A Collector of Hope

Sometimes, when I get discouraged by the trash that re-appears each week on roadsides, I think of the collector of cigarettes on the corner of Wende Dr. and Derry Rd. While I waited for the traffic to clear, I would watch him behind the windshield of my car. Trying to be discrete, I would peak at his bent form, his eyes focused on the task at hand, as he plucked cigarettes out of the sand and bagged them like precious peaches fresh from the farm.

He must have been in his mid-to-late eighties during the six years I lived in southern NH. His advanced age was obvious, the stoop of her shoulders, one could see, was not limited, but perhaps, accentuated by, the hours he spent each week searching through the sand. He looked, in fact, as though he were part of the landscape, weathered by time. Tan work-boots caked in dust adorned his shuffling feet, above which more dust colored his faded trousers and plaid shirt. The man I called the “Cigarette  Collector,” wore an untrimmed beard that covered lips I imagined mumbled sounds coherent only to his mind. While I watched, he greeted no one, but the earth below his feet.

As I waited for my turn to exit my neighborhood, I would imagine the life of this mysterious man. When I was a child, growing up in a small town in central NH, there was once an old man, we’ll call him Mr. Witherspoon, who used to live in a tiny run-down house painted red beside a creek. Mr. Witherspoon, as far as I knew, kept to himself and lived alone. This only added to his intrigue.

It wasn’t often that my path would cross by his house, but when it did I would stare at the trophies that lined his lightless windows and try to imagine him as a young man. It was easier to picture him as an eccentric recluse, shuttered against time. The tiny stream beside his house, I became convinced, was where he bathed, even in the snows of winter.

I never got to know Mr. Witherspoon, just as I never got to know the collector of cigarettes who spent hours each week clearing a small space of earth of discarded debris. As far as I knew, the mysterious old man that captivated my adult imagination, collected only cigarettes, for his plastic bread-bag held only their candy-corn colors.

I found the cigarette collector’s regular presence both sad and comforting. To me, he looked lonely and withdrawn, but perhaps I was merely projecting my own emotions onto him. Yet, he gave me hope. The old man was a symbol of timeless grace and compassion. His feet moved in a slow dance across the sand that was captivating and beautiful. His heart, I knew, was beating the sacred rhythm of the Earth he cared enough about to keep clean.

A Walk to School

DSCF3332I spent the early part of the morning, after I’d loaded the kids off to school, stressed. I could feel the tension rising in my chest as I searched my home office for the packet of photographs my birthfather had sent me months ago, then, when I found them, how to scan the ones I wanted from my printer onto the computer.

While I was looking for the photographs, I shifted through piles of debris, hardly giving these stored mementos a second glance in my panic to find the photos. Instead, there were the barely perceptible pauses as I catalogued the contents for later review. As my mind wandered to many places, I kept hearing the voice inside telling me to get outside. Downstairs the banana bread I had made for my son’s class was sitting on the counter cooling, and the voice urged, Why don’t you walk it to school?

As I showered, having given up on my efforts to scan the recovered photographs, the voice kept coming back. I thought about the time it would take (the school is only about a mile from my house), and whether the dogs would protest. But, as I sliced and wrapped the bread, popping a heal in my mouth to make sure it would pass the taste bud test of 7 and 8 year olds, I thought, What the heck, I’m going to walk.

The dogs barely noticed, as I wafted by them with my bag of bread and quickly opened and closed the front door. They knew, as I did, they’d still get their daily allotment of 3 walks/day. It’s a rare day when they don’t.

There’s something about stepping from the enclosure of a building into the open air that has an immediate effect of lifting one’s mood. Well, at least for me. Especially on a fine, spring day. Instantly, I felt lighter and the tension began pouring out of my cells. I had, I realized, through the urging of Spirit, given myself a gift.

Even though I stayed on the roadside, I was surrounded by bird-song and that showy abundance of chlorophyl one finds only in spring and summer. There’s a reason why so many people go into the cathedral of nature to find themselves, and to heal. Green is the color that vibrates from the healthy heart, it’s the aura of a healer, and it’s the expression of life in nature. Unless one is metaphorically asleep, you cannot help but feel the uplifting effects of being in the presence of  plants and trees.

As I walked to the school, I inhaled the color green with each breath, and took in the gifts Nature had to offer me. On the way home, I asked Spirit for a plastic bag (an easy request, as they’re often tangled in the undergrowth of trees), and found one minutes later caught in the hands of a small shrub. The roadside was full of discarded debris, and I began piling soda and beer cans, disposable coffee cups, cigarette packages and butts, and all manner of plastic inside my too small bag.

If I hadn’t taken the extra time to walk to my son’s school on this beautiful day, I would not have seen the black bird fly across my path. I would not have taken that deep breath to absorb the gift of its energy, and in turn, hear its message of reassurance, You will find your way. If I had driven my car, I would not have paused, while retrieving bits of styrofoam, to seen the pair of orioles  spreading sunshine through the pines. And, I would not have paused beside the fire pond to watch the light dance on water.

The Heart of a Tree

Heart of Tree

It’s been an emotional week for me, as I process the energy of rebirth. In this time of spring, this is what I am choosing to call the destruction around me. On Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 trees were felled in my yard in an effort to bring the unfiltered energy of the sun to my too-shaded home. There is mold my attic, there is green mildew creeping along the white edges of my siding.

You could say I put this off for too long, but each cut of the chainsaw was felt inside my heart. My love for trees extends back, I am sure, lifetimes, but my memories start in my childhood as a little girl seeking happiness in a life of loss and new beginnings. When I was 5, and beginning a new life apart from my birthfather and extended family, I climbed the slender limbs of young maples to seek refuge, and to find peace. Here, in the embrace of a tree, I would find a joy that was often elusive on the ground.

Some of us, especially those who have totem animals such as bear, are meant to climb trees, even as adults. All of us, can benefit from their energies. When I walk in a forest of trees, I heal my inner child. When I walk in a forest of trees, I find myself laughing and skipping with joy. Sometimes, I sing and dance. I am alone, but I am not.

Trees, with their ability to live for hundreds to thousands of years, harbor souls of wisdom. Their roots mix and mingle with the energy of the underworld, where the Earth radiates love to ground and births life. The arms of trees bloom into canopies of green, harnessing the divine energies of the universe. Stand or sit with your back pressed agains a tree’s trunk, and you cannot help but feel this powerful connection of energies. It is sacred.

Before my 7 trees were felled, I visited each one individually. Placing offerings of found feathers, dried sage, and lavender at their feet, I whispered words of gratitude, and asked for forgiveness. With my body aligned with theirs, I felt our energies joined into the universal energy of love. Along with their forgiveness, I asked the elemental spirits who tend to the trees, to rebirth their energies into new life.

It has been a week of rain and sun, fitting for rebirth. Today there is the energy of gray stillness – the aftermath of death, which is not death, but a pause as energy is recycled and repurposed. The only water that drips, is from my eyes. Although I await this new life, and the sun’s healing rays, I mourn the loss of 7 trees.