New piers are being constructed along the Cayuga Inlet, one of the channels at the southern end of Cayuga Lake in Ithaca. This development has resulted in many old cottonwood trees being cut down. Eight of us, including two exceptionally wise and conscientious young people, gathered to pay homage to the cottonwoods. We were Saoirse, Larry, Siobhan, Lang, Safie, Malcolm, Margaret, and Trebbe

We began by talking about Radical Joy for Hard Times and how important it is to bear witness to and offer kindness and condolence to places and beings that are hurt, even if we can’t do anything to save them. Safie and Malcolm, who are both in high school, shared about a practice they have of doing ceremony for animals they encounter that have been killed. Whenever possible, they bury the animal. When that’s not possible, they offer it some kind of natural beauty in honor of its life. We shared our impressions of this place where we had gathered: pier-construction work happening nearby; runners, walkers, and cyclers streaming by on the trail; and one remaining cottonwood next to us painted with a big red X to mark its destiny.

As we talked Malcolm discovered pieces of a robin’s egg behind him and placed them in the center of the circle, and thus began our act of beauty.

We took some time to wander on our own to explore and discover both the outer landscape around us and the inner landscape within as we confronted it. When we regathered, we placed beautiful things we had found on our altar, along with personal objects we had brought that represented our own hurts and challenges of the past pandemic year. Excerpts from stories:

  • A few heads and claws of crustaceans indicate that animals, maybe raccoons, are feasting here.
  • Before this area was colonized, it was all swamp. The indigenous people would have lived higher up, on the hills.
  • We can apologize to nature, even if we’re not directly responsible for what has harmed it.
  • Several of us felt sorry for the cottonwood tree destined to be cut down. Did it notice its companions are missing?
  • If you saw a person lying dead on the ground, you would tend to them. Why would you not do the same for an animal?
  • Those “invasive species” don’t know they’re invasive. They just found a good place to grow and settled in!
  • There is so much we take for granted, that we fail to see…

Safie was just saying that when we were startled by a perfect example. A snail shell that someone had added to the altar and that we had taken for granted  was merely a shell, revealed itself to be, after all, a living creature with plans that did not include remaining on a group altar.  It emerged from the shell and began to creep away.

IMG 1320 IMG 1325