One year ago, I wrote my monthly column about the peace tree in Keene: a special elm sapling donated to a state-wide peace conference held in Keene in 2012. At the opening ceremony of this conference, we made a blessing for peace over a large bucket of sacred water and all the participants offered small amounts of this water to the tree – imbuing it, from a ceremonial perspective, with our deep intentions and gratitude.
This small sapling resided in my backyard for more than a year, while the perfect spot was found for it in Keene. When the new North Park was inaugurated, this elm sapling (which was still quite spindly, standing about three to four feet tall) was planted with great fanfare at one corner of the park; a plaque (almost larger than the tree) commemorated the event.
And then, in May of 2014 (as I wrote last year), this tree was mowed over, cut down almost to the ground. Shards of its branches were scattered around the area while the nearby plaque still stood strong – proclaiming it to be a Liberty Elm. We wondered, perhaps, if there was something symbolic in this unintentional damage to the peace tree.
Gratefully, the Parks and Recreation team replaced the mowed down elm with a new one: bigger, taller, and stronger than the original. It now stands next to the plaque and is doing quite well. I want to publicly thank the people from Parks and Recreation for this act. It was truly the most healing thing they could have done, given the circumstances.
But the story of the peace tree continues…almost miraculously. When the new elm tree was planted, we noticed that the original elm, which had been cut down almost to the base, had already begun to regrow a rather frail looking trunk, which – truth be told – looked more like a branch than a trunk. We decided to replant this very small, frail fragment a few feet away, where the mowed grass meets the free and wild area that composes the center of the park.
Throughout the summer and into the fall, the little peace tree continued to grow upwards, gaining a few inches and sporting an odd looking trunk that looks more like two intertwined branches emerging from the ground. As the inevitable snows began to arrive, we wondered if this peace tree, already such a survivor, would make it through the winter.
And what a winter we had. So much snow. So long. Finally, when it all cleared out this spring, I headed down to see how the trees had fared. Lo and behold, the little original peace tree was still alive, and even a bit taller. (So too was the newer, bigger one). What great news!
A few weeks ago, I noticed that someone – perhaps carelessly; perhaps in passing, not paying attention; had snipped off the top few inches of what is still a very thin branch/trunk. And it lay on the ground nearby.
My heart leaped a beat. Another time something had happened to hurt this tree. Why, I wondered, was this happening again – albeit to a lesser extent?
And once again, this belabored sapling continued to fight, not giving in, still standing strong and sending forth a new sprout; continuing to grow. If you stop by North Street Park, you perhaps can spot it.
Last night I had the pleasure to have dinner with the man who had come from Boston for the Peace Conference, and who had led the water ceremony. I believe he would be not be uncomfortable with me commenting that he is African-American, and has done deep ceremonial work with Malidoma Some – one of the most eloquent writers and shamans I know, who is originally from Burkina Faso. Some holds two doctorates: one from the Sorbonne and one from Brandeis University.
I wanted to tell my friend about the peace tree, the one he had helped initiate, the one we watered together more than two years ago. As I told him the story, we both marveled about how this peace tree was truly embodying peace, in the deepest meaning. Even after being knocked down by a ruthless machine, and being later snipped and cut for no reason at all except that it was there: it came back. In fact, it seems to be coming back stronger than before.
We thought of all the peace workers and activists we have known personally and also historically, and the situations right now facing our country around institutional violence against minorities, and we conjectured how peace somehow, almost miraculously, can and does emerge even after those advocating for it have been ostensibly “cut down”, “broken” and “silenced.”
One of the greatest human right advocates I had the pleasure of knowing during my many years living in Chile – Jose Zalaquett – once told me in an interview that true peace is not the peace of the graveyard, silent and unmoving; rather it is the peace of action, of resistance to injustice, and that this peace is very powerful indeed.
So our little peace tree in Keene is a small, tangible reminder that there is room for optimism, even when things look like they are lost; that one should never give up the good fight, the struggle, for a more peaceful place both within and without.
My friend and I also decided that our Keene peace tree is a tangible reminder of a very important aspect of all indigenous and Earth-based practices the world over – which is that ceremony and ritual done with deep intention, respecting and connecting with the energies of the natural world (i.e. water, tree, etc.) truly shift and enhance the energy of the ceremonial object in powerful, yet imperceptible ways. So many of us blessed that sapling, thanked it, offered it water, offered it our heart wishes – maybe it made this little sapling stronger, more able to withstand its multiple cutting downs, more willing to come back again, against all odds.
And it may just be that some of the healing our planet and humanity so desperately need now may come more from the power of ceremony and ritual than from any thing our modern day technology can devise to help correct some of the problems we created in the first place when we become so disconnected to the Earth and its many beauties around us.
Published Jun 2015, Monadnock Shopper.