If one builds a Prayer Cabin above a goat barn in a forest, one must not imagine the forest will hold steady on account of it. Trees fall. We knew that. Of course we did. So a month ago when I noticed a giant oak leaning precariously towards that structure that holds sacred conversations and prayers and tears and laughter and goat babies and mamas besides, I wondered if the tilt had always been that, well, tilty. If it fell it would land smack dab in the middle of the Prayer Cabin. The tree looked healthy enough, Mark and I thought, though we agreed it might be good to get an arborist's opinion in the not too distant future...
This morning, after a beautiful snow storm canceled doctors appointments, church gatherings, work meetings, schools, coffee dates, massages, bridge clubs, and bicycling adventures, Mark noticed that the tree in question had fallen over in the night, its 7x5-foot diameter root ball creating a Startling New Thing for Julian and Oakley to explore while their mothers stayed close to the barn.
Besides chipping a mug that bounced off a shelf in the Prayer Cabin (along with other evidence that bouncing abounded) nothing else broke, at least on the inside. The outside didn't fare as well. The heating unit outside is ripped from its cords and smashed, as is the wrap around balcony on that side of the cabin, along with the gutter, some roofing, rafters, siding and fencing. I used to sit in the nest hammock swing (also smashed) from that balcony and watch squirrels chase each other up its trunk, and into the branches before hopping to a branch on the nearby maple tree. A lot of life happened in that tree--generations upon generations of insects, birds, squirrels and chipmunks called it home for well over 100 years.
Besides a sadness I felt for the tree and the barn and prayer cabin, I noticed gratitude for how gracefully it fell.
I imagined the Word that calls all things into being nodded with approval as this particular acorn took root sometime around the time my grandparents were born. God has been holding it together ever since, growing with it inch by inch and branch by branch, experiencing along with the tree the wonder of seasons, the frolic of creatures, blasts of storms, smoke warning of fires, the nibbles and pecks of deer and goat, chipmunk and woodpecker. With gracious ease (because, of course, being fully a tree comes easier to trees than being fully a human comes to humans), this oak housed, entertained, and fed assorted two- and four-footed and feathered creatures during its long life. As last night's storm loosened roots ready to let go I wonder if--in a final act of gracefulness----the tug on the roots--first here and then there, allowed the tree to fall a few feet southeast of what would have been its more likely trajectory. It could be that.
Surely it fell with a mighty whomp as it smacked into the side of the barn on the way down, terrifying the goats and mice and slumbering creatures outside, yet as I walked around it today, I sensed it fell well. I posted some pictures on facebook, and commented that I felt grateful this grand oak fell as gracefully as it could have. A long-time friend responded, "And the trees of the forest clapped their hands as she made her graceful fall…which all us oldsters hope for."
What does it look like to fall gracefully, I ask myself, now, in these circumstances of life? Perhaps it is to accept what is, to let it be, to know God is in the falling as God has been in the growing, living and standing. Maybe falling gracefully recognizes that God is in the life that will come after the fall--as the oak tree decays, in the repair of the forest, in the repair work of the barn. Maybe in the falling there is a kind of rejoicing, by those who know falling is never the end of the story, but the beginning of another one. Maybe in the damage, unexpected opportunities for new things emerge.