Thursday, July 12, 2018

red herring walks

Henri Nouwen asks, in his small tome on discernment, if one can hear the trees clapping their hands, as described in Isaiah 55:12: "The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

Trees don't have any hands, I think, perversely, as I read Nouwen's call to heed the music of nature on one of the many small wooden decks which jut off the back of my grandmother's home. I am surrounded by trees—oaks and pines, mostly. The oak leaves glimmer with the moisture of the already densely humid morning, and the pine trees are most visible by the rusty pine needles which carpet the floor of the woods all around us.

I look into the thick of green in front of me, to see if, by burning my gaze into their trunks, I can hear their music. Tuning my ears, I mostly hear the caw of mockingbirds, the rattle of the nuthatch, and the shrill cries of bluejays. The quieter notes of the sweeter songbirds are drowned out by the dull ocean waves of cicadas crashing on the coast line of the treen line, and the racket of the more bullish, bawdy bird orders who crowd around the plentiful feeders scattered throughout the clearing of the backyard.

I hear the hose watering the fig tree, bearing green fruits and greener leaves. I do not hear the trees.

But I would not go so far as to say that the trees are silent.

As I pace up and down the front driveway, exercising my complaining hip and itching knees, I notice a slight line of silk running across the path in front of me. I follow it to my right and see it end in a dizzyingly intricate net, a bright red spider waiting in the middle of it. I back away, imagining that creature running through my curls.

On my next lap, I almost walk into a caterpillar, dancing midair, suspended, like the circus aerialist from a thread of silk, tossing and twisting her body artfully. I back away again, shuddering. Imagining that creature, again, in my hair.

I should take to wearing a shower cap outdoors.

As I walk up and down the gravel driveway, I notice that the old paths my grandfather carved through the woods are mostly hidden by underbrush and pine needles. A few small plastic flags remain as markers. But I am loathe to follow them, thinking of the creatures who must by now have built many silk paths across them.

The only sound I hear is the traffic speeding by the mailbox at the head of the driveway—I think.

There is a noise in forests that is not cicadas, or animals in the underbrush, or the sounds of songbirds. It's a quiet sound, nearly inaudible, that emanates from the leaves' photosynthesis, and the wind rustling through the branches. It's an almost-silent drone which thrums underneath nature's choir. It's a sound whose vibrations are heard more as they echo against one's heart than one's eardrum. Like faith, the trees' music is present with a certainty that evaporates when you try to hold it, which eludes your grasp when you attempt to lay your finger on it.

But it's there—filling out the simple scene of a summer morning with something a little more full and more real. An invisible basso profondo more abiding than the contingent collection of accidentals thrown together by variable migration patterns. It's the subject of the sentence—the deeper meaning which the words reach towards, but never quite exhaust.

That's the sound of trees clapping—heard only in silence and in faith.

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