Millennial Groves

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.
— Wendell Berry

Those of us who deeply love the Natural World are aware that the beauty we cherish is made of countless other lives, human and non, fed by unseen microbes and mysteries. Because I am continuously in a state of awe, and because, like many of us, I tend to filter life events through the heart, the decimation of the Natural World at the hands of humans means that, for me, heartbreak is never far away. Precisely because the Earth is no longer primary in human conversation, I consider the judgment of humans to be flawed.

When the burgeoning chaos of these times tests the limits of my imagination to conjure a viable alternative, I remember the words of a therapist friend who says, “The symptoms are proportional to the wound.” In other words, if we see the extreme brutalization of Nature (and, by extension, the violence done to women, Indigenous peoples, queer people, and people of color) as a symptom, then what is the nature of the wound? In this context, it is useful to consider the Taoists principle of mutual arising (another bow of appreciation to the friend mentioned above). Simply put, this is the understanding that the problem and the solution, like the coming and going of an influence in the great sweep of history, happen in tandem. Mutual arising is a much more elegant and sophisticated iteration of what I’ve been calling the Wisdom of the Breakdown, a useful reminder to seek clues to repair in the configuration of the dilemma, much like, in Nature, antidote plants grow next to poisonous ones. The problem with this thinking is its tinge of bifurcation – a quality of mirroring that pings energy between the polarities of perceived problem and perceived solution. Mutual Arising, on the other hand, recognizes that polarities are necessary for the smooth functioning of Life’s processes. They keep energy moving along and their pairing is part of a fundamental principle that is cooperating with the Life force by embodying its relational magnetism.

How does this nuance change the conversation around symptom and wound? How does this shift our perception of the political extremes playing out globally? In mutual arising, seeming opposites move in unison, in the same direction: toward the proper unfolding of things in long-term energetic balance. Even when radical course-correction is required, it is, above all, designed to restore balance in accord with the Way. Here, the African concept of Ubuntu - “I am because you are”, also applies. Pragmatically, this means that the next time I have a conversation with someone whose political views are diametrically opposed to mine, I would do well to look beyond both of our knee-jerk emotional responses and remember that this person is, literally, necessary to my survival and I to theirs. We are co-arising with each other to meet these times.

In this era of ecocide, despair necessarily ensues (along with its ancillary expressions in the form of denial, workaholism, aggression and greed). But destruction, brutality and despair are still all symptoms. The wound is disconnection. Its mutually arising principle, then, is a rooted connection to deep time that draws nourishment from the past to sustain a long and verdant future.

The Natural (and human) worlds are the fruit of intricate creation over a vast timespan that extends at least as far into the future as into the past. Reconnection requires that we relocate ourselves on a continuum of Deep Time, such that any actions we take now become a bridge that links us to the deep past in order to carry us to the deep future. One such means of bridging is to literally plant trees that, like the sequoias of Wendell Berry’s quote are designed to outlive us as far into the future as possible.

In general, some of the longest-lived trees are conifers (Sequoias 1,200 years, Redwoods 2,200, Douglas Fir and Bristlecone Pines, up to 3,500). Cedars and Cypress are ancient, too, at 2,500 years and 4,000 respectively. Gingkos live to be 2,500 years old, Olives 3,000. Chestnuts 4,000. Baobabs 5,000.

Most ancient cultures have stories of the World Tree, the Axis Mundi that connects the underworld and the heavens. Hexagram 29 of the I Ching (Karcher version) is called Repeating Pit/Ghost River. The interpretation explains Pit as “the sacrificial pit at the Earth Altar and the underworld waters that flow through it, the Ghost River that connects the Sun Tree and the Moon Tree, the axis of the world, and opens the gate of destinies through which souls enter.”

In addition to the I Ching, the ancient Chinese have given us acupuncture as well as many philosophical, martial and energetic arts. Their wisdom has proven deep and reliable. What, then, if the understanding is an accurate one – literal rather than metaphorical, that the souls of the dead travel on the underground Ghost River, and that ancient, deep-rooted trees are sacred conduits that connect the future to the past by linking the realms of the living and the dead?

What a beautiful, life-giving gesture it would be, then, to plant a Millennial Grove, or several of them: sacred, living places for hope, connection, time and destiny to take root, and a place to honor the ancestors. Of course, intact forests are the original Millennial Groves, so forest restoration and protection remain at the top of our to-do list. And, in a time of ecological collapse, as a radical act of defiant connection to a deep future, Millennial Groves are also a way of creating alliances between humans, trees and time – an alliance as much for ourselves as for the groves themselves and the benefits they confer.

Imagine seeing images of Earth from space some years hence, with our now-mature Millennial Groves dotting the surface of the landmass, surrounded by plastic-free oceans. Towering Redwoods. Gingko leaves glowing yellow in fall. And Baobabs, true to their nickname of ‘the upside-down tree’ with their outlandish branches that look like gnarled roots. Those groves would be our love-letters to the future in a time of destruction, letters that can be read again and again centuries from now.

I have some space in my garden - sufficient room for a Millennial Grove that I will plant before the rains. Each tree will be welcomed with blessings and prayers. Would you care to join me and plant a Millennial Grove of your own?