Sunday, November 13, 2005

The New Stewards

Today I took part in a ceremony in Dimond Park near my home in Oakland. This event wasn't a celebration of a holiday or a birthday or the usual kinds of park activities. It was a celebration of one of the park's residents. And not just any resident, but, one might argue, the elder of this diverse Oakland neighborhood. People came together to honor what many believe to be the oldest live oak tree in Oakland.

The tree drew attention after a City of Oakland crew showed up one day and began preparing to cut the tree down. Certain resident s noticed, temporarily halted the work, and word spread that the oldest tree in Oakland was in jeopardy. The city claims it is diseased to the point where it will fall on its own. It could hurt someone. Some claim the tree can be saved and are attempting to rally the local city council member to their cause.

People shared stories about growing up with the tree. Some recited poetry. One woman offered a list of names, part of the "hundreds of names this tree must have had over the years": oldest oak, champagne oak, dying oak, and chickadee oak among them. Others gave tobacco offerings and burnt sage and sweetgrass in gratitude for the tree's presence. Native peoples from the local area came, drummed, and chanted, then spoke eloquently about trees as "standing people" and spoke knowledgeably of the ecology of oaks and their connection to the larger family of beings.

A Native American woman spoke of the history of the native peoples of the area, their intimate relationship to the oak, their presence when it began growing. She spoke also of the cruelty of the conquering Spaniards, driving the people out of the area, offering 25 cents per scalp. "The pain of this ground is still here because of the denial of the injustice and suffering of the past," she spoke. Then she started a beautiful chant asking the blessing of the tree and blessing it in return.

Her final word was of gratitude to the people in the neighborhood who had gathered, who cared about the fate of the oak, and had come to honor and bless it. "They are the new stewards of this land," she said, "the elders are gone. We are the one who must be the new stewards."

That people could come together in the midst of a city as troubled with violence and injustice as is Oakland and honor an other-than-human elder is remarkable. The old oak, whatever its fate, has brought together a community, has elicited a new sensibility that is itself perhaps now just an acorn beginning to sprout. That is the sense that we can be of the Earth again, that we can care for the land, that we will remember the value of each member of the Earth community, and remember what has come before.

I circled the tree with my hand trailing across its rough and crevassed bark. The tingle in my hand brought up the memory of a poem I wrote some years ago. It was a poem about listening to the life passage of trees to remind us that we are the planet's dream as it conceives.

A poem:

CONCEPTION

The old ones,
The ones who move among trees
As if through conversation, said:

While we are here,
Be mindful.
The Earth is conceiving
And you are the dream
Never before dreamed
Moving as you are: upright
From the brooding thought of forest
Onto the sunlit imagination of savanna.

Be mindful; The heron knows
Your passing, even as her eye
Is to the stone
And the watery dance
Of shadow with minnow
At her feet.

Be mindful; If you want to know
The security of roads, leave them,
Let your skin dance
With the hiss of grasses,
Lie back on the embrace of breezes.

Be awake. The Earth,
Is conceiving and you are
Now the passing dream; take time
To listen to the migration of lone trees,
To their unending conversation
With soil and sun, with the sheltering sky.

—1997

4 Comments:

Anonymous sue said...

Lauren,

What a beautiful rendering of our honoring/celebratory/event with the oldest oak tree. I
am thankful that you were there and write as
clearly and movingly as you did.... might I pass
this on to the Friends of Sausal Creek list serve?

thanks again .... Sue Morgan

12:39 AM  
Blogger Lauren de Boer said...

Sue,

Thanks -- yes, it's fine to the Sausal Creek group. I was really happy that the honoring was held and to be a part of it. A great thing to have happen in the neighborhood.

Lauren

12:27 AM  
Blogger Kevin Peer said...

What a dear and gifted writer you are. I feel the shackles of thought and the identity with epidermal boundaries begin to fade as I read your words...
Thank you..Kevin Peer

12:06 AM  
Anonymous Tara Diemer said...

Lauren,
I really enjoyed "Conception", It is now my favorite of all your works. The words seem so simple, yet the message is very deep and true to all of us. I posted your blog on my Facebook page, so others can link to it and enjoy your writings. I hope this ok with you. We'll talk to you soon,
Your niece, Tara

1:22 PM  

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