Sunday, February 17, 2008


I couldn't take my eyes off the trees today during my trudge to work and home. It was another gloomy day (we've had Connecticut weather all winter this year, except not cold). The light was perfect for highlighting all the branch stumps where the trees have been crudely trimmed.

Pruning is an art. Cut the wrong branch at the wrong moment and the tree shape will never quite recover itself. In summer when the trees are in full leaf, the structural oddities are hidden behind a thick blanket of green. But in winter, trunk, branch and twig are completely exposed.

All the chaos of empty trees with their gnarly trunks, blunt branch stumps, badly cut once upon a time, is far more fitting as a metaphor of my spiritual path than the graceful symmetry of the walking labyrinth.

In fact when I think about it, every spiritual journey I've ever heard of contains false starts, dead ends, branches chopped off at the wrong moment, in the wrong way. All spiritual paths require a lot of back tracking. More than a graceful walk, more than skillful navigation, the path of the spirit seems to me like a trial and error experiment (with many moment of bliss, many moments of confusion).

So, the pattern of spirit really is a maze, not a labyrinth after all. For heaven's sake!

Everyone I've ever met has longed to evolve beyond our quintessential human behavior of blundering around like idiots when it comes to God. We want to walk mindfully, with grace, reverance and openness through our lives. Who do you know who can really do it, though? Maybe the Dalai Lama? Maybe. The people who designed these walking meditations must surely have realized how much we humans need inspiration. Who wouldn't want to believe in the idealized path of the labyrinth? I do!

Maybe the labyrinth walk is our way of practicing all those things that no one can count on in real life. I'm talking about a smooth path, no sidetracks, no mistakes made. That would be lovely! Wouldn't it?


Lee's River/Zlatovyek said...

it would be bliss. But the maze it is, at least most of the time.
amazing grace, says the song. A maze of grace is a damn messy place :-)

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Reya, you always manage to make things others see as banal or don't even see seem fascinating, spiritual, transcendent. I think it's just about taking time. Gradually, I am learning from your example. Places I used to rush past now have deeper meaning and beauty to me. You're sort of like those "even hearing her read the phone book would be glorious" types of people. So when will you be reciting the D.C. phone book?

Steve said...

As they say, that's why it's called "practice"! :)

Reya Mellicker said...

Lee, YES, A Maze of Grace. Wow.

Ladron, Many gassos to you!You, too, notice the details, point out all kinds of things to those of us who read your blog. And you get around, too, so we get to see so much of the world through your artful eye.

Steve, yeah. It really is about the journey, not some idealized destination. When will I ever learn??

Rebecca Clayton said...

The wind and the snow and ice, bears, bugs and fungus are always pruning the trees, making them back up and start over. I love it when the leaves fall and we see all the adjustments the trees have had to make over the years. The ridgetop trees, most wind-pruned, are the most beautiful, I think.

Barbara said...

What I find interesting about the trees when they are pruned is they send out multiple shoots, not just chancing one to be sufficient. The healthier the tree, the more new growth. Oh that we were like the pruned trees!

dennis said...

Dennis says the tri state area is balmy today (NY NJ CT) in the sixties, weather wise-- Dennis feels this is not wintery at all.\\

this winter furry cats and polar bears suffer.

Squirrel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Squirrel said...

Take it from a squirrel--a nice smooth path can be very boring. steep climbs, jumping onto unstable limbs, dead ends, stumps and mud are a part of my life that I would not want to give up.

d. chedwick bryant said...

thunderstorms really wreck the lovely looks of our trees-- so many have been maimed by lightening strikes. but most of the trees seem resilient.

Washington Cube said...

When I was selling a relative's house, they had an old yew shrub in the yard. It hadn't been tackled in years. I remember spending two days under it, pruning it properly (with a bandana over my hair because tiny little spiders kept dropping onto my head). At the end, it looked like a floating cloud. Fast forward to present. New owners. Whack. Yew gone.

Pruning is an art, and you are so right about the wrong cut altering the tree's course. Lovely piece, Reya.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you, Madame Cube!

In Dundon, England (just 20 minutes from Glastonbury) where we used to teach, there was a 2,000 year old yew tree in the yard of an old old church . The church was nothing, though, compared to the yew which had lots of spiders, now that I remember. Wow.

Rebecca - not sure I would want to be a ridgetop, wind-pruned tree, but then you know I have a contentious relationship with Brother Wind.

Barbara, yes I have noticed how good trees are at regrowing themselves. Ah yes, if only it could be true for us!

Squirrel you always make me smile. Anyone who hasn't read Squirrel's profile page - you should. It is just perfect, just like Squirrel!

Reya Mellicker said...


The Great Yew of Dundon

Five miles south of Glastonbury, off the road through the village of Street toward Somerton, is Dundon's wooded hilltop, surrounded by the earth ramparts of an ancient British settlement... Below it, on a grassy knoll, stands the village church. The church dates from the thirteenth century, and over the years it has gained some interesting memorials, but the main attraction is its atmosphere of peace and sanctity. The site is naturally adapted for worship and contemplation, and its qualities were no doubt recognized in Celtic times. Testifying to its early religious significance is the huge and venerable yew tree in front of the church porch. The yew is thought to have stood for more than a thousand years and is therefore older than the present church, Encircled by a wooden bench, the Dundon yew is a natural place of council for village elders.

St. Andrew at Dundon is one of the quiet corners where the ancient enchantment over the Glastonbury landscape can still be experienced.

One thousand years, two thousand years ... once a tree is that old, who's counting?

Washington Cube said...

And's loved and cared for.

I accepted what I saw when I drove by the house where I had pruned that yew (in terms of the new owners destroying it,) but it does give you pause when I gave two days of my life to make it beautiful.

My neighbors tease me, because they will see me seated before an azalea staring at it, making a cut, staring, thinking, staring, making a cut, but this is how I was trained by my mother. I don't want to get all touchy/feely about it, but if you can get in that zone, you can connect and see exactly what needs to be done to a plant. It just takes focus, time and some care.

P.S. Yews are interesting, aren't they? One of the first things I ever learned about them (and yes, Mom again,) was that their berries were poisonous.

Reya Mellicker said...

Cube, you're an artist, so of course you would sit and look and think before making each cut. I bet your azaleas are gorgeous.

I'm sorry the new residents cut down the yew, but I'm so glad you spent two days making it beautiful. Nothing lasts forever, but that yew had its day thanks to you. Or should I say, thanks to yew.

Washington Cube said...