Saturday, April 28, 2012

CONCENTRIC RINGS – A Lifetime Shared With #4

While out walking this morning, I came to a favorite spot along my usual route. It's a small, unkempt grove of dense woods on an odd parcel of land hemmed in between the Mississippi River Parkway, the Shriner's Hospital and a steep railroad berm. I've always enjoyed the fifty or sixty steps it takes to amble past this little forest remnant, half expecting to look in and see a deer or a wild turkey.

But today, just like that, my little slice of urban Eden is gone, cleared right down to barren ground. And all for who knows what—most likely yet another condo project. Something, perhaps, like not seeing the forest for the fees.


How casually we humans trample Nature, squashing life as thoughtlessly as we might step 
on a bug with the audacity to get in our way.

I couldn't help thinking about that community of living things, that extended family, spending—what, certainly many decades—competing for air, sunlight and scarce nutrients, and ultimately finding their symbiotic balance. How casually we humans trample Nature, squashing life as thoughtlessly as we might step on a bug with the audacity to get in our way.

As I surveyed the carnage, I kept being drawn to the stumps, those still-living feet of noble oaks, elms and ash. Just days ago, each had stood proud, each with its own personality, unique for its size, shape and perhaps the number and severity of its battle scars. Today, they're reduced to numbers, branded in gaudy green spray paint.


This one—the only one I'd felt compelled to 
stand on—and I had shared almost exactly the 
same lifetime.

I stepped up on number 4 and stood there, imagining myself its missing trunk and branches. I wondered how long this sweet, patient being had stood here…and how long it might have remained, but for the ambitions of a few strangers.

Curious, I knelt down, brushed away the sawdust and elm seeds, and started counting the rings. And that's when my feelings about this one tree suddenly turned from mere empathy to something more.

You see, I'd counted exactly 67 rings, which means this oak was born in 1945—the same year I was. Of all the departed souls from this forest, this one—the only one I'd felt compelled to stand on—and I had shared almost exactly the same lifetime.

PHOTO: Paul Lupo

Tears welled up in my eyes as the mystical power of that thought swirled around me. I tried to imagine the acorn splitting, that single, tender root probing down into warm soil, that gangly shoot reaching straight up to catch sun's gaze…just as I may have been taking my first breath, catching my first glimpse of the light of day.

Could either of us possibly have known, at some metaphysical level, that the other had just arrived too? Had we ever laid eyes on each other? Had my parents ever just happened to drive me past this spot where, just a few feet away, my contemporary was also growing up?

I hoped the "rings" of my life...might be noticed 
by someone, someday.

Now, I know this tree and I never shared the slightest intentional connection, but what I couldn't—and can't—dismiss is the certainty of how much we did share: the same cool, rainy April mornings; the same sweltering July afternoons; the same crisp October breezes; the same hunkering down through all those long Minnesota winters.

Sadly, ironically, I'd just realized all this common ground with a new friend whose life was over. I headed home wistfully, hoping the "rings" of my life—those varying layers of experience and growth I, too, have accumulated—might be noticed by someone, someday, and be considered as right and worthy as I consider those of oak number 4.

I suspect I'll be contemplating those 67 cryptic rings of life for some time.  How many more will grow for me before they must yield to the ambitions of others? How long before, like ripples spreading from a splash, they're absorbed by the vastness of time?


Emily Brisse said...

This is a beautiful post, Jeff. Insightful, moving, a little sad, but also full of the future. It's hard seeing people and things we love pass on, sometimes for no good reason. If anything, experiences like this help us live in the present and be thankful for all the "rings" we've been blessed with.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Emily -- I know how fond you are of trees, and hoped you'd read this post! Though I don't consider myself especially an arbophile, I've been seeing lots of wonder in them recently.
BTW, love your recent poem and photos of crabapple blossoms!
Have a good Sunday!

J.D. Meier said...

> I hoped the "rings" of my life...might be noticed by someone, someday
What a great metaphor.

I think legacy is a by-product of living our values and the lives we touch.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks so much for the comment, J.D.! I'm glad to "meet" you -- looked at your great site and left a comment on your latest post about values. Hope we can stay in touch...

LadyM.....Carol said...

Since we share the same years, it made me think also of what is time worth in the time of a tree or in the time of our lives. They both can be cut short at any time. Let's hope you and I will not be cut down and loose our time as the tree was.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Carol -- Thanks for reading my post! Yes, life's so fragile and, when you think of it, so brief.
Don't know about me, but I picture you becoming even more of an old-timer than you are now -- if that's possible ;-)

Unknown said...

In my search for designer rings, I came across your site and found more than what I can bargain for. You have such flair to inspire. I couldn't thank you enough. I'm still in tears.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Geoff -- I'm truly touched by not just your very kind words, but the serendipitous way we came to be connected!

I hope you'll come back now and then -- or, better yet, sign up to follow OMW. Also, I'd appreciate very much your sharing posts you find especially interesting or moving with others who might enjoy them too. Thanks!

BTW, did you ever find your designer ring?

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