Solstice reflection: be of service, but don’t get obsessed with a narrow idea of usefulness

Some big trees came down in my yard during the recent atmospheric rivers – undermined by the churn and roil of immense volumes of water.

It was a bit of a low point. That’s what you get, I suppose, when you start talking with and hugging trees. A lot less detachment upon their demise.

I’ve been thinking of them…. And how when you look at the world through a lens of utility you miss a lot. Even without being in forestry or construction I had somehow narrowed my aperture and saw a tree mostly for its utility, as lumber, so my focus was always zeroed in on the great tall trunk.

When that cedar fell I saw habitat, I saw and smelled all the leaves, medicine, chemicals, aerosols, I saw the way the roots were the stability, the entirety of organic matter on that ancient glacial till, the bank… 

I realized how much more a tree is than its height, its wood.

It surprised me, that I hadn’t really fully grasped its multitudinousness.

It made me reflect on how trapped my thinking can become… how this filter of “usefulness” or productive contribution (thanks again, capitalism!), has laid over so many things, including the way I see myself, the ways I judge and assess myself. Have I had a good day? Well, was I productive? Did I get a lot done? My usefulness has been judged, by myself, through this super narrow lens… I have been measuring myself, in board feet, cents per word, units of production. What could I produce with my gifts, my skills, what could I do with my time?

Wanting to be of use, of service, has blinded me… My utility has blinded me to the ways I might also serve — through the ends of my leaves, my aerosols, my root network, just casually and constantly exchanging what I have in excess…

Isn’t this the most marvellous thing to learn, about trees in forests? That they are networked through vast underground mycorrhizal connections, through which they exchange nutrients and energy. Got too much nitrogen or phosphorous? Just drop it into the network and send it over to someone who is short.

I love this constant exchange so much, because it’s a reminder that, if you don’t move the excess away, it’s not wealth you’re hoarding, it’s poison. It’s toxic. If you have too much of something, in nature, it will sicken you. Move it along to someone who needs it more. And trusting in that mutual reciprocity, exchange and flow, you can relieve yourself of the need to stockpile and hoard, because when someone else has more than they need, it will come your way.

I feel a longing for this wise way of being, for the free flow and exchange of strengths and assets and excess… and I realize this is the economy I want to be part of, the economy of the living forest, constantly in flow. Not the economy of the “working” forest, one use among many being extracted.

It makes me think that my “words” or “mission” for 2022 might be “think like a forest.”

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