Roots and Leaves

I could wait forever for the “right time” to send out this newsletter so I’m doing it today, after all. Before me, this past week’s events and circumstances flow through like a torrential river swelling the banks, flooding the trees up to their trunks and swallowing up the little grasses below the waters.

While we stay sitting in our lockdown shelters, life is going on outside all the same. For us the time is now, now, now, while outside we see the shift from spring to May days. Even with the daily dog outing at a city park, I find myself sequestered more and more into the bubble of the quieter life.

This at-home bubble of watchful waiting and vigil deepened further for James and me with the news of his father’s passing in Ottawa last week. At 94, he was living in a care home (it wasn’t covid-19). The FaceTime visits became distant vigil, and then this weekend was the long-distance funeral with only a few people in masks present, in Toronto. People in the family share video and photos of his life and their time with him. Grief disrupts dreams, waking and sleeping, the process is strange, distant, mediated.

As we carry on, I write this newsletter for the week, realizing it’s become important to me to share thoughts with you in this way.

Last week, I went out on a limb, talking about the nervous system. Today, I need to go into the roots, at the base where the roots proceed to anchor, spread, fractal out into smaller and smaller fine delicate probing tender sensors, growing themselves in infinite directions through the dark matter of their soil. Are they ever aware of the bright spring leaves bursting far above them in another medium, the air, in that other world? Perhaps. Perhaps the tip of a new leaf is somehow mirrored by the probing tip of a new root-hair. The rootlet expands and perceives possibility, growing toward water and nurturance in the dark material, blindly sensing, growing and suckling like an infant, sending it all upwards.

In the heights, the tip of the leaf sends out vibrations of light, receives bright air and brilliant sun. Flash-blinded by the sunlight, the leaf tip works to grow - expands and stretches forward to the bright heat. Its cells work furiously to produce themselves, to expand in their field of being, to inhale and exhale. In the leaf tip, light is caught and held there, transforming into matter.

Does the probing root know anything of the growing tip of the leaf, or the new off-shoot of the branch? What does the base of the trunk know as it slowly expands year upon year? Not in the way that I can fathom or even begin to understand. I only imagine its orchestral singing, some cosmic triumphal chorus.

The tree’s shadow is cast on the ground as the sun moves through the day. An image of the tree imprints in shadow on the earth, as if the tree were a sundial. The shadow that is cast is larger than the tree itself, and in one day it falls in full circle, in all four directions. This creates the idea of the tree as a sphere, with the circle of shadows creating the outer coordinates as the sphere’s circumference. It divides the sphere in two: the upper half is light and leaf, the lower half is dark and root.

This tree in a sphere is not alone floating in infinite space, it is here on our earth and in communion with all others of its kind, and a picture of all of life.

I selected this one tree as an object of my affectionate attention, an example of something that no words can express. The sound of the tree’s leaves moving together in the wind, the slight groan of branches moving, of the trunk shifting on its axis ever so slightly: this is orchestral enough. No need for sonar sensors placed underground to hear the plaintive cries of the root-tips deeply seeking their moisture and sustenance, growing always growing, into fuller expansion. These are intercellular ecstasies.

So I say thank you to our tree friends that stand by us now. I will remember this time of the year, the season of the scent of the sticky poplar buds.

Poem from James

A tree is a symbol of a tree

The tree of knowledge is true
The tree of life is beautiful

What has longevity?
A Matisse or Van Gogh painting
What a tree does, has longevity

Mirrored photos of trees were taken in our courtyard a few years ago.

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