Born Again by Sara Wright


Picture of Sara Wright standing outside in nature“Let me sing to you about how people turn into other things.”  (Ovid)

Years ago I placed my brother’s ashes in a shallow depression that I had dug near a granite fern and moss covered boulder. The brook flowed just a few feet away and at the last minute I scattered a few filaments over the shallow waters, returning them to the sea. A week later I planted a hazel nut tree nearby. A fossilized spiral ammonite marks my brother’s grave. 

 Thanks to the underground highway created out of millions of tree/plant roots, the extensive net of fungal hyphae and this communal system’s miraculous ability to exchange nutrients/minerals/sugar, my brother lives on as part of this forest…The gracefully spreading hazel and all the other trees (spruce, maple, balsam, hemlock, ash) that are scattered around this hallowed woodland grove have been nourished by the bones of one I loved.   

Yet only recently have I been possessed by revelation.

I want to be buried under one of these trees so I can become one too. I spent my childhood living in a tree, was sheltered, fed, and loved by them as a young forlorn mother, and chose them as my closest companions (except for dogs and bears) when I built my small camp in the woods, and later my log cabin. By mid life the deep intimacy between us had flowered into articulation. What was happening to the trees was happening to me. Trees paved the road to eco – feminism.

 I long to become a tree whose context is community, whose focus is on the whole, who lives on in a sacred form that is 400 million years strong. 

Trees are also my relatives. Although we parted ways 1.5 billion years ago we share 25 percent of our DNA.

Everything about trees is about living in relationship to other beings. Trees shelter, feed, protect, create life out of death and ask for nothing in return.

Well not exactly nothing. Over the course of my life trees have taught me that they love to be loved. Of course, I am grateful to them for each breath I take, but mostly I love them because they exist. A life without trees is not one I would choose to live. 

photo of a beloved Cottonwood Portal

Beloved Cottonwood Portal, photo by Sara Wright

 I think of all the rootlets – luminescent hyphae interpenetrating, nourishing, sending impulses, singing under ground. Almost daily I touch sturdy tree trunks that have provided me with support and deep abiding joy, comfort during times of distress. Sometimes, during the warmer months I listen to tree trunks making an almost imperceptible gurgling sound. The compounds that trees breathe out at night lower my stress level. My heart beats more slowly in response, in resonance with this night rhythm. I experience unimaginable aching beauty when trees are leafing out, birthing spiky top knots, coming into bloom while scenting the air with a perfume so sweet that it transports me into another realm. I lean into blessed tree shade during intolerable heat. Trees speak in tongues that I can feel or sense and sometimes utter a word or two in my own language. Is it any surprise that I am perpetually flooded with awe and wonder when it comes to trees?

 No wonder I want to become one in my dying.

Tree conversation never ceases above or below. Just now because it is winter the tree’s sap, its sugary/mineral rich blood, barely trickles, though it still acts as nature’s antifreeze. The living tissue just below the bark, precious cambium, is lined with water so pure it doesn’t crystalize. Trees lean into the dark grateful to rest quietly as frost or snow covers bare branches or bends evergreen boughs to the ground. In the spring’s warming sun sap chants as it rises, flowing upward (defying gravity in the process) to the highest branches, the most delicate twigs, the sharpest tips of needles, causing the latter to bristle with new green growth. Flowers and leaves appear on deciduous trees. Pale yellow, orange or dusky brown pollen thickens the air with scent and purpose.

With adequate water trees will flourish all summer long photosynthesizing – producing bountiful amounts of oxygen as they breathe in poisonous carbon dioxide. Made of light, they transpire, offering clouds of steam, releasing precious moisture, compounds, and minerals into the air until autumn, when their life – blood begins its annual decent. Journeying back to their Source, withering leaves and needles begin to drift earthward (some needles, others scatter in early spring). Cascading leaves flutter to the ground, peppering the precious earth with the stuff of dying, twigs, uneaten fruits, seeds, and nuts, producing a layer of detritus soon to become nourishment for next year’s growth. 

Seeds take root almost invisibly, seeking Earth’s warmth, minerals and other nutrients and most important – relationships with others – kinship begins beneath the surface of the soil.   

Ah, to become a tree…

I will sleep and dream away the winter, bow respectfully as I wince in raging winds. Early spring brings my willow catkins into flower; blossoms that feed my much beloved and starving Black bears. Deer, and moose nibble my first twigs and buds. In the heat of the late spring sun I become tumescent, swelling buds that will produce flowers of every conceivable shape and color, those complex structures that will eventually bear fruit or seeds. Translucent lime green leaves appear and deepen into emerald. My scent is so sweet that bees seek me out and I thrive under their buzz and hum. As summer begins my leaves will shower the earth in luminous dappled light shielding tender wildflowers from a sun too bright, too fierce. With the first clap of thunder I turn my thirsty leaves and stretch out my needles towards the life bringing rains. Birds who sought out the shelter of my branches to bear their young will be feeding their hungry progeny. Woodpeckers hammer holes in some of my trunks for insects, creating new homes for others in the process. Flying squirrels and owls seek my protection from summer’s harsh brightness, the kind that outlasts the night. Wild bees burrow under my bark or under my feet. A myriad of insects like cicadas find homes in my canopies and sing cacophonous songs of praise at dusk.  Wailing winds cease as I listen to a myriad of voices – the forest speaks.

To become a tree as part of a forest is an act of Natural Grace. 

 For me “becoming tree” means that something of who I am lives on – a “not I” who continues her work – feeding animals and birds, planting and nurturing more trees and plants – those same creatures and plants (and hopefully others) that have sustained me throughout my life. Learning. Inscribing. Evolving. Until the end. In this way “the not I” continues to serve life in a way that is meaningful to Nature as a whole.

 Giving back what has been given without a price tag attached.

 Just the thought brings me deep peace.

 Recently, someone made a statement to me that felt like truth; “You have a pure heart.” Although I didn’t have the faintest idea what was meant by these words, some kind of resonance vibrated deeply throughout my body, spiraling me towards ‘home’. With awkward surprise I heard myself agreeing with this remark. Then understanding struck.

Every tree has a pure heart.

 As long as trees continue to exist they will teach us that in every end there is a new beginning. Without Tree Presence, we are truly lost.

 

Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Northern New Mexico.



Categories: General, Nature

Tags: , , ,

13 replies

  1. Beautiful. And this is what I believe ancient and indigenous peoples prayed for: not that “I” would go on, live forever in heaven, or be reborn as “me,” but rather that the processes of life would go on. Birth, death, and rebirth, not of me or the essence of me, but of life itself. Blessed be!

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    • Thank you! Oh wow, as usual you articulate something I couldn’t until you said it. I couldn’t agree with you more Carol. Indigenous peoples did not believe in an afterlife – but understood that Life processes went on… As you say, Blessed Be!

      I dream that people I loved become animals after they die. This first happened with my brother who seemed to be a hawk (he loved raptors) – then my dad became a beaver the morning he died (he was a builder). I could go on here… my point is that I was comforted by these dreams of becoming, thinking that it was probably my penchant for being a naturalist that was responsible for this kind of dreaming… but now I see a different facet of the picture – I do think that something of the energy of the spirit/soul/body lives on in a less personal way – perhaps we resemble who we will become after death, but now I see these dreams as also saying that Life will go on in some form.

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  2. The beauty of this post moved me to tears.

    I remember writing a poem when I was ten years old that began “I want to be an apple tree…” It included the lines, “plant a seed and it will feed on my remains through sun and rains.” My mother hated this poem. She had a life-long obsessive fear of death. She thought my childish poem was morbid. But I did not mean it that way. I thought it would be wonderful to be a tree. I still do.

    Your piece evokes that wonder with such fullness, tender detail and beauty. Thank you!

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  3. Elizabeth – Oh I love the idea that you were ten when you wrote your poem about becoming an apple tree – gosh children KNOW. How becoming a tree could seem morbid even if a person fears death (I do) is somewhat beyond my comprehension. Was your mother religious in the fundamental sense of the word?
    Some grounded self in me believes that we resemble what we will become – and in your case I see the most glorious apple tree blossoming, fruiting, and Becoming – over and over.

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  4. Thank you, Sara! My mother wasn’t religious (even though she was a minister’s wife, a role she disliked) I think it is more that she felt disconnected,from almost everything (including herself) except her (young) children and music. This is all speculation on my part. Maybe if she had been able to hear trees as you do, it would have comforted her. She died in 1997. I have experienced her presence in the wind. Thank you again for this beautiful post.

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  5. Oh, you are welcome Elizabeth – Ok – disconnection explains it – especially if its from self. My guess is that your speculation is correct…. The wind is an element all its own and it makes sense to me that your mother might be present to you in this way.

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  6. Thanks Sara for your post putting the essence of trees and our eternal connection to trees and the whole natural world into such beautiful and evocative words. I remember as a young girl driving along a bayou next to City Park in New Orleans and my feelings at that park full of magnificent old oak trees – I longed to lie in the grass under the trees and merge into their reality – to become one with the trees and grass, one with the natural world,

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  7. I’ve had this bond with trees for as long as I can remember as well. I have thought of myself as a tree ever since I was a young child. My name is probably part of the reason!! Beautiful post, very uplifting and meaningful. Thank you.

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