Georgian Bay. Ontario. Gray and warm, with a strong choppy wind coming in off the water. Yesterday I climbed the tree at 5:03 am before our thirteen hour drive to get here. Today, tomorrow, I will not climb at all.
Today I climb the tree in my mind. I sit here and look out over the magnificent expanse before me, across the shoals to the empty horizon, and feel the exact circumference of a branch in my hand, and the smooth, open texture of the worn bark against my palm. The sense of pushing off from one branch, its pressure against the ball of my foot, and of pulling myself up toward another. Leaves hanging around me in a canopy. Rising up alongside the trunk. The flags coming into view. Sighting the far hills between the branches. The exact feel of my bare feet as they occupy my perch–the right foot bearing two-thirds of my weight, on a smooth branch about three inches across, where it meets a larger branch almost horizontally from underneath; my left foot in a sharper vertical crevice, narrow and rough-barked, always a little uncomfortable but not supporting much of my weight and therefore not bad.
These are things I might not note standing in the tree because there is more to look at up there. It is more distracting up there. But the eye of my mind feels it now in my feet with remarkable clarity and detail. And this is the strange thing: in the tree I feel my feet with my feet, but sitting here in a chair overlooking the water I feel my feet with a picture in my mind.
Or is there an echo in my flesh too?
I may say I know the tree in my ‘mind,’ sitting here six hundred miles away, but my knowing is so much more than that. Or maybe my mind is. It is memory and imagination and body and speculation. It is reception and creativity and clinging and letting go of that clinging. It is openness and sheltering and destruction and alteration.
I have made this experience of climbing a tree, sitting here now looking out over the water; and yet it is real to me. I have generated weather and a condition of the light. I have conjured the dryness of the bark and the particular range of greens of the leaves. That touch of gold to the green; even though a dark rain could be sheeting down on the ‘real’ tree, for all I know. But my tree for today, that I have made for myself to inhabit as I listen to the slapping of water against the rocks, it is full of green-gold light.
I am very vividly in these two places at once. But the tree in my mind–there is an openness to it not given to experience. At least the kind of experience we have with our eyeballs and skin, in the flesh, right now, in this moment, here. Being in the tree from six hundred miles away is both more and less than being here on the rocks looking out over the shoals to the vanishing point of the horizon; it is both more and less than actually standing in the tree. I can’t hurt myself on this tree, not even if I hit it my head against it. Hard. But it is resonant, full of reverberations and real, this work of the imagination.
It is good to sometimes climb the tree from far away. Just as someone else might meditate on this waterscape of shoals now before me from a green hillside in Vermont.
And I would not know the tree in quite the same way not situated here before this primal expanse of water and stone, of broken rock rounding itself in stony mounds above the water.
I think: woodwaterstone. The address for this website.
Here at the edge of the bay, the edge of the world, I look out on a landscape of only water and stone, spotted with a few craggy, windblown trees in miniature: waterstonewood.
A few weeks ago I climbed Camel’s Hump in the Green Mountains–bare rock thrust up into the sky, dense forests and a few streams falling away down its slopes: stonewoodwater.
My practice of meditation through movement, of climbing the tree daily and sometimes stacking stones in our meadow, flowing like water around them: woodwaterstone.
I have not thought of it this way, before now, looking out across the shoals to the open horizon: the many configurations, the infinite variety, of woodwaterstone.
My water is the water of brooks and waterfalls, of coursing river beds, the water that purls around stones and hollows rock, that streams through the landscape and collects in pools, or in the depths of ponds. This water, the water of Georgian Bay, is different. It is water as ancient landscape. Not the churning power of the ocean, nor the clear, deep eye of Walden Pond, which I know so well, looking up at the sky, as it seems to me Thoreau might once have said; nor the light-filled depth of a river pool, its bowl marbled with gleaming pebbles.
This is primal water. This is water as ground, water as infinite sky’s mirror. This is water as mountaintop. And deeps beneath.
Turning my mind back to the tree, I am almost tempted to think of the tree’s branches as islands, as shoals of wood distributed through the vertical bay of the air–of climbing the tree as shoal-hopping upwards toward the vanishing horizon of the open sky.
And then I am more than tempted; I have done it.
And then I am back here, among the shoals of stone, as a warm light begins to burn through the gray water’s sky.