“Let me seek, then, the gift of silence … where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all.” — Thomas Merton, “Thoughts In Solitude.”
This advice got more of our attention when life slowed down. Before retirement, I rode the train to work in our state education office to create communication projects; my husband, Ron, juggled patients with administrative health care issues. We often brought work home at night and enjoyed being productive in our caves. Sometimes we longed for more solitude, more time outdoors, but mentally assigned that to a later chapter.
In retirement we are exploring and learning. What we didn’t expect was that God’s earth also would reveal messages of creativity, a mysterious kind of wonder, and a visual poetry that takes our breath away. The diversity of the earth is more than souvenir postcards to see and put away. When we show up and linger, it’s waiting to speak to our spirits.
Surely God would rejoice that Earth Day is officially April 22 (chosen for the birthday of John Muir), but I believe that the Creator, who made seasons for us to commune with the divine, might have had every day in mind.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world,” Muir said. And that’s what Treewhispers is doing; it’s a project to awaken our heartfelt connection to trees through art, storytelling, science and humanity. In 2000, artists Pamela Paulsrud and the late Marilyn Sward invited everyone to contribute their tree-related memories on a round shape of handmade paper.
The round pieces are strung vertically (like tree trunks) and exhibited in museums, art galleries, arboretums, churches and other public places where visitors can create and share — or simply be inspired. More than 10,000 self-proclaimed tree huggers have contributed art and stories to this traveling exhibition.
Pamela Paulsrud provides current information: “The Treewhispers installation was last celebrated at the Dawes Arboretum in 2020, along with community papermaking workshops facilitated by then Dawes artist-in-residence Amanda Love. Despite a recent time of dormancy, inspired contributions continue to roll in for inclusion in future happenings. New venues are being investigated and gallery invitations are always welcome.”
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Through Treewhispers, I relived my own memory from childhood: climbing high up in my grandma’s cherry tree to taste warm bits of fruit as I balanced myself on the rough bark. Just me and the tree. White clouds floated by as I spit seeds on the ground and, sometimes, curious birds made a brief stopover.
Twenty-five years ago, when I personally planted young trees in my new yard, I imagined us spending the seasons together. Five birch trees were the view from my studio — in spring, I watched their leaves dancing in the sunlit breezes; in fall, they signaled change with deepening shades of gold; and finally, they rested peacefully through the grey winter.
Then the day came when three trees had to be cut down because of disease. Would a seemingly well-balanced woman shed tears? Oh, yes!
But amazingly, a few springs later, I discovered something growing on their stumps. It was a mushroom called Turkey Tail Fungus — evidence of God’s ongoing grace that returns every year. (The banner at top of page, lower left photo, shows this beautiful plant.)
When Ron and I traveled to Oregon, I noticed birch trees shedding their bark and peeled off pieces to see if I could write letters on it. For artists like myself, being inspired from nature is an ongoing, personal collaboration with the Master. From cave art to professional painting, the earth’s landscape models the ideal source for reference (an example is naturally-occurring complementary colors, like poppies and lupines on the mountain). In our artistic pilgrimage, we artists respectfully share these gifts in a new dimension.
From another journey to see fall color in Hope Valley, Calif., I painted aspens from my photo and added Muir’s verse.
Along with these personal memories, we’re among the many who are deeply concerned for the earth’s survival. Every state has reason to raise awareness for Earth Day. Its theme this year is “Restore Our Earth,” which brings to mind the disasters we’ve encountered and the need to think creatively and with dedication.
In 2020, California’s annual wildfires tragically set new records for our state. The intensity of that season was attributed in part to more than a century of poor forest management as well as to climate change.
One day out in my garden, heavy with smoke-filled air, I mourned the whole situation — including the plight of trees. I wrote a haiku verse and arranged pieces of my beautiful crepe myrtle’s shed bark in a memorial collage.
On other travels, we joined expeditions to see whales and orcas in the Pacific Ocean. Sadly, last week, four dead gray whales washed ashore on San Francisco Bay Area beaches. Experts said one was struck by a ship and were trying to determine how the other three died.
“It’s alarming to respond to four dead gray whales in just over a week because it really puts into perspective the current challenges faced by this species,” said Pádraig Duignan, director of pathology at The Marine Mammal Center.
How does changing the world happen? The beloved poet Mary Oliver made poignant observations about our natural world in solitude. Walking with a notebook in the woods, she observed the wonder of her sanctuary. She even hid pencils in trees to always be prepared to create. In “When I am Among the Trees,” she wrote, “walk slowly and bow often.” And that the trees call out, “stay awhile … you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
Every one has unique talents to bring to Earth Day. We stand on the sacred space where God lives, breathes and acts. Will you, as a caretaker, be God’s hands and feet to plant the seeds of survival?
Phawnda Moore is a Northern California artist and author of Lettering from A to Z. In living a creative life, she shares spiritual insights from traveling, gardening and cooking. Find her on Facebook at Calligraphy & Design by Phawnda and Instagram at phawnda.moore.