Building community in a changing world

October 20, 2021

The Cycle of Life (As Seen From a Tree’s Perspective)

A group of us spent last weekend helping out a farmer friend with some chores around the farm, including the clearing of a few dead trees. This friend is quite attuned to her environment and I thought I would share what she so thoughtfully wrote (with her permission):

In prep, this afternoon, I did already drop one of the trees. One of the dead oaks had fallen a couple months ago and gotten stuck in a hickory (smaller than the oak) that was still alive. The weight of the oak pushed and bent the hickory so badly, I didn’t think it would recover from the fall of the oak.

So I dropped the bent hickory that was holding up the fallen oak. Observing the angles of both trees, knowing the strength of hickory wood, understanding the weight and pressure that the oak laid on the hickory, then making the wedge cut, listening intently to the first crack, and reacting to the anticipation of the fall (in this case, two trees would fall together).

It’s really an incredible feeling to have all senses “turned on” so intensely. To me, this is concentration meditation and open awareness meditation in full bloom simultaneously. After the drop, it’s quiet. Then I acknowledged to the tree that I took it probably a year or even two early. I don’t know for sure, but I sensed with that harsh bend, it would not have lived a regular time.

But I don’t sense at all that trees suffer, even when they are dying. They seem to be just fine when they are dying. It’s amazing. I used to go through the forest cutting off these giant vines that choke and kill trees, thinking I was being nice and “saving trees.” Maybe I was saving the trees, but not for them; it was for me. It’s interesting to re-think intentions.

And I don’t say that trees don’t suffer because they aren’t capable of suffering. They might very well be capable. I don’t know at all and take comfort in my forever agnosticism. But I’m pretty sure trees get – not in a thinking/understanding way, but rather in an actuality kind of way – that dying is just another process that is part of the “life” cycle. Suffering simply isn’t attached to that process for a tree.

Trees have been along far longer than humans; they have had more time to reach a higher evolution than us in that sense. This sense of tree (non)suffering came to me on a retreat once. There was a tree down by the river that was covered, really covered, in giant poison ivy. But before that break in silence, that tree let me understand that it was absolutely fine with the poison ivy. The poison ivy would kill it for sure, my guess is within one year, but the tree was absolutely fine – things were as they should be. Huh, we have so much to learn from our elders.