“Stand Erect in Your Sorrow”
—Henri Nouwen

I live at its roots, a thick-trunked maple I see
out my basement window, whose branches arc

like a canopy over me while I work at my desk.
Today I watched maple key after maple key

whirl by, scissoring the air, thrown in tight,
dizzying revolutions like a figure skater mid-

triple axel. Then the ochre blades rest, upright
among the grass’ green.

I noticed late this afternoon that the maple crown’s
tinged crimson. Does this tree have agency?

Laugh if you want. Of course this four-story tree
in its century of life never told the sun to curtail

day. It never summoned the winnowing
wind nor the dispersed ocean of rains.

Nor did it ask to be disrobed year after year.
But I swear when I saw that crimson patch

high against the azure autumn sky
and those keys twirling, trilling

in a gust of wind, the maple’s still-leafy
branches gently, audibly swaying,

it all seemed one seamless motion,
and I thought it all the tree’s exhalation.

I love fall. I think I’ve always loved that there’s a bittersweetness to it, a heightened consciousness of endings that makes every ray of sun and every leaf feel precious. And the sky! When the sun is shining, the long angles of light make the sky a particular, breathtaking shade of sapphire.

This fall the bittersweetness is even more punctuated. Though the date is uncertain, my time here in BC is likely running out (for mundane visa reasons). And, as we are all keenly aware, the change in weather imposes limits on our ability to see people. This year the bitter may outweigh the sweet.

Except that this autumn has stopped me in my tracks, made me pay attention to the same trees I see on my routine walks or even just outside my window. I am fortunate to live in a neighbourhood that is quite literally designed around trees. There are no driveways. That prime real estate goes instead to allowing the horse chestnuts and maples to flourish along its avenues. Another lovely quirk of the neighborhood are the dates stamped into the sidewalk’s concrete, indicating when that particular stretch of sidewalk was poured—1928, 1934, 1963…

I’m no arborist, but between the sidewalk date stamps and the thickness of the maple outside the 1930 house where I live, it’s reasonable to imagine it’s seen nearly a century of life.

The epigraph is taken from The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, a journal he kept for himself during an intense period of sorrow and desolation. The journals are imperatives to himself, directives to hold onto in the darkness. He published these journal entries many years later at the encouragement of friends.

Anthropomorphizing is a danger of the Romantically inclined. Still, creation might have things to say to us, not in a moralistic, didactic way but by virtue of its own creaturely life. This instinct to draw meaning from the natural world may not be only anthropocentric. It may also be an intuition of our deep interconnectedness.

Dendritic means “having a branched form resembling a tree.” Our neurons are dendritic as are antigen-presenting cells in mammals’ immune system.

The human story is inseparable from trees: Garden of Eden, Garden of Gethsemane, the cursed tree and its precious, battered, “strange fruit,” and the Tree of Life whose leaves “are for the healing of the nations” in the New Jerusalem. If this is the case at the cosmic level, then maybe it is no surprise that it is also true at the cellular level. Perhaps this connections bears out more concretely than even the most anthropomorphizing of Romantic poets could guess.

by Jolene Nolte, friend of A Rocha and freelance writer residing in Vancouver







Photo by Valiphotos from Pexels