Sunrise meadow

This morning it was too dark and rainy to shoot my requisite meadow picture before practicing with the Open Meadow Zen Group in Lexington, MA, so here’s an image I took last month. One of the interesting things about Zen practice is the seasonal change you notice. If you regularly practice at the same time of day, you’ll notice the shortening or lengthening of days, differences in the volume and kinds of bird song, and the comings and goings of frogs and other wild creatures.


If you regularly practice Zen in the same place, you’ll also notice the habits of your presumably non-sentient neighbors. Trees excel at meditation: being rooted, they can’t help but be grounded. Many times I’ve wanted to dart out of the Dharma room under the mistaken belief that running away would bring relief to my achy legs and thought-addled mind…but trees know to the depths of their xylem and phloem that you can neither run nor hide.

Every time I go to practice at the Open Meadow Zen Group, I park my car under the same willow tree, my windshield curtained beneath a screen of pendant, weeping branches. There is a similar willow tree that stands near the pond that separates the Providence Zen Center from the monastery up its hill; once, I’m told, Zen Master Seung Sahn said this willow was the brightest Buddha he knew, for it practiced the art of standing still but flexible, bowing in the wind rather than breaking.

Stabbed in the heart(wood)

That Providence tree might indeed be a great Buddha, but the willow I park beside in Lexington isn’t so self-assured, relying upon an old metal plate in her trunk to keep her heartwood safe from decay and nesting squirrels. And in another state, along the shores of the Ashuelot River in Keene, NH, at least one tree has learned what can happen if you bare your barked breast to college kids: without a metal plate for protection, you might end up stabbed in the heart(wood).

Being both strong and flexible is all well and good, but when you can neither run nor hide from the impertinent butter-knives of college students, a protective metal plate might be a better idea. A tree with a slab of metal bolted to its side looks a bit like Frankenstein’s monster with his neck-bolts and scars, but perhaps being a Frankentree is better than trusting yourself to the elements, inquisitive squirrels, and the occasional stabbing.

This is my response to a call from the Festival of the Trees for spooky tree submissions. If you have any Halloween-worthy tree pictures or posts, please submit them by October 26.