The Forest Abides

I was driving down Van Ness Avenue today when the forest caught my eye. It was only some red, red flowers growing in the median. They drew me in as I waited at a light, and then I saw the honeybee drinking from the tall blue iris above them. Only a moment, then the light changed and I was driving once more, in the flow of traffic. But the flow of the forest stayed with me as well. Even in the heart of the city, the forest abides.

How long has San Francisco been here? How long has Van Ness Avenue carried the flow of traffic? Less than a century. The flowers have been here much, much longer. The sand dunes, the grass, the sheltered cove that was once Yerba Buena.

To me, it is forever. I was born in this city, grew up roaming whatever park was nearest my house. I used to walk through Golden Gate Park at midnight, laughing when people told me how dangerous it was. I knew the forest would never harm me. I knew I knew it much better than the hypothetical men who were supposedly waiting there to grab me. Let them try to catch me, here in my home. I have disappeared behind trees and watched people wonder where I had gone. I have climbed high above 36th Avenue to play my tinwhistle from a high branch and watched people look for the source of the music. Few have ever spotted me.

Last weekend I was in a much wilder, larger forest. There were bees there too. I watched them, watched the scarlet dragonflies fly in spirals above the ponds there. The last Gorsedd had scarlet dragonflies too. I was struck by them then, and last weekend their presence brought those two magical times together. As I was then, so I was again last weekend. I took off my shoes when I arrived and put them on only when there was no other choice, and when it was time to pack up. I put my feet on the living earth and was whole. In the city I put my shoes between me and the unforgiving stone we cover the earth with and wonder why it must be so.

The urban forest is all around us. We share our city with all manner of creatures. The trees are here, they were here before we came and will be here long after we are gone. Our forever is long to us, but how short it is in relation to their long lives. We have cut many, but looking out of the window of the BART train, looking across the bay at the golden hills of Marin County, there is not a hillside or a street that is treeless. Grass grows through the cracks in every sidewalk. Even the ridge of Angel Island, where the eucalypti were cut down is not bare. The trees are here, the forest is here and always will be. Whether or not we will be here as well is an open question, and it is up to us.

If we choose to live with the trees, to share this beautiful land with them, then we will remain. If not, if we continue to separate ourselves from the other beings that make up the web of life, we will surely die. We breathe out what the trees breathe in. We breathe in what the trees breathe out. It has ever been so, and will ever be so. When there are not enough trees to give us breath, we will be no more. The earth will manifest life no matter what we choose.

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