My destination in the tree has shaped when I choose to climb it, in recent days. Since I am limited by my injured shoulder to the lower branches, since I can’t roam freely about the tree to explore or take pictures—since I can’t swing from branches—I nearly always go out now to climb at twilight. Because the branches I am in offer a natural seat, I end up spending more time in the tree than when I stand at the top. And to sit there at twilight for a long time is deeply beautiful. It has been raining much of the past week, so I go out—in rain pants or snow pants, coat, hat and gloves—pull myself one-handedly into the tree, and just look out over the world.
I watch trees on the opposite hills vanish into the mists. Or disappear behind curtains of rain. And slowly darkness comes down over the world. As it falls, it looks like you could peel the world back in layers of white, gray and black. Mists roll up the hillside and the trees at the far side of the meadow disappear. The house and garage grow dim and distant through the lowering twilight. The near branches, all around me, their bifurcating twig-ends reaching spindly fingers toward the sky, become silhouettes, and then are swallowed up. Lights from the house stand out, soft through the rain, against the darkness.
The soft percussion of raindrops on fallen leaves rises up from below. It is a soundscape very different from summer, when the sound of rain beating on leaves comes from above as well as below, and from every side. When you are in the center of the soundscape, as of a sphere, rather than up above it and looking down on it with your ears. Eventually I bring down my own darkness by closing my eyes so that I can enter this soundscape fully; it replaces the landscape, which is disappearing anyways. For a little while it is my only scape, and I roam around in it.
The shoulder injury has slowed me down, and quieted me. It was so much fun to run up the tree and clamber around that I forgot to stop and just be. From the beginning, being in the tree was supposed to have been an exercise in slowing down; it says a lot about human nature–or my nature–that even so, I needed further constraint to force me to just sit there for a long time, every day, for days at a time.
And so I find, yet again, that, as so often when things go ‘wrong,’ there are unforeseen fruits, unexpected gifts. Maybe grace is as good a name as any for this, in a naturalistic rather than theological sense. But it is the kind of grace that only comes from maintaining a practice. With doing something frequently enough, for long enough, that the unexpected can emerge from it. It comes with climbing, and refusing to not climb, even when climbing is curtailed. It comes from being open to whatever experience might come. It comes from sitting in the tree and listening to the rain, and watching the world get swallowed by mist and slip away into darkness.