“Aussie, this is not a good time to ask for a treat.”

“No time like the present.”

“Can’t you see that I’m in trouble trying to go down this steep slope? I’m practically sliding down.”

I walked the dogs the other morning on a trail in a heavily wooded area. I heard water gurgling, looked down to my left, and saw what first looked like a dark cabin wall below, at the edge of a pond, some 15 feet high and 25 feet wide.

A cabin? There were no habitations of any kind in those woods.

You have your boots on, I reasoned with myself, so get down there and see what it is. Slowly I made my way down the steep, wet slope. Standing on a ridge of wet leaves that encircled the water, I realized that I was looking at a massive patch of black earth that had once held a living tree, the roots wriggling through the perpendicular hard soil as though everything was still alive.

I crossed the pond, looked at it from the other side, and saw that not one, but two trees had fallen. In fact, not two but three were lying there, one next to the other, dead comrades of winter.

Spring here is the time to bear witness to what winter has wrought. Usually one tree falls, bringing its roots up with it. But here it was as if an entire plot of earth had suddenly cracked, three related trees crashing down on the ground and bringing up their intertwined roots in one large patch of earth that looked like nothing I could identify.

From a distance, it looked like something dark and forbidding, abstract, a formless form. Only when I got down to take a closer look and crossed over to the other side did I see another version: the story of three trees with interlocking roots, closely related, sharing soil, fungus, sunlight and oxygen for who knows how many years.

Lived together, died together.

Slowly I clambered up to the path again, fighting against gravitational pull to slide back down, Aussie pawing the ground wanting her treat. Once on top, I looked down again and there it was, massive, black, undecipherable. Seeing it from the other side is what gave me coherence and clarity: Oh, so that’s what happened. The other side gave me the story.

None of which I’d have known had I stayed up on the path and just looked down.

Life, I thought. Something appears—a color, a cloud, an unfamiliar sound—and my brain rushes around trying to figure out what it is and often, what story it could weave around it. I don’t regret this, creating stories is what I do. At the same time, something else is at work here, raw and intuitive. Something to take in before discernment and investigation, before reassuring myself: I see now.

Can I be content without the analysis, without assigning some meaning and story to everything? I keep Thomas Merton’s words in mind: “The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there . . . [I]t beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.”

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