Monday, 16 January 2012

What's in a name?

Lately, my ability to name my creations—this blog, the characters in the story I’m writing—is elusive or at least diminishes in relation to the significance of that which I’m trying to name.

The enemy is my clever “magazine editor” brain, the one that puns and plays with words and creates catchy copy. That chunk of grey matter doesn’t help when I try to create something that resonates with my spirit.

As I flailed about for a title for this blog, I felt increasingly tight in my chest and solar plexus. I was holding my breath. Lack of air apparently leads to feeling tight in the chest. Who knew?

I realized I was forcing it. I was mining my copywriter brain for gems that just weren’t there. I would have to dig deeper.

Two words. I settled. I settled on the image I’d instinctively imported for the background: an old tree trunk lying prone on the forest floor. Weathered, worn, magnificent. Worthy of worship.

Soon, the memory of my first-ever spiritual experience rose from a different part of me, shaking loose the tension and tightness, making me forget my present surroundings. I went back in time.

It was a Saturday afternoon deep in the bitterness of a Quebec winter. I was young, perhaps nine or ten years old. The pale winter sunlight was fading as the afternoon drifted toward dusk. No friends were around to play with but I’d gone outside anyway out of boredom.

I worked on my snow fort; in those days I was forever building snow forts. I hauled boulders of ice-hardened snow from the curb where the plow had left them. Slowly I piled them up into two curved walls flanking the blue spruce that dominated the yard so that the immense tree, with a spread of about fifteen feet at its base, was integrated into the fort.
The spruce was the only tree on our lawn. It had been given to my parents by my mother’s brother when they bought the house and in just ten years had quickly grown to tower over our tiny 1960s suburban bungalow, obscuring the living room’s huge picture window. It was so big that we have no pictures that show it in its entirety.

A landscape architect would have scoffed at planting such a specimen there. At full height it would be entirely out of scale to the modest lot and house. In these pictures, it had already accomplished that. It had also grown into the best and most grand tree on our street, visible from blocks away. More than that, it had grown and taken root in each of the broken hearts in our family.

The tree was always integral to my forts. With the house about ten feet behind me and the tree in front, I could peer through the boughs to the street but remain hidden. No one looked between the thick branches that swept so graciously in perfect arcs from the tall, proud spine of our blue spruce.

On this occasion, I built up the fort four or five boulders high, packing in dry powdery snow in the spaces between so that the walls were solid. I stopping regularly to assess and admire my progress until the fort seemed complete. I remember lying on my back, pleased with my work, aware of the cold bed of snow and ice beneath me but comfortable in my (marvelous invention!) the 1970s one-piece snowsuit. I was content.

Soon, I grew quiet and gradually became aware of the sound of the wind whistling softly, playing on the spruce’s needles, caressing them, making a gentle music that seemed lonely and uplifting at the same time.

I listened, straining toward the sound. I longed for it, knowing I could not touch it, but perhaps, I thought, I could reach it in another way? Instinctively, I shifted to a different part of myself, to a part that lifted from my heart outward, upward. The place from which questions emerge. And as I stretched toward the sound of the wind in the tree, toward the wind and the tree, for one brief second (maybe more, it's impossible to tell) I reached a nameless knowing.

For that moment I knew the wind, and I knew the tree too. And I was known. There beneath the boughs, there was no separation in the knowing and being known; between the wind, the tree, and me; between loving and being loved.

So, my little blog Beneath the Boughs is in homage to that moment. A big moment. An epiphany. And it's a reminder to myself that when I want to know something, when names remain hidden or meaning obscured, beneath the boughs is where I need to go.

Slip beneath the boughs and still your busy mind; "wisdom begins in wonder."*

* “Wisdom begins in wonder.” - Socrates


  1. When you say "the place from which questions emerge" I feel I can go right there. I wonder how that is.

    What is the nature of that "place" which is both the Source of Questioning and the experience of unity in loving/being loved?

    I find the articulation of that Relationship helpful and on a deep level, healing.

    How "nice" that the Universe is, that being is, that sensing is. How precious and full of grace.

    1. Thank you, Noa. Thank you so much. And I love your name! I might steal it for a character in a story.

  2. Your words rippled over me like water as I lay in a shallow stream. Yes, this feeling I know, I thought to myself. I suspect you can call up the scent of that spruce. So much memory is wrapped in the invisible streams of smell that reach our nostrils in moments of wakefulness.

    Thank you for giving me part of you to read.

    1. Thank you! For your kindness and for sharing. Nature is a balm, and sometimes a shelter for our souls.

  3. Thank you Kathleen, for letting me come to a bit of time in your childhood, to a feeling I can remember as a child as well. Please keep writing.
    I posted this on fb a bit ago but think it is a bit like what you talk of.

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
    — Wendell Berry

  4. That is so beautiful. My eyes sting and my heart stops. So true, so true. Thank you for sharing it, Garden Girl. You might also enjoy the writing of Mary Oliver if you haven't already read her poetry.