My daughter recently lent me some Zen Buddhism books, and one of the ideas I love is Tao. Tao is the idea that for everything there is an equal counterbalancing opposite, and that these opposites are not separate, but rather different aspects of the same thing. That nothing can exist without its polar opposite, and that this polarity is what our world consists of. The art of life, therefore, is keeping the two poles in balance. Taking the middle way.
I find this concept comforting. To imagine, as I confront our world’s evil via my newsfeed, that for every Bolsanado-empowered logger chopping down the Amazon there is a squad of earnest tree planters digging their heels in; for every ICE gang rounding up and separating families there are good and generous people giving refuge to the stateless and the homeless; that for every senseless act of violence inflicted on the innocent there is, somewhere, a random act of kindness unfolding.
Today I received an unexpected gift, a little Tao right here in my own neighbourhood.
A while ago I wrote a blog post about patience. About needing plenty, to accept a loud, unthinking family who barged into our neighbourhood, bought a big house on top of a thickly forested hill, and proceeded to chop almost the whole forest down to build a wide gravel parking lot. After a couple years of practicing patience with the neighbours to preserve my own peace of mind, I was rewarded with the pleasure of their departure, and the arrival of an unobtrusive new neighbour whom, two years later, I have yet to meet.
The hill’s life energy changed after it was shaved and capped with road-base. There were more casualties as some of the few remaining trees on its flanks sickened and died. I watched this collateral damage play out in extreme slow mo, as I sat every day contemplating the view from my bathroom window. I wondered if and when someone would come to drop the dead snags. Or if a storm would fell them first.
Today I got my answer. I was standing in the kitchen at bang on ten am when the chainsaws fired up, growling their threats to the neighbourhood, and causing more folks than just me I’m sure, to think “uh oh, who’s at it now?” We have all learned to be a little chainsaw-shy around here in recent years. We love our tree canopy. I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and my cell phone and headed outside, following my ears to find out which neighbour had welcomed the invaders.
Sure enough, the fallers were just down the road on the neighbour’s hillside, one up a tree and one on the ground, taking care of those snags. “Fair enough” I thought to myself. “Those trees do have to go before someone gets squished.” I would be sad to lose my tall bathroom window snag, and the local eagles and vultures would be sorry to lose their lookout post, but far better a controlled demise than an accidental unfortunately-timed one across the public path at the foot of the hill.
I grabbed a chair, turned on my camera and sipped my coffee as I waited for a photo opportunity. It would be fun to write a little follow up to Patience, to relate another chapter. I watched the faller slowly climb, stopping to carve off each branch as he encountered it, pausing as each crashed into the underbrush, then resuming his slow ascension. About thirty feet from the top, he sliced the treetop clean off and we all watched it crash down, bouncing on top of the lower branches now carpeting the slope.
By this time, the faller on the ground had been joined by my new neighbour, a snowy haired old fellow, and both watched the guy up in the tree intently as he reversed direction, slowly descending, stopping every 10-12 feet to slice and send another chunk crashing down. When he had about thirty feet to go, the guy on the ground called up to him. I couldn’t clearly hear what was said, but I saw hands chopping diagonally and my ears caught the word ‘angle’ as the wind wafted it by.
The next cut was duly made on an angle, so that I could clearly see the pale insides of the snag, and then the saw stopped growling entirely and the faller moved on down the last stretch of trunk.
That’s when I understood, the owner had asked the fallers to leave the remaining snag as a wildlife tree. Amazing, what a gift! I was so happy! Anyone who knows about wildlife habitats knows that it is best to leave snags standing if possible. Each one can support a plethora of flora and fauna as it slowly decays. What a good act. My new neighbour, doing his part to both keep local trail-walkers safe, and support nature. He embodies the polar opposite of my old neighbour. Balance. Tao, as in all the fabric of our universe.
I find that peculiarly reassuring, don’t you?