Each morning my day begins with dogs and trees. Seven dogs, to precise, and a forest full of trees.
The pack is kind of a canine United Nations, rescues all, with representation from the Great Pyrenees, the Labradors, and the Rottweilers, along with the Australian Shepherds, the Chows, and the Cattle Dogs. Only one is smaller than 40 pounds, and of course she is the fiercest one of all.
We greet the morning as dawn breaks in sets of two or three or four, doggie tails invariably wagging and mine generally a little less so - however they do coax me into wonder more days than not. Together we head out into the woods, wagging or not, to welcome the day in the company of trees. It is the trees who speak to me of the world we share, who beckon me toward the durable poetry of God’s Creation.
It was the early days of October when I began what has become this reflection. Fall had just begun falling. The season which speaks change like no other losing her first gold and orange and bronze promises of loss; our daily trail scattered with leaves of autumn beauty. The trees from which they fell offered their timeless wisdom: let go, let go. For a week or more we walked in and then out of the woods, marveling at the colors, emerging bejeweled with leaves.
Then two things happened, both unexpected and earth-shaking and as natural as the world.
First came the news that a longtime spiritual companion, whose presence on the planet has definitively shaped my own, was preparing to die. His cancer had come suddenly and fiercely, and though my friend’s own storehouse of fierceness was prodigious - a minister, a professor, an author, a husband and father, a leading light in the world of affirming therapeutic care for gender-creative/ transgender children and youth as an out transman himself - he wanted me to know that he knew it would soon be time for him to let go … let go. He was heartbroken. I was heartbroken. We were all heartbroken. And the leaves continued to turn their glorious colors. And then fall to the ground.
The second thing was the forest’s offering a homily on falling into resurrection.
After having made the first trek of the morning with Ellie, Harley, Chance and Fara, my chest aching with the press of sadness, I was returning to the woods with Jack, Layla and Fiona. I remember noticing the air was very still; the brand-new sunlight slipping silently through the eastern edge of trees. Then a sound like a volley of gunshot split the moment open. Turning, the four of us watched in awe as one of the towering trees in the old-growth forest fell majestically through the air to crash with breathtaking finality upon the earth.
Life and Death
Less than thirty minutes prior, my booted feet, the pack’s mudded paws, had trampled noisily along our familiar path blithely unaware of the great tree’s readying for surrender; the many-colored reminders of the season of letting go unheeded underfoot.
Then there we stood in wonder and shock, tracking the twelve or fourteen feet from our trail to the massive trunk, thinking on life and death and one day here and one day gone and how everything eventually falls to the earth.
Our morning walks bring the pack and I to and from the great fallen tree resting into the leaf-laden ground. The darkness hours have lengthened. The forest offers its hard solace, speaks to me of how the soil is made rich with sorrow, how grief nourishes to the deepest roots. How this venerable tree is making life again already in a million unseen ways.
A few weeks later my most amazing friend died. He was here when I started this writing. And now he has returned to the earth. As we turn for home each morning, I breathe the forest’s wisdom and know-- with Eli’s life the Creator is making life again already in a million unseen ways. The leaves continue to shower their falling making beauty everywhere.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
- Isaiah 61:1-3