Eulogy for a Tree ~ Kathleen Burke Aug 2013
The lake shimmers…a couple fishing in a boat. Silence, but green silence: buzzing with birds and insects. It is a hot June day but there is a breeze moving through the birches and maple trees along the shore. They call. So I move closer; out from under the canopy to the bench by the waterside. I am shadowed by the foliage. Lovely.
What am I doing? I think to myself for the thousandth time. Then I find him. Not so big, but old and gnarly…slightly apart from the others. Close to the water. He is one of the ancients. The others have grown from him and his knowing. I respond immediately; taking off my sandals, walking to him. The grass is lush and spongy but becomes less so around him – a bit precarious. I link my arm around him as I maneuver to find the place to press inward. And when I do find that special rough groove I wrap both arms around and turn my head towards the heartbeat and wait. Wait to feel energy move into me. And it does in a slow moving wave.
Why am I here? I ask.
“You will be in the ground soon enough, like all your kind. So let us love and feed you while you are here...” There is compassion in the knowing that flows into me; an understanding of the frailty of the human condition. It causes me to gasp at my own grief, “…as you will love and feed us when you return to the earth.”
Tears fall slow. I know I will be okay eventually. “Thank you, thank you” I whisper aloud. And as I prepare to move away I hear, “tell your stories.”
Over the next three weeks I visit the park many times. Often just to sit in silent reverie with my friend, watching the awkwardness of fuzzy goslings fade; seeing that same couple in their boat, drifting and fishing; entranced by the cloud-formed Titans. I leave to traipse around trying to sort out my life. Finish work; redefine relationships, visit family and friends all over the place. I listened to their stories. Mine is too sad at the moment. And I grieve seeing my aunties and uncles now bent and worn. Listening and listening for it may be the last time. So that when the time comes, I might weave their stories into my own.
I come back to the park two months later; it takes a few moments to register. The landscape is changed. The old man is gone. Bewildered and crying, I search for comfort from another tree but it is no use. Then I understand even more. Say prayers of thanks. Perhaps I am the last puny human he talked to, and even the ancients are allowed their final slumber. But his story lives on within the city of entwined roots beneath my feet. I look to the others and smile. My sorrow is lifted when I see the story left behind for anyone who cares to see: beautiful and complicated; with its own sorrows and joys.
Kathleen Burke 25 years of experience in the social service and arts sector as an educator, facilitator, councilor, advocate and programmer. She believes unwaveringly in the healing properties of the creative process - individually and collectively. Writing (especially poetry) is her passion and has been writing all her life . A move from Toronto to northern Ontario (Elliot Lake) released a prolific muse, and a decision to share her stories, poetry & art with others. http://www.kathleen-burke.com