Thursday, December 1, 2022

A Great Cathedral


Yesterday morning, while I was listening to a talk by the late Thich Nhat Hanh on the art of mindful living, these words leapt out:

A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral, even more beautiful. 

My first response was a smile. At my house it’s well known that my husband loves cathedrals. He grew up singing in Belfast Cathedral. Any trip he makes to England and Ireland includes visits to cathedrals. Every year I give him a cathedrals calendar for Christmas. Did you know you can attend Evensong at Lincoln Cathedral online?

As for me: I have a fascination with treehouses. I’ve always wanted one since the neighborhood kids got together and helped a friend and his dad build a very simple one when I was seven. I’ve watched every episode of Treehouse Masters. I’ve bookmarked the website of a treehouse hotel near Deep Creek Lake. Someday…

At the root of all this is the fact that I love trees. Especially old trees. 

A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral, even more beautiful. 

Here in Howard County trees have become a sort of symbol in the ongoing war about housing and development. If people express environmental concerns for trees coming down in a proposed project, they are either dismissed as loony tree-huggers or accused of using the tree issue to hide their real intent. They don’t really care about trees, we are told. They’re against affordable housing. Or they want to keep Columbia/HoCo all to themselves.

And, on the other hand, those who are pro-housing and development are accused of being anti-tree, anti-environment. Profit at all costs. Subsequent quality of life? Not their problem.

The war rages on and trees are in the middle. Trees are almost a code word in the ongoing battle. To some, it evokes a passionate defense of the local ecosystem. To others? An eyeroll, at best.

I have a confession to make. I’ve written here numerous times about the need for more affordable housing in Columbia/HoCo. And I understand why increased density can be a wiser environmental choice for a number of reasons. But…

I still love trees. Yes, I know that new trees are planted when the old ones are cut down. I have made that argument myself. And I know that plenty of trees were cut down in the making of Columbia, where I have a home that I love. I have been down all those intellectual roads many times.

But there is not just a physical beauty to mature trees. Their value is not purely cosmetic. Even if we must argue about decisions pertaining to housing and development, couldn’t we agree on a responsibility for good stewardship of our natural environment? This does not mean that no tree anywhere will ever be cut down. It could mean that both sides commit to accepting mature trees as a common good. Not a hostage in negotiations. Or an eyeroll.

I don’t know. I honestly do not know and I do not have the answer.

I do know that I hate the labels we give one another and the accusations of ill intent. You have to take a side in order to be identified as friend or foe. And here I am - - some of one and some of the other. Not very useful in the grand scheme of things, I guess. I envy those who find the answers to all this quite simple. For me it’s complicated.

Look at the tree. It is a wonderful thing, a tree. A tree is very beautiful. A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral, even more beautiful. I looked into the tree and I saw the whole cosmos in it. I saw the sunshine in the tree. Can you see the sunshine in the tree? Yes, because without the sunshine, no tree can grow.

I see a cloud in the tree. Can you see? Without a cloud, there can be no rain, no tree.I see the earth in the tree. I see everything in the tree. So the tree is where everything in the cosmos comes into, and the cosmos reveals itself to me through a tree. Therefore, a tree to me is a cathedral, and I can take refuge in the tree and I can get nourished by the tree…

I can get in touch with the tree only if I go back to the present moment, because the tree can only be found in the present moment. - Thich Nhat Hanh.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.