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Reflections on war and peace

Updated: Apr 22, 2020


Two weeks ago, the buds were full and swollen on the young maple tree I see from the bay window looking into the backyard of our home on Daniel Avenue.

A hungry squirrel scampered up the trunk and started to gorge itself on those buds. The tree gave its new life to the squirrel with no complaint, no hesitation.

It gives its arms to the birds for their nests. It gives oxygen to all of us with lungs. Some tree species, like the bur oak, have the kinds of leaves that efficiently clean the air of pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels for the cars, homes, and industries that make up the human-made world.

Who does the saving?

I am interested in “saving” trees. Many of us are doing what we can, within our rights as citizens, to preserve the older trees that make Champlain Park an attractive place to live. If that is our intention, we’re guilty of hubris: the conceit that makes humans think we are all-powerful.

The fact is: the trees are saving us. They are like bodhisattvas—the Buddhist spirits that agree to stick around in the human world of samsara (suffering) in order to help liberate all sentient beings. Every tree on the planet has that kind of generosity of spirit.

War and peace, winning and losing

I have found it incredibly difficult to be involved in “saving” trees because I have had to come face-to-face with strong feelings of negativity and aversion to the people and forces that seem to be opposing this salvation. It’s like the dilemma people face when they say they are “fighting for peace.”

My intention at the start of this saga was to fight for the rights of particular tree that I believed had no voice. It seemed like a noble cause. But in any fight where people have differing views and values, it’s easy to slip into an “us” and “them” mentality. If we win, we are happy that they have lost. If we lose, we resent what we see as their win.

It’s so hard not to be sucked into a hellish realm where power and the desire to win at all costs permeate our thoughts and actions. It’s not a good place to be.

Where can we find sustenance?

Here’s something I came across in my reading the other day. It’s by author Oliver Morton, a Brit who has written a book called Eating The Sun:How Plants Power the Planet.

“During our working day, almost all of those who can see will have seen something green. We might not give a conscious thought to the ever-present green, but at some level we will enjoy it. The greenness of life is so important and all-pervading that evolution has turned our eyes to discriminate among its various hues more precisely than among those of any other colour, and so shaped our brains that we take solace in it. The green, we know without thinking, is good.”

In our consumer and capitalist society, “green is good” could be a defining mantra for those whose motive is profit. The words in the phrase have very different meanings to people on the “tree saving” side and people on the “money making” side of the equation.

I believe there’s a balance at play here: we are all part of the problem. We’re all part of the solution, too. When we can’t agree on what the solution might be, the problem continues…just like the sun rises and sets, and the trees offer new buds each spring to the hungry squirrels.

--Debra Huron

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