The first time I made beauty for a hurt place was in the Utah Canyonlands. I was hiking along a narrow canyon, following the wash that had cut through the fox-red rock, when I came upon the old cottonwood that had been struck by lightning. Something in me fell in love with that venerable old tree. It stood there, nakedly bearing its whole history. It was life that endured despite the fact that it had stopped growing, blooming, responding to the wind. It endured.
I felt compelled to honor the tree, so I collected colored stones from the wash, wildflowers, pieces of smooth, water-washed wood. I patterned the stones and sticks around the tree, arranged the purple and yellow flowers against the ebony bark. The tree looked resplendent, as if its inherent grandeur was shining forth again.
Later, when I told a friend, a psychologist, about my experience, he commented that, of course, it had been me, not the tree, I was beautifying. But that wasn’t it at all. That tree was not a mere symbol, a psychological stand-in for my self; it was a presence in its own right. It had lived, been struck, died, and yet it survived, and it deserved recognition for its achievements.
When we make beauty for wounded places, we do feel a difference in ourselves. Something old, so old we can hardly name it, is answered and affirmed. We are connected again with part of our source. Yet, it is the Earth we are giving to, our ancient teacher, the ground beneath our hearts. This we must remember.