We Do Not Shine in Vain

In the middle of Baxter Woods in Portland there is a ring of benches that invite passersby to come, sit and reflect. At our Beauty Walk yesterday we did just that. In fact we followed the impulse of the trees around us and we circled the woods three times, returning to the center ring between subsequent jaunts, to reflect on a portion of Aldo Leopold’s tale of the “Good Oak” in A Sand County Almanac.

In “Good Oak” Leopold recalls the journey made by the wood that then fueled his fire. It began with its inception from acorn to sprout, then its eighty years of tree-living, until the lightning strike that ended it, and finally the way that it was felled and rendered into cord wood by many helping hands.

To begin with, the acorn that would become the oak had to sprout and somehow fend off the nibbles of hungry rabbits to avoid the fate that befalls the majority of other would-be oaks.

It is a warming thought that this one wasn’t [nibbled as a sprout by rabbits], and thus lived to garner eighty years of June sun. It is this sunlight that is now being released, through the intervention of my axe and saw, to warm my shack and my spirit… And with each gust a wisp of smoke from my chimney bears witness, to whomsoever it may concern, that the sun did not shine in vain.
— Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

On our final cycle in the woods on Saturday I invited the twenty other humans (and a couple dogs) that were with me, to seek out a large tree or a few select saplings, and to literally hug a century’s worth of sunlight.

And that’s what we did. With the fog settled down thick around us, we each made our way to the base of a tree and felt, with our hands and our imagination, for the warmth of its story. And we considered what warmth might yet come from our efforts to shine bright in an otherwise foggy world.

photo credit: Erica Bartlett

photo credit: Erica Bartlett