Most of the trees on our land are natives; aspens and cedars and two large old ponderosa pines, looking down on all the rest. We also have a katsura tree, not native to Idaho, which come autumn has beautiful yellow leaves. Sometime ago I noticed that the katsura was approaching peak color, and thought to be sure to check in with it later in the week. I forgot about the tree, though, and three days went by before I again consciously looked at it. Amazingly, it had not only passed the magic time when its yellow leaves seem illuminated from within, but had then also lost almost all of its leaves. All in three days. As I bemoaned my forgetfulness, I thought how a beautiful moment had arrived and then departed without my awareness being present to cause me to stop and take note, even though it was there for me to be aware of all the time. I passed near the katsura several times during those two days, but was unaware of its transformation from a tree in full autumn splendor to a tree beginning the long sleep of winter here in the northcountry, near the limit of its range.

If one has been fortunate enough to encounter a teaching and to have the help of a teacher, one begins to see that this inattention is the default state for us. And that the possibility of coming to a state of greater attention is a possibility to be embraced. All very true. But my thoughts about the katsura tree were moving in a different direction. I was wondering about what is lost, not only by me, but by the tree, by that moment in time and space, and by the connection between all three, when I am not present. You see, I had received an invitation to a special event, I had RSVP’d, but then when the time came I did not show up. The event wasn’t a celebration, which would have been the case if it had been early May, when the katsura was once again leafing out, and, in a matter of only a few days, coming alive to the rays of the sun, warming well past the equinox, heading on towards another solstice. Nor was the event a memorial, rather it was a marking of another passage in the life of this tree. I had missed it, but the quaking aspens nearby had attended. I had of course suffered from a lack of mindfulness. But I had missed the rite of passage of the katsura for another reason, as well. You see, I am one of those creatures, Homo sapiens, that might also be called the people of the box. I wasn’t paying attention because I spend my life almost entirely in boxes, only noticing my fellow travelers on this planet when I move from one box to another. We call it being inside and outside, but if I am outside and awake to my senses, I see that the difference between the two is enormous beyond words. For outside is the real world of all the other creatures. All trying to express through their way of living what it means to be alive. They might be willing to tell me a little bit about what they know, if I only would come to a stop, be still and wait, but the ability to hear what is being said is now atrophied from lack of use and is almost gone. It is hard to participate in the great conversation of being that surrounds us, for we are nearly deaf and dumb. We possess the means, our senses, but no longer have the facility.

The largest of the trees on our property, one of the two ponderosa pines I mentioned, is now starting to show the occasional cluster of brown needles that it develops as winter begins. Most remain green, but every year a few turn as the cold weather sets in. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go out with my dog, Rory, and sit a while underneath the big tree, and wonder about a life spent rooted in one place for hundreds of years, and what that might be like.

Comments are welcome