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March 10, 2018

This week, in this place, trees are great with us.

Pieces pulled off giants crash into things.

Whole trees are uprooted and lay in deadly repose all around us.

Whole parts of some trees are cleft from the mother trunk, and are revealed to have hollow innards, incapable of support.

Of course this tree-maggeddom only happens when the winds are high, and it helps if the ground is saturated.

But this week, more than any hurricane in memory, has seen the violent wrecking of many icons in our neighborhood. And our power lines,

Most of these trees are second growth, under a hundred years old, either planted, or let to grow in the wake of failed New England farms. But there is more than history or aerodynamic physics involved. The living strength of these often massive, ancient presences, can be instantly gone. And it is shocking.

Proudly ascendant, offering up the surety of strength and purpose, grounded and reaching for light, the trees of New England may be the most varieties in the United States. But they all die.

But, like us, some are killed.

The lost history, denied safety – in fact newly revealed danger in crashed trees is disturbing. It’s most disturbing when the damage is fresh, even more terrifying to those who are young enough to not even consider the possibility of a stalwart fixture in our landscape could be wrecked by capricious, violent weather.

I know this perspective. About 55 years ago, I awoke to a screaming fight of my parents. It was after midnight. It was a clear black night. My father was drunk, my mother was defending herself. I knew from experience that I could do nothing – especially not sleep in the noise.

Being ignored to invisibility, I could simply, silently, get up and leave the house as the din raged on.

I walked over the lawn and sat under a huge copper beech tree outside our home, it’s branches about me, and stared up at the cut-pumpkin lit house and just looked between the leaves of limbs that virtually touched the ground around me. It was a passive hug, but a hug nonetheless.

I just watched the house’s light and noise pour through the windows.

It went on for a while, unabated. I finally was tired enough that I knew that if I went to bed I could sleep, despite the noise. I did.

As unnoticed as I was leaving, I returned and went to bed to the sounds of angry intoxication. It was a metaphor for all the years before and after, when I was unnoticed amid the more urgent expressions and reactions of the family around me.

Like the surviving trees, I had not been damaged in my growth, but I was changed.

All life does that to all humans. Like weather the sweep of our powerlessness can often wreck us, but, more often, simply passes us on, changed, to the next storm. The constants are few. I am a constant over the years, the observer – but also I knew in the dark, the silent night punctuated by oathes and the slamming of things, that while alone, I was with a larger reality.

I was never able to be attached to my parents like those limbs on the copper beech. I had been cast off, years ago by their storm, basically for as far as I could remember. I understood that it was me, distinct from them, but with a presence of faith in, well, nothing except itself. I knew, eventually it was God. In me, today, that presence is what is there these early silent dark mornings in Lent, when I sweat, feel the twinges and heavy need for breathing on the groaning machines.

I hear that silence with the reality that I owe survival to something I cannot understand. But know is there.

It’s not a Lent thing – but it is with me.

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