Henry David Thoreau once said, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
The loud drone of the chainsaw and the silent work of the lopper created a mismatched chorus as we painstakingly carved our way through the dense woods. It was sweaty, heavy work clearing the dried deadfall, the thick clusters of green wiry willow, the wet and rotten trees that had long since slumbered back into the mossy earth.
It was Mother’s Day, and the fact that I ripped tree after tree from her lifeblood was not lost on me.
“Thank you,” I said time after time to the infant trees as I dug the steel blade of the shears low into the earth to cut their sappy flesh at the roots. When Tony readied a large one to fall, I stopped my work to watch both in respect and morbid awe. Old-growth popple, ash and Balm of Gilead were the parents we toppled, and each short-lived thunder as they hit the ground shook loose a pang of sadness mixed with burgeoning gratitude.
“Thank you,” I sang while the saw sang louder.
It had been a lonely winters’ end here at The Angle. My heart has long ached for a tribe that understands me, for people who think like I do, for women who want to work and laugh and give together. With spring came cravings for a kindredship the lack of which I haven’t known since experiencing Seattle’s lukewarm welcome. There, it seemed everyone kept newcomers at arm’s distance for a set time. But then I met my tribe and the doors of fellowship were thrown open.
Here, it seemed to be my tribe right away. But the years of freezing and thawing, off and on, hot and cold, seem to decay more than what’s left to the weather. It seems no one knows each other at all.
“Thank you,” I whispered as the fires whispered hotter. We built piles as we cleared around them, stacking the good wood for winter, burning the brush and the dead. My whispered words were lost in the varied din of our logging, but I kept on.
A Course in Miracles teaches that loneliness is an identification with the ego. The bit of god within each of us yearns unceasingly like a magnet for the rest of its bits. We ache for each other and for our source, for the offering and acceptance of forgiveness at the deepest level of our beings. It is from this illusory separation that stems all fear, all depression, all loneliness. My paraphrasing is greatly simplified, as it would be of the Bible as well, but the sentiments ring truth to me.
To avoid feeling what I was feeling, normally I would throw myself into a project while holding a drink in my hand. But, booze takes more than it gives, and projects, even seemingly altruistic community projects, are a fulfillment mechanism of the ego as well.
My therapy this time would come in the sweating work of clearing land by gloved-hand. Aye, we bought land. The timing and parcel were right, and a piece of paper now says we can clear, build, farm, do what we will on that piece of land. I know at my core that no person can “own” a slice of the earth – though corporations like to pretend as much – but we, my little family and I, are simply borrowing space for a time. My promise in every Thank You that I offer back to the land as I trim her twiggy bangs is that I will leave it to itself as much as I can and that good things will come from my taking.
“Thank you,” I gasped as I wrestled the wicked willows. The earth does not easily give up her own, that is for certain. She hasn’t given up on me either. She lays her shorn back at my feet, my unpracticed tread forming the narrow path that will become wider and stronger as it is used. It’s why I repeat the gratitude. It’s a beginning, a pathway, a thought that I want to dominate my life.
I want to see not what I lack but what I have. I want to see not our separate little lives but a tribe of those who know the land. I want to give not for what it gets me but because I am called to give. I want to work not for the buying of more stuff but for the care-taking of all that needs care.
“Thank you,” I breathed again and again, as I lay down the path. “Thank you,” I sighed, as I sink back into this gift of a body. Thank you, I intone to the mothers of Earth and the Mother of all.
(Published in the 5/16 issue of the Warroad Pioneer)