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The Spinning Tree

 

The tree and the sun spun gold out of 

snow

 

as if straw was too easy 

 

or nonsense, imagine —

making something 

from nothing, or at least

something less — 

that’s fodder for fools

or a children’s tale.

 

That’s where you’re wrong

sang the tree, who cast ice motes

in plumes

like barn dust 

or birds

to whirl in the light

from its spinning wheel hands

 

and curious, you leaned closer

asking what

do you mean?

 

And as bell ice and glitter snow

its answer unwound:

 

A difference perceived 

does not translate to

less

nor has anything ever been

nothing

but is instead key 

for the lock

from which we all spin — 

 

whether you see difference

as lack

or as everything.

 

I spoke with a tree last week. I realize this is an odd thing to say… but there was no mistaking her message. A graceful birch, standing apart from the nearby spruce and hemlocks, was quite firm with me.  

But this story begins not with an expressive tree; it starts with something my daughter said. She’s eleven, and was wondering out loud why humans tend to think that animals aren’t as clever as people, even though they have their own languages and survival strategies. “They’re just different from us,” she said. “but we think we’re so smart.” 

Our human intelligence — or lack of it — is on her mind a lot these days. I often wonder what it must be like to grow up knowing that your home planet is threatened by your culture’s choices. I wasn’t introduced to the concept of climate change until college. My girls learned about it in kindergarten. 

As I walked through the woods later that day, I saw how her words describe more than just our interactions with animals. They reveal how we relate to other humans too, and our penchant for power and privilege. We tend to devalue what we don’t understand — to the point of dehumanizing those who are different from us.

There’s so much to feel here. By the time I stumbled through a snowdrift and into the birch tree’s clearing I was angry, sad, and frightened, primed to judge anything in my way.

This is why, when I saw ice crystals falling from the birch’s frosted branches, catching the sunlight to look like glittery dust, and my imagination saw twiggy fingers spinning gold from snow, I scoffed. I had remembered the old fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, in which a miller’s daughter spins straw into gold to save her life. How silly, I thought. These are real problems that need real solutions, not magic. 

The tree had something to say about that. I won’t try to explain this part, except that as I was fondly chastised by the birch tree, my assumptions turned into questions: Is gold always more valuable than straw? Has anything ever truly been nothing? And, what if there is more truth in what I can’t understand —  than in what I think I know?

As I walked home, feeling both foolish and steeped in the affectionate acceptance of a wise mentor, I recognized that I had done more mind-clearing than problem solving. But the tree’s message has stayed with me, so I pass it on, one human to another: 

Perhaps the solutions we seek lie in the differences that divide us.

Yurt dweller, parent, partner, writer. Knows some things about medicine, life coaching, teaching, and the wilds.

2 Comment on “The Spinning Tree

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