On a retreat for deacons of our country church, I was meditating with far more experienced meditators. Breathing out, I released tension, worry, illusion — all sorts of toxins of the soul. And so did my friends in the quiet circle.
Breathing in, I felt new again — and now again. So did my friends.
The quiet was broken only by the sound of a dump truck delivering loads of topsoil to the retreat site, where a permaculture garden is about to begin. And for a moment anyway, in the battered foothills of Western Massachusetts, it was spring. Again.
Meditation, forgiveness, faith, all spiritual practice is to begin again.
As a planet we are able to begin again because of the trees. They breathe in our toxins, our tired carbons. They breathe out the oxygen of our next breath, next chance, next day. And they will be doing so the day after and through the next generation. Why? Because of what they do with the carbon. The trees use what we have used up to grow, to seed, to increase.
Another day we can talk about shade and acid rain, woodland management and wilderness and development, of oaks and hemlock, cedars and the long future of the forest.
Today it is right to put down the agenda and the axe, to give thanks and to take breath — but not for granted.
Farmer, poet, shepherd, and minister, Stephen Philbrick has cut down thousands of trees and stacked hundreds of cords of wood. He still has all his digits but does have a gouge in his leg that taught him an invaluable lesson: Never leave home without your chaps! The author of The Backyard Lumberjack and three published books of poetry, Stephen is a graduate of Brown University and minister of West Cummington Congregational Church. He lives in western Massachusetts, where he manages 120 acres of woodland. Photo © Jason Drew.