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My daughters requested a real Christmas tree.
We have a perfectly serviceable fake tree in the basement already decorated with colored lights, jewel toned ornaments and slivered in silver tinsel. It was a gift from a friend moving, eager to travel light. And you know I prefer used goods-even cast offs-over newly manufactured anything.
But a real tree?
Here's my dilemma. What ecosystems were exterminated to plant acres of fir, spruce and pine? What chemical inputs were required to force it to grow into marketable shapes and sizes? How far did it have to travel to get to a store near me? What chemicals were used to keep it fresh? Was it shipped in refrigerated trucks like fruits and vegetables? That all seems ecologically obscene when we've been averaging 50 degree weather this December in Missouri.
Besides, what will I do with it after Christmas? If it's loaded with chemicals, I don't want to compost it or toss it in the backyard for critters to nibble on. I don't want it decomposing near my garden beds and I definitely don't want to landfill organic matter.
Finally though, with Christmas barreling toward me faster than I'm ever prepared for, I caved and went to a nearby nursery. I found one that was just right. Well, just right in a Charlie Brown Christmas way: small and spindly. It shivered in a corner with another scrawny scrap of a fir, reminding me of myself and a friend in grade school, the leftover kids who never got picked for kickball.
I took home the discounted, desiccated tree to decorate. When my girls were little we cut holiday cards into strips to made a chain. This long homemade garland and tiny white lights seemed a perfect adornment for the gangly fir. When finished I sat in the darkened living room enjoying the Charlie Brown vibe, white lights gracing the room with a soft glow.
Then I remembered.
To secure the tree, I bored screws into four sides of it, shredding bark in the process. Trees feel. They have families, form diverse communities, take care of each other. I imagined rows upon rows of firs just like this one in monocrop plantations across the country. Indentured. Trees bred to be consumed. Then discarded.
Even my environmental concerns about a live tree regarded it as an object; without the sentience Indigenous peoples have always revered about plants and animals that science is just now beginning to recognize. I felt disconnect between the land acknowledgement ritual I'd recently created and the Christmas ritual I'd just participated in.
To force a being to grow in unnatural conditions, kill her then artificially keep her 'fresh' to adorn and display her for one's enjoyment to eventually discard her, is a sacrilege akin to pornography. A tree is a living being with a right to her own life.
Not only does the common Christmas refrain, "glory to god in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men," exclude certain people, it discounts nonhumans. Those who fall outside the scope can then be othered: dominated, abused, used, enslaved, marginalized, even killed for the 'glory of the most high.' Progeny of this god-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-have littered history with those they've judged underserving of good will. The legacy continues as good will is still not extended to all beings, let alone all humans. I wonder at the self-serving demarcations, this fabricated scarcity, as though there's a limited supply of Divine good will, as though Sacredness doesn't pulse and shimmer in every speck of Earth.
This startles me. If Divinity is the fabric of everything, why don't our Christmas traditions reflect that? Why participate in rituals that even subjugate other beings? What's more, these traditions-the trees, lights, decorations, overindulgence of food and presents, grand religious services-rely on extractive practices that not only don't foster good will or peace on earth but actually jeopardize others to provide material accouterments for the holiday season. How does that honor the Divine?
Should we not pause such celebrations, such rituals, until we upend systems of oppression? Couldn't our traditions create systems that honor the ever-presence of Sacredness instead? My entire life I've been told it's not that black and white, not an either or. We can celebrate while we pray for those suffering. Maybe adopt a family, volunteer, donate. I'm weary of this equivocation. Inequity, marginalization and suffering flourish, not peace on earth and good will. If the Christ child was supposed to be revolutionary, it's not working. That miracle is simply pimped to uphold oppressive, marginalizing systems while a few get to feel virtuous for their charitable deeds. Is this what the Divine calls us to?
How do we endure Holiness being tortured, trafficked, caged, incarcerated, raped? How do we celebrate the Sacred while species go extinct? While the number of refugees, human and other, increases? While millions, human and other, go without food, water or shelter? Maybe we gaze heavenward to seek Divinity in order to avert our gaze from what we're doing here on Earth to each other and to ourselves.
To be complicit in the desecration of Earth and Her Beings, to deny the Sacred in its wondrous ubiquity means we first learned to deny our own Holiness. 2021 has been a journey toward my inner Divine, which means it's also been a journey toward understanding Divinity as the fabric we are each knit from. Which means we ourselves and all we come in contact with are holy beings, deserving of reverence.
The anemic fir in my living room bolted to a tree stand is propped up on a plastic yellow milk crate hidden under a snowman tree skirt to give her height. It is time for new rituals. Let's develop traditions to honor the Sacred within and in every being so we can authentically manifest good will toward each and every being. Indeed, Divine will. Then we'd have a chance at peace on and with Earth.
I wake up at dark early and do my routine. I set the kettle to boil, get tea ready.
I go outside then step off the porch to stand barefoot next to my first garden bed. I begin my gratitudes: thank you Earth for my life, thank you for my daughters, garden, family, friends; I go on and on, listing. I thank the cardinal flowers for the hummingbirds that love them, the parsley for hosting swallowtails. I inhale and exhale deeply, mindful of my dependence of clean fresh breath for vitality.
I thank the wind for blowing, welcome its caress. If I hear birds, I thank them for their song, a different sort of caress. I thank each season for the gifts unique to it. I thank the dark for what it brings to light. I thank the trees next door, across the street; the ones I have daily relationship with. I thank the stars, moon and clouds, whatever is in view at the moment.
Sometimes it is so cold, I do this fastly. Sometimes I linger. Either way, I breathe and root my feet into my Mother, kiss the ground through my soles, yes through my soul, to feel Her embrace. I ponder the thousands of species that have slithered, crawled, flitted, flown, climbed right here through the centuries. I recognize my eventual return to Her. Gratitude wells up for what She provides; indeed for Her divine and dependable abundance for all beings. She is home.
I wake up at dark early to practice a new routine.
In this daily ritual I acknowledge the trauma of settler colonialism; acknowledge the ingrained paradigm of supremacist capitalism within myself; acknowledge our capacity for direct relationship with Earth, our birthright as humans-from the Latin, humus, meaning Earth.
It is simply not enough to acknowledge the past here on this continent while globally, presently, Indigenous peoples are increasingly threatened by extractive capitalism. As the number of Indigenous defenders murdered rises yearly, as globalization interferes with more Indigenous cultures in their symbiotic relationship with Earth, we must take land acknowledgement into the present and future tenses as well as into our own past tense; we must embody it.
We too, once upon a time, were indigenous to a land, a culture, a people that understood ourselves as of the land which sustained us. I want to remember what was hardwired into my being centuries ago. When I stand barefoot in the midwest, I imagine a blood ancestor barefoot in the mideast also paying homage to our divine Mother; I imagine other ancestors who may have stood on this very spot to pay homage, a chorus across time, geography, and lineage. A chorus that undoes the distance-and delusions-of supremacy, colonialism and capitalism. The delusions that keep us from right relationship with Earth.
A line from ee cummings comes to mind, "here is the deepest secret nobody knows..."
And yet we do know. The land upon which I live doesn't belong to me. Just as the squirrels nesting in the honey locust next door don't own the tree. That is a capitalist approach to Earth. By acknowledging, instead, we belong to Her, we recognize the covenantal relationship at the heart of belonging. To make acknowledgement be about ownership is sacrilege, like pinning a swallowtail to a board. Let us emancipate acknowledgement from the performative gesture of colonizers.
I wake up at dark early to embody a new routine.
When I finish my gratitudes, I become quiet; offering silence, listening, as hospitality, as space for the deepest secrets, my own Indigenous relationship with Earth, to sing within my blood. Yes we do know. Those sacred routines are dormant within us, waiting to be acknowledged.
made husks of
what once was
the sky charcoal streaked
I work fast
against the nearing dusk
releasing wilted plants
withered fruit, now tombs
for cutworm, roll away
tired soil soon tucked under
sheets of russet leaves
my beds readied
cheek on rake
wood worn smooth
my own gestation
to swaddle me
stretch womb wide
a season of my own
making from what once
was cells inchoate coalesce
in increments of self
to ripen into
I've moved! Please visit me at https://www.marysilwance.com /