A particular ash tree has recently shared its magic with me, an adult cohort, a merry band of children, an angry mother who has softened and an interesting community centered around the park, home to this magnificent ash. She has witnessed, and perhaps tended, an unfolding transformation.
I first met her last spring as I joyfully romped through seven Sundays of assisting another artist with an arts program in the very urban Washington Park, smack in the middle of Cincinnati's Over The Rhine and the front porch of Music Hall.
She was planted there, silently observing our triangle of green defined by concrete walkways long before we ever showed up. Just as she accepted the grand park make-over and OTR's transition from slum to chic locale, she gracefully allowed us to play and create beneath her spreading branches, fully embracing us.
At first, we saw her only for her shading glory on some sweltering afternoons. She was an almost unnoticed comfort. Then we enlisted her as gallery space, decorating her with rope and clothespins as kids' special works waved under her, drying. I was first aware of her magic the week we employed glue and glitter and much of it spilled off the vertical papers and down the tree trunk, to her chunky roots. She glistened, consenting to our improvisational use of her. I think I almost detected a smile.
That week the entire tenor of our project changed. We had become part of her landscape. Seven weeks sailed by and I never said good-bye or even thank-you to her.
I am certain she continued to quietly nurture whatever transpired under her space over the summer. She carries the quality of acceptance.
We returned in the fall, clueless to the turmoil brewing. We neglected to dress her the first week, preoccupied with beginning again. She soldiered on forgotten, but not forgetting. Tensions erupted the second week, even though we remembered her, the rope and clothespins. The protective magic, I noticed, had returned. So had the large brood of siblings and cousins of all ages under the care of two teens, who clamored for their own space and time. Bedlam ensued as toddlers found their way into all of the supplies while their guards went off duty to find their own space to create. Paint was flying and spread all over hands and clothes. Our art making had spun out of control, unaided by the mother of some of the young artists taking issue with park rules requiring an adult present.
The intimidating African-American woman with the quick tongue glared in our direction. I knew whatever she was saying wasn't good. Racism, she cried to the park staff. I wasn't angry, just sad that it could appear that way: two white suburban women working with her children, nieces and nephews. She yanked one of the youngest and most fully engaged away in her fury. "Please don't, he's doing great," I called, but knew it was pointless. Somehow "Thank you for letting us have them today," reeled off my lips. That wasn't me speaking.
My partner was near heartbroken. She's used to pre-schoolers, not teens with 'tudes. My work with Artsy Fartsy Saturdays and rearing my own teenagers had taught me not to take any of it seriously. It was those smart and curious toddlers with no limits that crawled under my skin. Sarah handles them so very well. I think God knew what she was doing when she paired us.
So did the tree.
We re-grouped and discerned that the older girls needed their own space under the spreading ash. Sarah brought poster board and a sheet the next week and we began to acquire a groove, some rules and respect.
I thought I would slip on the acorns and onto my tushie under that tree when I heard Mike say please and thank-you repeatedly last week. He WAS learning and also gained the confidence to declare himself an artist. "Don't look," he'll warn. "I'm an artist and not done." He tricked me once, asking me to look, then frowning and yelling "BUT not yet." It became a wonderful game.
Khaliss was whipping though the paper bags, shredding everything in sight with scissors. In order to distract him and save the bags, I offered to make him a pirate patch like the one the skull was wearing on his T-shirt. He cackled, let me position it and ran off to scare cousins and siblings with his pirate talk.
His older sister, not yet a teen and banned by her cousins from the cardboard, was struggling all afternoon. Sarah gently pulled her aside and had a talk. I don't know what words were spoken, but could hear true compassion and kindness. The tree was happy and so was the Kaleia.
I am now on conversational terms with the once-angry mother. The past few weeks, I ask Kim how her week was and thank her for the gift of her children. "You're welcome," she says. And the tree beams.
Sunday, Sarah was unusually late with a good reason and our creative gang had begun assembling. I can't tell you how many helpers we were blessed with this week. Kids that had once fought for paint, were now stringing the tree with rope and pins, making art examples, taking a break from "work," singing, returning to help pack up and wheel the loaded cart to the car.
And we all couldn't quite part, knowing we have only one more week together. The rounds of hugs were endless. "Can I come see you this week?" V'Era sweetly asked. Oh, how I wished I lived closer to the tree and her neighbors.
• What do trees symbolize for me?
• How does Spirit work in and through nature?
• When have I witnessed nature transform humans?
• What message do the trees have for me?
• How have I learned to listen?
in her full glory
we trampled by
and over her
until we needed
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