Deep roots and remembrance
Okay, I’ll admit it. I have an obsession with trees. Wherever I go, I seek out the “local” tree — that indigenous expression of what it takes to survive and thrive and have long life in that particular little piece of the planet. I have countless pictures of giant sequoias, and yellow oak trees, and weeping willows, and red maples, and…well, you get the idea.
I’ve just returned from a quick trip to Albuquerque, NM, and I had a chance to take some great pictures of cotton wood trees as I walked along the Paseo del Bosque, part of Albuquerque’s great Open Space system. Truth be told, I was surprised at the beautiful nature that was on display along the banks of the Rio Grande River…the ducks and geese and the beautiful trees that shaded its banks. Surprised, but grateful, because the trip turned out to be all about the kinds of roots that we put down in the course of our living, roots that give us strength even when we have forgotten that they are deep and support us always.
Trees offer us a wonderful example of strength and stability. The Psalmist uses a tree as the great symbol of a faithful, righteous, person: “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper (Psalm 1:3).” That great letter writer, Paul, uses the image of an olive tree to represent a life of faith, a tree onto which all can be grafted (Romans 11:13-24).
My new friend, the cottonwood, is just such a tree. The roots of the cottonwood are considered to be vigorous and invasive. They start below ground and as the tree grows and ages, those roots keep growing to the point that they poke through the surface of the ground. Gardeners in the know realize that this is not a good tree to plant near a house. It belongs beside a river, as the Psalmist says, and alongside a river, in a a generally arid landscape, the cottonwood not only thrives but survives where other trees might not.
So I learned something about the cottonwood on this trip, and now, at the end of the trip, I realize that I learned something about myself, something that I had known in the past but have recently forgotten. I have a lot in common with this beautiful tree. You see, the reason I went to New Mexico was to do something that I don’t do very often right now — sing a full concert. Oh yes, I sing short sets of music here and there, but a full, hour-long recital — well, I have not done that since before my heart surgery.
I am not ashamed to admit that, going into this concert, I was afraid. I was afraid that I no longer had the stamina for a sustained performance. I didn’t have any real reason to believe this (I mean, how often are our worst fears founded in fact), but I was more than a little worried. But I was going to sing with my favorite performing partner, a friend, someone who has brightened my musical life for many years but now has moved away, so I was willing to take the chance. I was excited about that, and frightened about everything else.
You see, I had forgotten that I, like my friend the cottonwood tree, had vigorous, growing roots that could not always be seen. My body remembered, but my mind and sadly my spirit did not. I have struggled with where music fits in my life; I have considered retiring from public performance all together and putting my energies elsewhere. I thought that it was because it was just that time in life, you know? Time to move on to something less stressful.
Alas, my musical self and my singing voice are manifestations of my own deep roots. Music is one of my deepest connects to my soul and therefore to my God — kind of a spiritual tap root to the source of all that is. And singing this concert gave those roots a chance to show themselves once again.
I don’t have any more answers about what to do with this gift, how to nourish this root system or how to cope when it pokes above the surface of the ground, but after this experience I do now remember in my full being that despite the winds and waves of the last years, all the changes and the insecurity, my root system is deep, firmly in place, and ready to support me as I move on down the road by the river. For this knowledge, I will be eternally grateful to my new friend the cottonwood tree and to my old friend, Natalie.