“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.” --Henry David Thoreau
Putting trees inside... and other unusual adventures
Our Christmas tree from the National Forest
People have been bringing pieces of trees into their homes, usually in the form of boughs and branches for over 2000 years... according to the Hebrew scriptures (that's the Old Testament to you and me) God even commanded it be done, as it says in Leviticus (23:30), "...you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God...."
After a semester of reading about spiritual ecology, it seems to me the power of trees is something ancient and enduring, and not just in a druid dancing-in-the-woods-full-moon kind-of way... but in a way truly sacred and significant (no offense to the pagans who still dance in the moonbeams intended). God is in the trees, the trees are in God. Or so some claim...
What is it about trees that inspires us... draws us near... makes us want to celebrate them?
This year my partner, Michael, and I opted to cut down our own Christmas tree in the White Mountain National Forest behind our house. Ranger Jim sold us a $5 tag and suggested a few spots we might hike to in order to find our yule bush. He said he could not tell us where the perfect conical 7 foot firs lived but he was kind enough to show us where we might park for 'free' in certain picnic areas without being towed or ticketed. We brought along our trail- loving pooch, Rimbaud (named for the French poet) and spent about 3 hours all told on the endeavor. It wasn't easy going out into the frosty wild to find a tree the right size and/or shape -- our minds and hearts had been corrupted by years of commercial Christmas tree stands near the box stores where all trees were 'perfectly' pruned, shaped and coiffed -- but we found something we both agreed we could cut, carry and get into our house with minimal pain that might fulfill the romanticized visions of conifers that danced in our heads. Michael beamed upon it with pride when we found it and swore it was meant to be ours. We sawed the lil' four footer down and slung it over Michael's shoulder, feeling heroic and brave and non-commercial.
Just as we began to hike out of the woods with our tree Rimbaud rejoined us. He had been out exploring and sniffing. We looked down and saw he was carrying a HUGE femur in his smiling jaws. Tail wagging and proud, Rimbaud showed us where he had discovered his treasure and, much to our surprise, we found there the entire skeletal remains of a large moose! The rib cage and skull, the legs and joints all in tact but spread across a small field about 20 feet. It was awe inspiring. We coaxed Rimbaud away with much difficulty after he rolled around in the smelly remains a bit more and somehow persuaded him to leave the femur behind.
When we got home it was clear our 16 month old pup was excited by the fact that we had opted to put up some of the National Forest in our living room. He danced and pranced and sniffed and wagged. We decorated and he looked on curiously, grabbing at stuffed ornaments and barking giddy with noel cheer. That being said, I do think he may have been a little dismayed that we opted to bring home and decorate the shrub instead of the femur.
What made us want this ever green scented stalk instead of that juicy, still smelly, marrow filled bone?! What indeed? Who decides which parts of the forest stays out in the "wilderness" and which parts get to come home and be domesticated? Rimbaud knew for certain that he had been stuck with the short end of stick when we later threw him in the bathtub and thoroughly sudsed him up to get rid of the unholy rotten moose aroma that stubbornly clung to his fur. What was perfectly natural to (and delightful) to him was nothing short of God Awful to us.
So one has to wonder... what makes the tree so sacred and the moose so stinky? Who gets to say which is more holy -- the spruce or the moose?
The day after tomorrow I leave my woods and head to India where I'll take up an experiment in sacred living that involves obtaining a new perspective on the forest (and perhaps on myself). I am joining 10 students and two faculty colleagues. We'll be staying on an ashram in southern India devoted to reforestation and organic agriculture for 3 weeks.
We'll join 50+ other folks on the ashram, and we'll be working hard planting trees and visiting sacred groves, medicinal forests, and temples. Our homes will be huts made from forest fibers and our electricity will be generated from the sun (and bicycles). We will eat only vegan diets (no moose) and we'll use only composting toilets. We'll bathe with water from buckets we've drawn from the well under the shelter of the palms and we will find out what it means to wake at dawn to work in community in harmony with the earth. We'll work alongside people from all over the world, Indians included, who have come for the sole (soul) purpose of connecting with nature in community. And some of us will record the experience through blog and facebook and digital photos (thank god there is a WiFi hut fully connected to the outside world)!
By going into the woods I hope to suck the marrow out of life (in a purely vegan fashion, of course) and find a new perspective on the sacred. At the very least, I hope to find a new side of me. I hope some of you may enjoy coming along...