By Richard Wagamese, originally published in Windspeaker in 1989.
And the trees have their teachings. Against the sky this morning they are still.
In this pale early sun, they seem to vibrate with some incredible inner urgency. The leaves have gone. This is the Freeze Up Moon. As the winter season approaches, the trees seem to tell me that it’s a time for silences. This is the season of contemplation.
The Looks Within Peace:
Now is the time for reflection on the seasons of my life that have already passed. A time to examine the lessons and prepare to move on into the next season of growth.
The trees are strong. Be like the trees, the Old One said.
Back then I had no idea of what this meant and, even if I had, I wasn't at a point in my life then to appreciate the teaching. I had to travel through considerable hardship before I got to the point of being teachable; before I got to the point of being able to look at the trees with eyes of wonder.
It starts with the roots.
When a tree first starts to grow, the most important thing is the roots. The tiny saplings we see every springtime depend entirely on their roots.
The roots dig themselves deep into the heart of Mother Earth. They seek her warmth and nourishment. They are humble and come to her with quietness. Because of their humility, Mother Earth allows them to spread within her and become stronger.
Soon the first green shoot reaches toward the sky.
Father sky is the giver of life. Working together with Mother Earth, all things are nourished and encouraged to grow. The tiny shoot presents itself to the sky with humility. It seeks his warmth and wisdom. The sky looks down kindly on the little shoot and allows it to grow and open itself more.
The growing continues.
Now the roots continue their process of seeking strength from Mother Earth. As they do, they begin to pass this on to the tiny sapling. The sapling, in turn, use this nourishment to reach higher and higher towards Father Sky. More and more leaves and branches begin to emerge. The sapling grows stronger.
When trouble comes in the way of strong winds, the tiny sapling depends upon its roots. Because the roots are tucked deeply inside Mother Earth, the sapling is safe. When the strong winds blow, the roots hold it firmly and it continues its growth.
Soon enough, the sapling is a small tree.
The process of co-operation between the roots and the leaves and branches continues day after day. Higher and higher, the small tree grows up into the face of Father Sky.
There comes a time when the tree has grown through many seasons, when the process of growth is reversed. The roots can do no more for the growth of the tree. Now it is the leaves and branches which must provide the growth.
And they do. Each day, they open themselves humbly to Father Sky and seek his nourishment and wisdom. This they pass down along their branches and the trunk of the tree itself, back down into the arms of Mother Earth and finally into the roots.
In this way, the tree continues.
When strong winds blow the tree now has the benefit of strong roots deep within Mother Earth and a firm trunk and branches which are humble enough to bend before the harsh hands of the wind.
As its reward, the tree is allowed one season of rest.
In this season, the tree contemplates its growth. It considers the helping hands of Mother Earth and Father Sky. It considers its humility and prepares itself for another season of growth and change, which always follows this time of looking inward.
And the trees have their teachings.
As Indigenous people we are like the trees. Our roots are the roots of our individual cultures and traditions. As young children growing up, we are dependent on our roots to allow us to grow. From our Elders we learn strength and are given direction.
We learn pride and humility and we learn our identity.
As we grow and open ourselves up to the world, we are like the young trees. Often strong winds will blow and our strength and humility is tested. Our roots hold us firmly and we continue.
As adults we are full-grown trees. Now is the time when we give back, like the trees who pass on their life giving to the roots of our cultures. In this way, the trees of our Indigenous nations will continue.
Be like the trees, the Old One said.
Back then I didn't take the time to even consider that this might be of great use in my life. Back then it seemed there were more important things to be done. Human beings and trees were so different in their ways that it didn't seem they had anything to teach me.
Back then I had no roots.
This is the Freeze Up Moon. The time of contemplation. Be then like the trees and may the Great Spirit breathe kindly upon your branches.