Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tree Hugger

I feel stressed today, sitting in the house as a crew takes down the very large maple twenty feet from the front door. They've been at it since around 9 this morning, and they're very good. I hear them strategizing, then the sound of a chainsaw, a warning shouted in Spanish, a crack, a thud that comes up through my feet from the floorboards, laughter, then the blows of a machete hacking the smaller branches into lengths they can load onto the flatbed. They're down to the last lead branch as I write this. It stretches up now about sixty feet on its own, the last remnant of the giant presence that's shaded us year after year, that wrapped us in a living green embrace against the worst of last week's heat wave.

And I'm quietly sick at heart. This is the tree that held through last August's hurricane, when limbs had fallen up and down the street as we came out of hiding at the end of the day. I owe this being a compounded debt of gratitude. I owe it awe for its rootedness and strength, owe it admiration for the birds and insects that have made homes in it. I need its forgiveness that at the signs of disease in its trunk and central leader we decided against the risk it posed so close to the house.

By cordoning it off with a ceremonial rope five days ago, setting a bronze Buddha atop one of its roots, burning camphor at its foot every evening as dusk fell, reverencing it by laying my hands on its trunk, I confirmed our neighbours' hunch that I've gone around the bend. To mourn this tree, to make mourning real by ritualizing its destruction, is a conscious decision I could choose not to make. By early influence and upbringing, I'm disposed to do so--my mother and her people, for all their Protestant piety, were closet animists, without knowing the word--but I could still choose instead to say, "It's only a tree, for God's sake."

But to honor this tree is as much about how I want to be in the world, and who I want to be in the world, as it is about the object of my grief. I'd rather spend the rest of my lilfe as a crazy fag who goes out to the front yard in a sarong at dusk to burn incense at the foot of a doomed maple, and who lavishes as much attention on plants and animals as some people pay their children. I'd rather see the creatures with whom I share this poor, poisoned planet as having as much right to their lives as I and my whole sorry-assed, self-obsessed species. I'd rather stand, in whatever ways I have power and means to stand, with the whales and the old-growth pines and the spotted owls and the orangutans and the few embattled traditional human societies that are left, than with the corporations and governments that treat the earth as so much raw material to chew through: the ecological rapists of Canada, and the US, and Brazil, and China; the oil and mining and automotive companies, the chemical conglomerates, the factory farms.

I'd rather see the Earth as my Mother. I'd rather begin and end the day saying Thank You for the ground under my feet and the light in the sky than taking them as my due.

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