Weary from hiking in relentless heat, this day another scorching pearl in a string of white hot coals, I collapse beneath a stately Sycamore. Surrendering into the embrace of Earth, I give thanks for my arboreal shield, each leafy arm deflecting a fiery blast from our cosmic fireball. One great branch arcs over the length of my supine body, as if a noble knight with sword drawn, shielding damsel me, from an invading marauder. I blow a kiss to honor my cavalier, my own heated breath nearly scorching my fingers.

As I admire my champion, my smile fades when I spot the wounds. The trunk of my benefactor bears testaments of love, faith, hate and despair, each gashed into bark like toddler-drawn tattoos. Some howl of passion, while others throb with anger and self-loathing. Some are so deeply gouged that I physically recoil to witness them. I find myself caressing my own bare skin as if to soothe the trauma. I wonder now what torrid acts of lovemaking, rage or despair have occurred right where I sit. I draw my picnic blanket around me as graphic images flash through my mind.

Anger rushes through me now as I berate those who’ve harmed this noble native. Sycamores are good neighbors, offering shade for weary sojourners like me, bountiful food and shelter for nesting red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers and hummingbirds, and nourishment for the larva of western tiger swallowtail butterfly. A single, full-grown California Sycamore may absorb some 50 pounds of CO2 and produce enough oxygen for two people to breathe every year. Hmph. Why must this benevolent Sycamore bear the scars of someone else’s living?

Am I here to confess my own sins?

As I fume, an inner voice nudges me to consider my own torrent of emotions. Anger, frustration and criticism have been my constant companions of late. I suddenly feel set up. Was I drawn to plop in this particular place, this confessional of sorts? I imagine the murmurs of people who came before me, revealing their darkest secrets before this wizened agent of absolution. Am I here to confess my own sins?

As I wrestle with my demons, I wonder how Sycamore feels about all of this? I scan the tree, from earth to sky, for any sign of protest or contempt for thoughtless engravers. I find none. On this warm, windless day, this tree rests as still as a sheer granite cliff. I admire the devotion to calm. Surrender.

Then, inner cynic scoffs: what could a tree do about it anyway? Trees are stuck where they are planted, and that’s where they stay until they die, barring any human interventions.

And that’s when it all snaps into place.

This Sycamore is upholding its agreement with the Divine. Each seed, from the moment it lands in fertile soil, accepts its end of the bargain. “I’ll stand tall where I’m planted and receive what comes: sunshine and rain from the sky. Nutrition from Earth. I’ll give, offering shelter, shade and food. I’ll communicate and collaborate with other trees in my tribe. I’ll rely on critters to scatter the seeds of my own progeny. I am Sycamore. Come what may. The rest is up to the Divine.”

Living this Life leaves its mark on us all.

I pause to think of my own life, not so unlike Sycamore’s after all. Though I possess greater mobility, I stand where I have been planted, in a space and time. In a community. In a family. I receive rain and sunshine from the sky, nutrition from Earth. I communicate and collaborate with others in my tribe. I rely on others to support my own survival. I’m human. Come what may. I surrender the rest unto the Divine.”

Turning back to the gouged trunk before me, I think of my own scars. Over my nearly six decades, countless loved ones and neighbors and coworkers and strangers have left their mark on me.

Living this Life leaves its mark on us all. Some visible, many are not, each its own badge of having lived. This tree and I have both been scarred for life.

We’re scarred for Life.

Come what may.

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  © Cheryl Leutjen