Hi, I’m Hannah West, editor and webmistress of Light-Path-Resources.org. While I usually publish Don’s own writings and important finds, I have had a few “peak” experiences of my own. I’ve mentioned this one to him enough times that he asked me to share it here.
At the time of this encounter, I and my family lived in Three Rivers, California, about a mile from the north entrance to Sequoia National Park. On January 1, 2000, we, along with friends who were visiting for the holiday, decided to visit the park. Perhaps all the Y2K furor surrounding the potential end of civilization made it feel like a good idea to see things that are not vulnerable to the vagaries of the internet and the availability of electricity. Living things that had been around for thousands of years without any help from us. Big, ancient trees.
We visited General Sherman. Huge, magnificent, and inspiring. Lots of people around.
We climbed up to Morro Rock. There is a tree that grows from the rock (not a sequoia) that has an awesomeness all its own. And the view of the Sierra Nevada from the Rock is breathtaking. More on this rock another time…
Then we decided to walk the Congress Trail.
The trees on this trail aren’t as old or as monstrous as General Sherman (one of the oldest things and the single largest living thing on Earth by mass…with the exception of the mycelium of fewer than a handful of fungi). But there are a lot of them and they’re massive in their own right, so it’s an inspiring walk. Because the forest floor muffles sound so effectively, it’s also quiet. Not eerie quiet. Kind of like the quiet you get when there’s a layer of new-fallen snow on the ground…living…holy…mystic…peaceful. Even our boisterous friends seemed to simmer down in the presence of these mighty elders.
As we walked through this ancestral grove, I sensed a tree calling to me. Not by name, but by spirit. I don’t know how else to explain it but a wordless calling. Heeding that call, I did what you’re absolutely not supposed to do here (in order to protect these living treasures)…I stepped off the path and walked right up to that tree. I looked up its trunk…so tall, it touched the sky. Then, I stretched my arms as far as they’d go around it and laid my cheek against its rough, fibrous red bark.
In return, that majestic living being instantly filled me with a tremendous rush of joy. Not a rush as in “headrush.” A rush like a firehose, like a tsunami. No. Not like those at all, though every bit as powerful and then some. It was so gentle, so tender, as if it knew me personally and really wanted to take this opportunity to share some of itself that day. A rush like a magnificent fountain…a fountain of joy.
It started in my feet and welled up through me from bottom to top, cleansing me, opening me, filling me. I drank it in like a thirsty creature in a desert and overflowed. I was done. So done. I became the fountain, and I could feel joy pulsing through me like a force of nature, pouring out the top of my head and crashing back to the forest floor beneath my feet. Tears streamed down my face as I laughed and sobbed uncontrollably.
In a few moments, I was changed forever by the revelation of the joy this generous creature had accumulated in its thousands of years of life on Earth.
There she stood, right where she had sprouted millennia before. She had seen uncountable moments of life in her own forest. Though she had never moved, she had been alive and aware, standing witness to the rises and falls of many civilizations near and far. She had been a friend to indigenous people and to countless other living creatures. She had borne children and survived many a fire, storm, logger’s blade, and lightning bolt. Her joy not only stood the tests of time but grew and magnified with every passing moment. The tree’s gratitude for every second of her life was intense, indomitable, insurmountable…as deep and profound as the ocean of God’s love, as infinite and boundless as the night sky.
I was breathless as my tree destroyed and then surpassed my previous understanding of joy. She took my understanding of kismet (the will of God) to an entirely new level. I had experienced it before, but this was an entirely new and far more powerful experience. Rumi called it “fanaa,” the evanescence of the soul as it dies to self and is filled, replaced with the eternal, mysterious divine…melding with the ineffable presence of The One. Utterly losing one’s self in the Creator. Becoming one with The Living God. Oh yeah. All I had ever desired came to me in one wordless embrace…with a fountain of joy disguised as a tree.
My husband spotted it first and shouted a heads up. “Look out, everyone, Hannah just got filled with the Holy Spirit!!” Swooning, I stumbled back onto the path, ran to him, and threw my arms around his shoulders as we walked. The tears dried on my cheeks and the laughter turned to an alert yet peaceful sense of being. I walked through the forest back to our car and rode home, a new creature.
Now I think of that tree almost every day, remembering the gift she gave me. She didn’t reveal her name and I didn’t disrespect her by giving her one, but I know we will recognize each other when we meet again. And on that day I will feel her calling to me as she did all those years ago. I will run up and fling my arms around her massive trunk again. I will look up at her grandeur and my heart will touch the sky. And I will show my dear, beloved old friend how much her fountain of joy taught me about the joy of life…and the importance of sharing that joy along the way. For now, I pray that she survives the fire that’s burning near her as I write.