Isolation Contemplation

With much more time being spent at home these days, I’ve had more time than usual for actually sitting at my desk and have been reading and writing a bit more often, and taking the opportunity to consider more carefully the events in the world-at-large, as well as those closer to home. The photo above was taken of a tree branch right outside the window in my upstairs office, and got me to thinking about an upcoming event in my life that has been the source of some anxiety, and writing about it seemed like a good idea in order to help me prepare for it.

This week I started writing in a brand new writer’s journal presented to me as a gift over the holidays last year. On the cover of the book itself is an ancient map of the world, and as I began to record my thoughts on the first pages, I began to wonder about the origin of the map and launched an investigation to see if I could locate it. It took a fair amount of searching on the internet, but I was able to find it and it is a visually rich and intellectually appealing image, which harkens back to an age of exploration and discovery, no longer possible on the same scale except perhaps in the depths of the oceans, or out into the vastness of space.

Very rare double hemisphere map of the World, engraved by Henri Le Roy in Paris and published by Michael Van Lochum. The map is based on Hondius’ World map of 1617. The map was the first to show Le Maire’s Straits and the islands in the Pacific discovered by Le Maire and his explorations in New Guines.

When it was published in 1636, we were only just beginning to understand and fully appreciate the enormity of our planet, and much of what appears on the map is only suggestive of the actual dimensions and shapes of the land masses so familiar to us now, since we have the perspective of viewing the Earth from space.

Even though the world has been constantly changing since the beginning of time, in ancient times, they believed that most of what we could observe and know was fixed and immutable, and that the Earth was the center of the Universe. Since life was profoundly more difficult to endure and life expectancy much shorter typically, surviving past what we now call “midlife” was rare, and with the world nearly always in a state of war or at the mercy of conquering armies, there wasn’t much an average person could do to affect the outcome of events.

It has taken tens of thousands of years for humans to make sufficient progress in order to make the necessary changes that have brought us to modern life in our century. Yes, times like those we are experiencing currently may cause some to wonder aloud if we’ve actually made much progress at all, but with even a brief investigation of ancient history, we can see that life in ancient times was often “brutish and short,” and the concerns which we all feel so worried about today are, by just about any standard, far less worrisome by comparison.

Still, our lives these days do contain urgent matters with varying degrees of difficulty, given whatever kind of circumstances and limitations we encounter, and when we are pressed to make certain choices these days, it isn’t always clear which one is most or least advantageous. Due to a number of different circumstances where I live, I’ve had to make a choice to cut down the large tree out in front of my house where I have lived for nearly thirty years. She’s a grand old lady, this one, and after months of wrangling with the authorities and pondering the fate of the tree, it became clear that it has to be done.

Without getting too deep into the whys and the wherefores, the decision to take it down brought me to consider several other similar relationships with other trees, specifically, the even grander and older tree in my backyard, and one that recently came to my attention in the news. Current events have a lot of us thinking more about what is important to us generally, and while contemplating a story about a tree might not seem to fit logically into the narrative of what’s taking place now in the world, it got me to thinking about what meaning might be found in these events, and it felt right to explore it in the context of our connection to the natural world.

The story of the death of a very famous tree in California caught my eye recently and the response of people familiar with the iconic “Witness Tree,” in Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, California touched me deeply, especially in view of my own impending loss of a familiar arboreal friend out front. The story goes that the “Witness Tree,” was probably more than 100 years old, and had been the site of numerous events for locals during that time, but also served as a location for a number of Hollywood films and television shows, including “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” and HBO’s “Westworld.” In 2018, the now infamous “Woolsey Fire,” destroyed the entire set surrounding the tree, and so badly burned the iconic symbol that it wasn’t able to come back to life. One particular couple, who had their wedding underneath its canopy, posted a couple of photos typical of the many stories surrounding the tree.


My own reflections of my thirty-year relationship with the enormously appealing Silent Friend growing still in my backyard, give me a much greater appreciation of how these living arboreal beings could have so much importance to generations of people who interacted with them for decades. Contemplating the loss of any tree that has a familiar place in the events of our lives over a lifetime or more gives us a glimpse of what matters to us in other ways as well.

During this global crisis, with millions of individuals at risk from the virus circulating through the entire population of the Earth, it seems our best defense against it is to hunker down in our own homes, and remain isolated from everyone we know, at least physically, providing us not only with a challenging endurance run of being out of circulation, but also providing an extended period of time to reflect on the importance of all our relationships, including those we acquired right in our own backyard.

There are many thoughts bubbling up from within me as I write these days that beg for expression, and since there is ample time to attend to the need to release them, I have taken to recording them by hand in the beautiful journal that’s been sitting on my desk since the holidays, and reminiscing with my “silent friend,” out in the backyard, contemplating the impending loss of the tree out front, and how the unfortunate need for isolation from the rest of the world-at-large has provided this time for us all.

7 thoughts on “Isolation Contemplation

    1. Me too…it’s been with US for so many years, but our house was part of a development built during the post-war real estate boom in 1947, so it seems likely that it has been around for at least 70 years or so. We all recognize that the passage of time brings both beginnings and endings for all things, and just as well understood is the nature of all living things, which is to be born and to eventually pass away. Our awareness of these aspects of life help us to expect that nature to become manifest at some point for all life forms, but we also recognize the value of every living organism on Earth, and rightly pause to honor the contributions made by our tree out front to our well being. The shade it provided on the many sunny days over the years, the contributions it made to the richness of the verdure in the fullness of so many summers, and the beauty it displayed unfailingly every autumn season, must now give way to the natural process of life, and I am grateful to have shared those wonderful memories with such a grand lady.

      Part of the process will actually represent a continued benefit provided by the tree, as we chop up the tree into many thick branches and logs which will provide warmth in the future as we burn them in our woodstove!

      1. This is such a beautiful way to reflect upon your beloved tree. Trees have always given me such pleasure and the thought of losing such a friend would be a process to work through……….Bless you John.

  1. I have unconditional love for our dog. I know through the inevitable circle of life and death that the reaper will take him from me before my time comes.

    I see no difference with inanimate objects either (although trees are not lifeless). I’ve not had the pleasure but I can imagine that it too has been there through thick and thin, been loved, played with and provided companionship for many a year, much like a family pet.

    Our pooch is an English springer spaniel and he is entering his twilight years now and we have a carving of him sitting next to the wood burner (not too close of course), and after he is gone he will still be with us (albeit in wooden form).

    Could there be an opportunity for you to carve sculpt a small replica of the tree(s) from the good wood itself to keep a part of it with you?

    1. This is an excellent suggestion and while my carving/sculpting talents are probably not up to performing such a task personally, I might be able to solicit a genuine artist/sculptor/carver for the job, given the opportunity. I suppose I could at least attempt it in the interim. My own thought was to put together a collage of images I have taken over the years which included the tree, or perhaps, a pen and ink drawing or watercolor portrait, for which I have some related experiences. In any event, the general idea is worth investigating and whatever path I manage, I will share as possible in the future.

      It’s interesting to contemplate the precise nature of any living entity, from the tiniest ameba to the largest sea creature; from the least popular insect or worm to the most appealing bird or feathered creature; from the most remote life forms in exotic locations to the most familiar pets close to home; from the tiniest form of bacteria or mold to the most complex plants and giant Redwood trees. Everything that is alive has a nature specific to that life form, and as humans, we can only really speak with reasonable certainty about our own nature, and even in that subject area there is much speculation and diversity of opinion as to what it is like to be us. I have concluded that we must be open the idea that other life forms, particularly those with which we have long associations and intimate experience in one way or another, have a value simply because they are alive at all, and we should assume, on some level, that we share at least a degree of commonality with everything that lives, and as a result, should respect and honor the relationship, regardless of our inability to relate in the same way as we do with our fellow humans.

      It’s enormously difficult for humans to avoid responding adversely to other life forms that are harmful to us in clear ways like killer bees, scorpions, venomous spiders and snakes, (not to mention dangerous carnivores) and who among us hasn’t been wary of harmful swarms of insects, fleas, termites or ants at some point which require us to take drastic actions to rid ourselves of them or to call an exterminator? Ignoring an infestation of termites in our home is obviously not something we can ignore, and unfortunately, removing them physically or asking them to relocate wouldn’t be an effective strategy either. It’s part of their nature to act the way they do, but such relationships are, by nature, adversarial. Last year, an infestation of ants took up residence inside an electrical socket in our kitchen, and was so dense that they shorted out the electrical wires with a large flash and electrical popping noise as I stood astonished at the sight while making coffee that morning. To say that my relationship with the ants suffered a severe blow that morning is quite an understatement! Had I not been witness to the event it might have burned the house down.

      My relationship with the plants and grass and trees in my own yard has been one of mutual benefit and reluctant trimming, in spite of the clear advantage that trimming represents to the long-term health of these living entities. Who can say on what level there might be some form of awareness in them that we cannot imagine or appreciate since we are NOT them? It all comes down to what we INTEND and ASPIRE TO in any relationship, and if we are open to the realm of possibility, in some manner, our interactions have value and purpose, and the way we feel about each life form has to do with both human nature and the nature of the other.

  2. Hmm, I agree with you as to the usefulness of this un-busy time, dreadful as it is for those who catch the virus. The loss of that tree must hit hard, be that it may be part of the endless cycle. I suppose one answer is renewal and replanting. The pleasure of tending one’s garden. I wonder if, like me, you are finding life much slower at the moment? I’m not sure that I am feeling too much tendency to write at the moment but I certainly seem to be more comfortable with just being. For the moment at least. I am also amazed at what life is like with all the busyness having evaporated. Quiet skies, empty streets, birdsong and sun. Peace and quiet. Would that life could always be this way although I have no doubt those more active and dynamic members of society would die of boredom.

    1. There clearly has been a change of pace that has taken hold at the moment, and while I can appreciate the tendency to describe it as slower, it actually seems more accurate to describe it as standing still or being suspended. Nothing is moving at the moment. Naturally, the days begin and end with sunrise and sunset as usual, and the clocks display the hours as before, but by most every other measure, one day seems to blend into the next seamlessly, and I find now, upon waking, that I am initially unsure of what day it is exactly, and since I have been isolated for weeks now in virtually the very same circumstances each day, the accustomed feeling of the days passing has been almost completely lost in most normal aspects. It is a bit strange to be experiencing such a complete disconnect from most every indication of the normal passage of time, and while I am currently well and managing far better than many others across the globe, I have resolved to embrace this circumstance without prejudice or judgement so far, and it has been an extraordinarily productive time in important ways, and I can report a significant increase in the level of writing and reading and contemplation, as well as gaining an even greater appreciation of the “quiet skies, empty streets, birdsong and sun,” in addition to the simple pleasures of sipping my morning coffee out on the back porch, as the world around me slowly transforms with all of the expected seasonal changes. The tulips have finally begun to bloom in the flower beds out front, and it will soon be required to trim the grass, which I generally do not look forward to as much as the rest of the developing changes.

      Anticipating the loss of the tree has been hard, but your suggestion to “renew and replant” is a wonderful one that I actually had not considered until you mentioned it. As has several times now been the case, your thoughtful responses to my postings have resulted in consideration of alternative pathways of thought for me, and my most recent posting entitled, “Reading Quietly At Home,” owes a degree of debt to your timely contributions of late, and they are most welcomed.

      Rather than have life be this way all the time, it seems more advantageous to me that it would simply be possible much more often than before, and that each of us might be able to choose such a life, should it be the sort that we would find preferable. I also may take up your other suggestion to make a greater effort to tend to a garden, instead of just planting or tending to the little patches of flowers around the house. Who knows, there might be some changes that stick after all this isolation. I remain hopeful, and also grateful for your attention to my writing.

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