“I hope you have your hiking shoes on,” he said.
I looked at him quizzically and responded, “Why, do I need them?”
He replied, “There is a downed tree ahead. You can shimmy over it if you are adventurous, but I’d turn back.” Curious, I strode on.
I could smell it before I saw it. The strong scent of freshly torn wood and leaves indicated that it was massive and the damage was thorough. One look confirmed that that was true. The leaves hadn’t even begun to wilt in the hot sun yet. This just happened.
A thin, wrinkled man stood by gazing up at what remained of the trunk as if in disbelief. Then a chatty couple came by and carefully made their way over and through the wreckage. “Hm! Love that smell”, the man said as they walked by.
I searched around for whatever Nature could provide to fashion an altar. After a quick but sincere prayer of gratitude to the oak for it’s shade, shelter, and life, I began to clear the path of debris. Thankfully the tree was hollow and it hit the ground hard. When it landed, it shattered into many manageable pieces.
The man who was standing nearby said, “Maybe I could get my chain saw tomorrow. Someone ought to do something about this. I wouldn’t want anyone to impale themselves. People ride bikes through here.” I just kept moving the huge limbs. Then, after a while, he stopped looking around for “somebody” and joined me.
A guy I passed earlier on the path caught up to me and pitched in. When we’d removed all that we could lift without the aid of a chainsaw and more people, we parted ways.
I didn’t know that tree, but I marveled at how people could just see it laying there in pieces and think about how it was impeding their way, it was a cool diversion to their exercise routine, or just go on by without thinking about it at all.
A huge life is over. It deserved to be acknowledged, honored, and seen. Surely the forest noticed. The animals that sheltered in his branches noticed. I noticed. Suddenly I recalled the thought, “If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Am I, the forest, and the animals enough to give this fallen tree a sound?
At the end of our lives, we all want to have mattered. We all need to be seen. Will you be that witness?