Friday, September 7, 2018

LIFE AND LIMB – The Healing Embrace of a Cottonwood

Today I visited a dear old friend — one with many limbs and five trunks.

Years ago, during my recovery from neck surgery, I would take tentative walks around my Saint Anthony Park (St. Paul) neighborhood. Doctors orders.

Besides the therapeutic benefits of just walking, I found many healing influences on those outings, especially around the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota—the so-called ag campus. Among them, a certain cottonwood tree which, at first glance, appeared unremarkable.

        I would stand in that living enclosure...
        and feel blessed.


But as I walked past it, it spoke to me. Like so many cottonwoods, this one comprised multiple, distinct trunks. In this case, five of them arranged in a neat circle, each separated from the next by just a few inches of turf, leaving about a four-square-foot patch of ground in the middle.

I would step into that living enclosure, lean back against one of the massive members, and feel utterly enveloped in a force—a spirit—that made me feel blessed. I’m convinced that tree helped me heal.

For years after that lonely, painful period, I would stop every time I passed that tree, step inside, profess my gratitude and refresh my soul as I did that first time.

MINI DISASTER 
Flash forward to this morning. Our sweet little miniature schnauzer, Sylvia, remained in the throes of a nasty infection or poisoning of some sort. She’d been throwing up every few minutes for 36 hours with no end in sight. Yesterday I’d taken her to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Clinic’s emergency room to see if we could find out what was going on.

Sally and I have been consumed with worry about her. She’s so little, so helpless, so precious. Neither of us knows what we’d do if anything happened to our sweet little girl. Since Sally’s had to work these past two days, much of the burden of caring for her has fallen on me. I’m glad I'm able to do it, but it’s been an incredibly stressful and emotional time for me.

  I suggest the lack for them may lie not with the 
  trees’ capacity for communication but their own.

This morning, seeing no improvement in Sylvia, our concern grew still more acute. So she and I paid a second visit to the ER, where they did more tests and gave her some sub-cutaneous fluids and an anti-nausea injection. It seemed to help right away. Guardedly, I felt the first ripples of relief.

A FLAKY NOTION
As we’re driving home I notice we’re passing the block where that old cottonwood used to live. I look to my left and there it is. I pull over, put my flashers on, and walk over to it as if greeting a dear old friend. Then I notice. One of its trunks is gone, apparently the victim of thunderstorm winds. 


Somehow I sense we understand each other's vulnerability. Once again, I step into that knowing embrace. And again I feel its acknowledgement, its grace, undiminished despite the amputation.

                      

I look up at the wrinkled fingers of the enormous hand that's holding me. A deep breath upends the anxiety that's had its foot on my chest the past two days. All at once a wave of emotions crests over me: relief that sweet Sylvia’s responding to treatment; the joy of having this precious creature in my life; and gratitude for the deep blessing Nature bestows on all who will let it.

A tree that understands and communicates? I know some may find that pretty flaky. But I suggest the lack for them may lie not with the trees’ capacity for communication but their own.

ARTICLE ON TREES AS SENTIENT BEINGS


UPDATE: A day later, as I finish this reflection, Sylvia’s still not out of the woods. The anti-emetic is keeping her from vomiting, but this morning just before she was due for her second dose, she was again retching. We can only hope and pray the vet’s best guess—that it’s a viral infection—is right, and that it will soon give up the ghost.
Meanwhile, I may just go back for another session of my arboreal anti-anxiety treatment.
SECOND UPDATE: It's now a week since Sylvia showed the first symptoms of her illness. And I'm delighted to report that she's back to her wonderful, normal self. Thanks to all for your good wishes for her!

2 comments:

jean said...

Oh, Jeff, I hope your fur baby is better by now and that you are feeling better, too. Poor little baby!
I totally understand about the tree! I am a loved of tress, someone who talks to trees, prays for them and I have even done a healing ceremony for my old tree that grew up with me and then got felled by a hurricane. Even though a new tree is growing in its place, there will never be a tree that can take it's place in my heart. Yes, I do understand.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Oh, I know what you mean, Jean, becoming attached to trees. Besides the one in my post, we had an American Elm on our boulevard whose canopy created a space. When it succumbed to Dutch elm disease, it left such a void.

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