If a tree falls in the forest…

She stood straight and tall, an elder of the bosque for who-knows-how-many decades. Because she towered head and shoulders above her neighbors, her sparse branches were a favorite for the bell birds and toucans who prefer unobstructed vistas. Monkeys in search of water loved to bury their heads in the epiphytes that grew high up in layers of soil deposited on her limbs over time by Afro-Caribbean trade winds that explode over our mountain.

From the moment we arrived in Monteverde, her hulking presence was an instant focal point whenever our eyes tracked up the rising slope behind our house. She was an arboreal North Star for those of us who live beside the Monteverde Institute.

I loved to photograph the birds on her boughs, the moon peeking over the continental divide behind her. In fact, I shot the misty January full moon shining through her frame just a few days before.

This mighty queen toppled down without warning or fanfare. I had been somewhat aware that the foliage on her upper branches had diminished in the six months I have been here. You can see it in the photos above. Perhaps it was a seasonal thing. Maybe she was going dormant. As it turns out, her demise was not due to wind or rain or the tools of mankind’s deforestation. Her fate was sealed by the infestation of termites that consumed her root structure and left her without strong foundation. It was extremely fortunate that this behemoth only brought down a few power lines and part of a gate. She barely missed the corner of a home and spared the hikers, motorcycles, and cars that often use the gravel road where she landed.

We were out of town when it happened, but unlike the famous saying of a tree falling in the forest, there were people who heard its mighty crash. When we returned, her absence was not immediately obvious. There was just a feeling that something was missing, that the view of the rainforest was somewhat diminished. Our neighbor Sandra informed us of the event in mournful tones, as if sharing the passing of a loved one—which is exactly what she was doing.

That’s not possible, I thought. She seemed so strong. I was with her just a few days ago. She gave no indication anything was wrong!

We humans don’t always react well to change. We cling to the static and stable. Our brains grasp on to memories of the past, subtly enhanced and exaggerated. We pine for the halcyon days and complain that “things were just better back then.” But many of the great spiritual leaders and gurus tell us that this is illusion. Past and future are simply movies that play over and over in our minds. In reality, all we have is “now.” It’s all we’ve ever had and all we ever will have—and it is enough.

In many ways, nature is my guru. She models the cycles of birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth. She doesn’t complain about condition or circumstance. She doesn’t live in the past nor pine for the future. Each morning, she rejoices in today. She reminds me that change is life. And life, as our Creator once said, is “very good.”

I miss my friend, but I have noticed some new friends that have emerged from behind the place where she once stood. Perhaps they are not quite as dramatic or as stately, but the birds now perch on their branches without complaint. I never had a clear view of them before. Now I do. We are getting to know each other. And life is very good.

Published by Tom Cox

Tom & Jean, a couple of contemplative ex-pats from Pittsburgh, shed all their earthly belongings and move to Costa Rica. What could possibly go wrong?

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