Saturday, May 28, 2011

We Have Lost Our Way

Weeping Willow beside an Ocean State Job Lot store On the other side of the fence is a forgotten Eden

I've been coming to this discount store for years and I've never given much thought to the weeping willow tree that grows just beyond the parking lot fence. But I've always noticed it and how out of place it looks ― in every season.

Tonight, something seemed different. Perhaps it was the full splendor of the tree in all of its green glory that underscored the incongruity of it growing there. Or, perhaps I am different. And the same. I've always seen what so many others miss. I decided to take some photos of the willow before I went in to shop.

As I walked out of the store I had a wider view of the tree and the chain link fence that separates it from the parking lot. The fence is completely covered with a thick mat of green vines. For the first time, I felt the need to walk over to the fence and peer in. There, hidden from the world it seemed, lay a forgotten paradise. I saw and heard a fast flowing tributary of the Neponset River running through a green arch so lush with trees that it is nearly dark inside. The "other" world fell away and I became part of this hidden one, alive with songbirds of every kind that seemed to know as little of me as I had known of them.

After a few minutes, I felt a great sadness well up. Who had allowed this sprawling strip mall to be built right up to the very edge of this precious place? Still, the willow had grown regal there on the banks of the rushing river. It was a sign of something more that I had missed for far too long. I realized that this tree has been calling to me for a long time, but I wasn't ready to listen. Tonight, I listened to the willow and I wept.

I thought about the exhaust fumes from the relentless cycles of shipping and receiving and shoppers coming and going seven days a week. I knew that once, this hidden jewel had been part of a vast tract of marsh and meadow land, impossible to fence off. Now the willow, growing on the edge of what is still intact, appears to be the problem when in fact, it is the solution. Driving home along Route 1 at dusk I spied two does grazing in the green grassy perimeter along Plainfield Brook, which runs near the highway. Once this wetland stretched for miles and miles. Now those miles have a name that is a metaphor for the oil consumption that is changing our planet forever: The Automile.

In my lifetime it seems to me that the natural world is fast becoming the ultimate outsider ― marginalized and misunderstood though still undiscovered by many. As humanity presses in and pushes nature aside, it grieves me to realize how much we have lost our way.

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