls and eddies etched into the wood, like fossilized patterns of flowing water. We tend to take it for granted that the tree’s struggle is with the elements above the ground, the wind, fire, lack of rain, insects like the pine beetle and crowding of neighbors. From the moment the seed sends out its first root, the struggle between life and the inanimate world begins and continues till the inanimate world wins!
Several years ago in a shop featuring items from China, I came upon a piece of artwork. Into a tree root had been carved the figure of an old Chinese man. It was one of several different root carvings in the store. However, this one was special, for embedded deep within the wood protruded a square rock, like a book or tablet. The natural curve of the wood, like the old man’s arm, cradled this inanimate object like it was a sacred text. I purchased it on the spot!
Recently when I visited the store they remembered me as the guy “who bought the carving with the stone.” It’s a powerful image and symbol!
It makes a statement about the constant, even if unseen struggles of life. It speaks to the need for persistence and flexibility in meeting life’s challenges. Obstacles can strength us, impediments can be incorporated into our structure, even in death we can be a source of wisdom about the process of life. This is the “wisdom of the wood.”