It’s Memorial Day, and instead of visiting the graves of my human ancestors, I’m sitting in the Oregon old growth forest at my favorite altar in the world, above a noisily burbling stream. From this spot, if I peek through the hemlocks and cedars just in front of me, there’s a snag, the part of the tree left over after the rest of it has broken off and thundered to the ground. This particular snag, about fifty feet tall at a third its original height, was created about twenty years ago, from the falling of a two-hundred year old giant. They say that when it split in two, an eighty-year old woman in the cabin crushed by the fall was saved because she was looking into her refrigerator, which held up the roof above. This image has given me such peace when I stand mutely gazing at my own leftover larder, but this is only a teeny little part of the inspiration of this stately scene.
The truth is, I’ve passed hundreds of snags while hiking without being transported to this deep peace I feel today. It always takes a while for my mind and my eyes to relax enough to truly let in the subtle majesty of such an old, broken relic. After about a day here in the forest, my vision shifts. I’m reminded of my personal relationship with each tree here at the cabin. I begin to call them my friends. It’s then that I truly see her, the old Grandmother of the hillside, the sacred snag.
Something about her willingness to offer her hollowed-out body to the sun, the birds, and the weather, captures my imagination and inspires me. She stands tall, steady, calm. No longer pumping out new growth, she can rest in her stillness. I think of her observing all the breakneck stimulation of yearly cycles and growth around her while she stands quiet and tall, still deeply rooted and open to the forces. She hold perspective for all the fifty to hundred-year-old “young-uns” in her neighborhood, majestic. No longer able to break with the strain of holding up the load of her own offspring, she bares herself and becomes a silent witness to the yearly cycles of creation and destruction.
On this day of remembrance I’m struck by the gifts of all my personal ancestors and I silently thank each of them for all the ways they surrendered their own bodies and wills to those of us who followed. I find inspiration in their generosity. And I can think of no better way to honor the spirit of life and death than right here at the altar to this ancient and enternal Grandmother.