Sunday, January 24, 2010

Parable of the Forest

Not far from our home is a small 35 hectare woodlot of white pine, sugar maple, beech and red oak trees. The canopy towers high above the forest floor and busy roads and an industrial park line its perimeter. It is easy to walk through the trails in half an hour which makes it perfect for a late afternoon stroll on these short winter days. These old trees have marked time for decades. Carved intials, dates and hearts are engraved in the smooth grey bark of the beeches but many are distorted as trees have grown and stretched the scars. Upright dead trees are full of woodpecker holes while others have fallen and are covered with mosses and fungi. The face of the burled tree above is obscured by leaves in the summer and fall, but greets me at the entrance to the trail in the winter.

I came here Friday after work, my mind replaying the day's events, some of which had been unpleasant. Change is coming again and staff stress is increasing with the uncertainty of inevitable restructuring in the coming weeks. Gossip is rampant and criticism of co-workers and management is heard throughout the day. I wanted to confront some people to tell them a thing or two and was practicing speeches in my head as I started my walk. The forest was completely silent. I didn't hear a bird or squirrel or footstep of another person. The wind was still, the sun was low in the sky and the moon was visible above the trees.

The angry words in my head slowly vanished and the stress of the day dissipated. I had hoped to find some birds and then didn't care if I found nothing but silence. I observed the effects of constant change and stress around me. Trees develop burls to enclose areas of trauma and infestation while they continue to grow upward and strong. The roots and tubers of spring's wildflowers wait in the cold and ice for their brief days of bloom and beauty before they prepare for another winter. Some trails are closed to allow nature to heal an area damaged by man or weather.

I have been reading A. J. Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically. The author is a secular Jew, an agnostic by his own label, who endeavored to obey the Bible as literally as possible for a full year. The book is "laugh out loud" funny but is never disrespectful or trivial. I could relate to his difficulties with the command, "Do not go about as a gossiper among your people..." (Leviticus 19:16). He made two observations. Keeping silent was the best way to avoid spewing biblically banned negative language, and the less he vocalized negative thoughts, the fewer negative thoughts were in his mind in the first place.

Tomorrow is Monday and the start of another work week. Change is inevitable and I must continue to grow and be positive in spite of circumstances which are beyond my control. And I must internalize the silence and peace of the forest and learn the lesson of the trees.


  1. That burl face is like old magic. Glad you got to take a silent walk in the rejuvinating forest. Oh so right about keeping positive. Don't give in to fear. You'll be fine because you are.

  2. Oooohhhh ... restructuring ... I know that scenario all too well having been through a few in my work days.

    I have been learning, or trying to learn anyway, the practice of keeping my mouth shut. My but it is not easy and all too often I open it a little too much! ... but I feel headway is being made. I keep reminding myself that even a fool is thought wise if he keeps his mouth shut.

    Lovely pictures and I'm glad your mind was able to be stilled by the master's handiwork. That sky picture is neat ... the blue in the center ... gotta keep centered.

  3. I LOVED this post. It resonates with me to my very core! Nature can teach us things in ways unlike anything/anyone else can. I was away this week...North...and I took many quiet moments to be still and to breathe in the serenity of winter...slumber, quiet, rest. Hope things look up at work Ruth!

  4. Sure, but the important question is, "Did you see faces in the first and last photos?" ;)

  5. Wonderful post. We can all take a lesson from your lovely words.

  6. We have much that we can draw from nature.
    I always cringe when I encounter a biblical "dominionist" among my students--I have had students tell me outright--God put nature there for people to do whatever they want with it.
    How about more people like you, learning from nature, not abusing it, listening instead to it.
    Hope all goes well at your work. Job stress is no fun at all.

  7. Gaelyn- Yes that is a special tree indeed. I have gone work changes many times now and things will be OK.

    CS- Keeping one's mouth shut gets harder as we get older I find. Yes, being here that day was a more spiritual experience than being in a church.

    Tanya- Thank you. Glad you had a peaceful break in the cold north.

    AC-You inspired me in your recent post (I tried the html to link it but failed)

    NCMW-Thanks. Nice to hear from you. Hope all is going well

    Donna- There is so much scripture that goes against the dominionist viewpoint. We are stewards to the earth and nature has so much more power than we have.

  8. Yup, I totally thought about you when I posted the picture of the sparrow. :) It's fascinating to me that one can be so fascinated by birds. But alas, God's creation! :)

    It looks like you live in a totally beautiful area of the KW! How wonderful. There's nothing like seeking solace and God's presence in peaceful nature walks through the forest. Delightful!

  9. Isn't it wonderful how a little time spent in a woods can just strip away the tension and leave us relaxed and refreshed? I once read the following applied to gossip: "We treat the damage we do with our lips very lightly because we do not see the corpses we leave behind." (Ferguson) I like the photos and can almost feel the silence.

  10. Hi Ruth,
    Sorry to hear things are going poorly at work right now & I can certainly relate to your frustration. I hope everything turns out OK for you and it's good you have such a beautiful place in nature to visit and get your perspective back.

  11. I reconciled myself years ago to the fact that the only thing that doesn't change in the health care workplace is that everything keeps changing... but there are still times of enormous stress. I often head into the forest to find peace and solace.


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