Finding post-election comfort in nature
Iwent to my woods for comfort the other day — the way others may go to a bar, or the gym or to bed. It was an effort to sort out what America did and said and meant in this past election.
I exaggerate when I say my“woods.” My clutch of trees, really. A dozen or so tulip poplars, one sugar maple, a stately beech that rules the front, and a struggling dogwood that refuses to give up.
I began with the leaves, those that fell on my front walk and piled up on my deck, cluttering the space to walk and sit and think. Putting my house in order seemed like a good start to reclaiming knowledge, perspective and healing. Sweeping up piles of leaves is an undertaking that I can control, progress I can measure, an achievement I can celebrate.
But clearing the walk and the deck wasn’t enough. The ache was much deeper. I needed more sweeping, more cleaning, more clearing of the head, more time. If the workings of my mind couldn’t offer comfort, perhaps my body could.
So I turned to the driveway. This was a long, broad expanse in the bulls-eye of my trees. Sweeping it demanded a greater reach than the short motions demanded by the walk and the deck. It called for long, arching movements of the push-broom. In the midst of this otherwise mindless, almost meditative blessing of movement, I all of a sudden was transformed. I imagined myself one of the lone, unsung, sweepers who clean up the detritus after parades or political rallies. In a moment, the land around me transformed into a giant arena of our election, after everyone had gone. The people, the noise, the clamor, the words, the vision had all left. The leaves were all that was left behind, the brittle confetti of our abandoned hopes.
There were thousands of them, lying there spent and fragile. But amazingly, when touched, they were not quiet. They were not yet done in. With each stroke of the broom they roused themselves, rattled and protested, chided me and buoyed me: “Do not give up,” they seemed to say. “We did not grow and struggle and thrive in vain. This election is over, but the cause is not. Look up! Though we have fallen, we have left behind the buds of next year’s blossoms. Tomorrow has already begun.”
Sure enough, the buds were there, millions of them, holding the promise of America’s growth on the sturdy trunk of the tree of democracy. “But the buds’ presence is just the start,” the leaves could have said. “Their health will reflect the conditions of their incubation. They will grow in the wind and the sun, the rain and the warmth that will be unique to their time. But they will only do that after the bracing winter ahead. It is in this winter that you must prepare for their health and their blossoming. And as you renew them, they will renew you.”
So I swept up the leaves, grateful for their wisdom. And as I cleared them away, I noticed something else: the wispy elongated seed-pods of our tulip poplars that were stubbornly left behind. They were all over the place. They found refuge in the crevices of my drive and resisted the urgings of my broom to move. Indeed, they could hardly be budged, and when they were, they didn’t go far but fell into my shoes and clung to my clothes. They were relentless in their presence. They were not going to be swept away.
So it is with our dreams of tomorrow. They often lay hidden under the loss of today. But when we begin to clear away our hurt, hope and renewal come peeking through. And like silent, unbidden prayers, they cling to us even if we are still too weak or broken to cling to them.