February, Branching, and Deep Engagement

February 4, 2020

 

Everywhere I look this month I see that beautiful branching pattern.  Out my window I observe the oak tree with its trunk, boughs, branches, and twigs; the pine with its needle clusters; the spruce and its bunchy branching. On the ground it is evident in the veins in fallen leaves, in the roots reaching out across the land, and I know it is underneath the soil in root tips and fungi busy decomposing organic matter.

 

There’s no end to it when I image the broader ecosystem here in the mid-Mississippi River basin which is the watershed for streams, creeks, rivers, and tributaries from over three quarters of the country.  That branching is a vast network linking 32 states!

 

So what?  One scientist names branching “frozen growth patterns”.  That nails it biologically, but is that all there is to this pervasive pattern?  Think about this amazing fact:  All the branches of a tree at every stage of its height when put together are equal in thickness to the trunk below them! This was carefully observed by Leonardo da Vinci in his notebooks during the Italian Renaissance.

 

How about this:  When a parent branch splits into two or more child branches, the surface areas of the child branches add up to that of the parent branch resulting in trees better withstanding high winds.  How amazing is that?

 

Consider streams.  They have a major role in geology, shaping Earth’s surface by eroding, transporting, and depositing sediment.  Scientists tell us that streams actually shape Earth’s surface more than glaciers, waves on a beach, and far more than wind. Who could have guessed the marvels of the branching pattern!

 

But, are those scientific facts all there is to it?  Poet Mary Oliver considers branching an invitation: “Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives --tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?” She goes on to muse about our inability to enter other lives, “No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!”

 

Consider streams.  They have a major role in geology, shaping Earth’s surface by eroding, transporting, and depositing sediment.  Scientists tell us that streams actually shape Earth’s surface more than glaciers, waves on a beach, and far more than wind. Who could have guessed the marvels of the branching pattern!

 

But, are those scientific facts all there is to it?  Poet Mary Oliver considers branching an invitation: “Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives --tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?” She goes on to muse about our inability to enter other lives, “No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!”

 

Branching, so what?  Boring.  Nothing t

Branching, so what?  Boring.  Nothing to do with me.  OR… everywhere – life summoning me to take my place in it, to imagine what it is like to be an oak, a stream, a tributary; to empathize.  We sense the allurement to amazement, to value the simplest of patterns as having the urgency toward sustaining and supporting life.  Here is an invitation to be a part of the ALL.

 

Contemplative ecology names this practice of entering other lives until we feel a part of the whole a spiritual one, an opportunity for endless communion, for prayer; or, in Oliver’s words, “Fall in!  Fall in!”

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