The Graceful Shrug of the Holly Trees

There was rain in the morning, waves of it, but the clouds lifted away a little bit, leaving the forest dressed in a wet gray. Now everything drips–especially the long leaves of the rhododendron, glossy and jeweled with droplets, and the hollies, which stand tall and graceful in this part of the forest. Never a truly tall tree, like the pines or oaks, still the architecture of hollies inspires–the limbs lifted in a graceful shrug, curved, then dressed with the loveliest of green-spiked leaves that drop their water jewels with a delicate chorus.

The canopy here has a hole, a gap, for last spring a great deciduous magnolia, Magnolia fraseri, fell–the winds can be so fierce here, and I knew by the lean of her massive trunk that this was likely to happen. Even now her upturned roots show the twisted agony of breaking.

This forest used to be filled with hemlock, too. Now their skeletons stand, stripped of limbs, and soft, waiting for the wind that will bring them at last, fully, to rest. I grieved their passing years ago, and hard. Even now the memory makes me ache a bit, of how they greened the winter forest, ladies of green, along with the hollies, the moss, and the rhododendron.

But the forest is always changing, the world is always changing, I am always changing. It is the essence of life. We have a dream that there is a nirvana of homeostasis, of stability, within ecosystems, communities, psyches. But this is a curious dream. It is not applicable to life now, if ever.

Certainly it is true that change came about slowly in centuries and millennia past, but also true is that the pace of change has been picking up steam all along that timeline as well. It seems to be a common belief that we are speeding to our own special cliff, like a massive herd of soft-skinned lemmings, but I personally don’t hold to this belief, taking, as I often do, a very long view of things.

We are all firmly woven together–humans, trees, soils, animals, ecosystems–in this river of time, and this river moves fast now, tumbling over immobile stones with such force that even they are changed–polished and scrubbed smooth of moss and mud.

And it seems the only way forward now is to be resilient, like a willow branch, supple and bending, to embrace change, to let the river take what parts of us offer resistance, to be polished, to surrender to the flow even as we put our oars into this wild, time-thrashed river, navigating as best we may the power of the current.

From my vantage point on from the forest floor I can see the crown of my great Oak easily. Old limbs near the bottom that were starved of light have rotted, they are dark and empty. Eventually they will fall to the earth and the tree will heal over the wound of loss, even as the crown spreads higher into the gloss of light.

The World Tree is the same. All that no longer nourishes the Tree–beliefs, stories, histories, communities–they will all drop away. Their decay nourishes life. The whole of Earth is bent to the work of this.

I rise from the ground and make my way back to my house, weaving under the arches of the hollies. There is so much that I might leave here, for the earth. So much that no longer serves life. With a graceful shrug I leave a bit behind, a bit of my own story that is empty of life. I bend myself to the work of resilience, knowing even then that some day the wind will take me, and even in that, I nourish life.

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