Tree and meadow are inseparable for me. Yes, lawn and driveway lie between, at least when looking out at the opposite hills. I don’t walk through the meadow to get to the tree.
But I am always aware of it when I’m in the tree. Part of the joy of climbing is submerging oneself in the seasons. Diving into summer like a green-gold pool. Hurling oneself into fall through the bare branches. But seasons track slowly in a tree. There are times of abrupt change—leaves crisp and tumble over a few weeks; buds fatten, swell, and burst over a few more. But when leaves are down, or out, months go by in which life in the tree—in which that aerial branchscape—feels unchanging.
When it has been raining for days, mosses swell and turn emerald, and lichens shine their strange cyan color in the gloom. In sunlight the tree dries up, turns a lighter gray, the leaves seem to float upwards instead of hanging down. Heat and humidity drift through the branches and then cooler air comes in at night. But the tree, through these moods, remains nearly unchanged. Over the course of the summer insects eat away at the leaves, and leave some speckled with tiny pink growths. The prayer flags weather and fray. Little more happens.
But the meadow gives a different sense of time. It tracks the season more closely. It changes every week or so as grasses grow higher, the dwarf apple trees look shorter, and my stacked stone sculptures lose their base stones to the meadow’s growth. Every week or so some new wildflower comes into blossom, and some other disappears.
The June meadow: buttercups and purple vetch. Orange hawkweed and golden alexanders. Wild brambles with their scattered white petals. Diminutive mouse-ear chickweed. In the lower corner of the meadow spreading dogbane is living up to its name but not yet in blossom; likewise milkweed. Sensitive fern is colonizing the moist part of the field, while bracken is spreading its three-cornered fronds in the upper back meadow, around my meditation platform at the edge of the woods. And tangled bedstraw is just beginning to show its greenish white froth over everything.
The spring ephemerals in our slender strip of woods near the tree are long gone. We have an extensive carpet of trout lily leaves, and this year for the first time some of them bloomed; its downward-facing yellow trumpet is one of my favorite wildflowers.
The tree for eternity and the meadow for time. I return to the tree every day, and across the long summer it remains unchanged through cycles of sunlight and darkness, heat and coolness, wet and dry. The meadow rolls and surfs along, week by week, gaining and losing, ebbing and flowing, shifting and growing.
The tree for eternity and the meadow for time.
But of course the seasons spin by almost faster than I can follow them; so much for eternity. On a geological time scale the tree is exploding upwards and then decomposing too quickly even to be seen. A split-second conglomeration of sunlight, minerals, and organic matter. I am the briefest blur among its brief branches. I am the ephemeral of ephemerals, and eternity is a dream.
Until some hour spent in the meadow—balancing stones, losing oneself in the heat, roaming the paths, listening to the hum of insects and the slow churning of leaves in the breeze—renews its acquaintance; time goes on and on, days’ worth, years’ worth, longer than I can imagine, in the time it takes an ant to crawl up a stem; and eternity is mine again.
“Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,” wrote William Blake. “And Eternity in an hour.”
And when I am done in the meadow I retreat to dry my sweat in the cool of the tree.