gratitude: using bitter to reveal sweet

by rebecca on June 12, 2012

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I sip bitter coffee and I’m grateful for the walks I took in deep forests with my father just after he left my mother. I was five years old. His steps were big to my little but we’d walk 2 hours at a time. My coffee today helps me understand why I treasure the loneliness along with the loveliness of those walks.

I’ve been eating plain food, cleansing my diet to understand if there is an allergy contributing to my migraine headaches.

I have a fierce sweet tooth that hungers to be satiated. The natural dates I’m eating instead of chocolate aren’t working. I reach for coffee to juxtapose the sweet and the bitter is enough to carve out a home for dessert to arrive in my system. I am satisfied.

It was this same bittersweet combination that colored my childhood walks.

The week was long without my father at my mother’s house. I waited by the big bay window watching for his daisy-decal Land Rover to round the corner on our cul-de-sac. It felt odd to have him wait at the bottom of stairs that were once his own. But down I went, carrying my overnight bag in one hand and my rag doll in the other.

It was a long drive to his mountain home just outside of town but it gave us time to find our rhythm. My father adopted two large White Husky puppies as soon as he moved out. I don’t remember any arguing between he and my mother but I suspect the dogs were representative of their differences. My mother kept the Cocker Spaniel.

We’d walk and Dad would talk with me about the trees. “They’re magical you know,” he’d say. “They’ll talk if you’ll listen.” I caught huge snowflakes on the over-sized mittens he bought me so my hands would stay warm.

In the summertime crickets would lure us down hillsides and the dogs would say hello to their friends as we passed. I crunched pine needles beneath my feet and inhaled the sent of sap and sage.

My father would ask me all kinds of questions about the trees. “How long do you think that one has been standing?” he’d ask and point to the tallest tree in the center of a glade. “How many trees are on that hillside would you guess?” as he waved at the valley across the way.

I was little and sleeping in the wrong bed. It felt wonderful to have my father ask me what I thought about anything, but it felt glorious to have him ask me about trees. A child knows when they’re being patronized. I was not.

My father was in those woods for the same reasons I go to the woods now. I go when I am lonely. I go when I am lost. I know that the trees will talk to me and help me find my way again.

As lost as I was when I was 5, I still had two parents who loved me fiercely. My father’s life as he knew it was over. It was time to begin again with no map to help him orient. He took hold of my tiny hand and included me as he searched.

When I count my blessings each day I try to mention something new, but often trees find their way onto the list in one way or another. The bitterness of my coffee helped me to see why I love them so.

Trees welcome my toxicity because it is their life blood. Likewise after they’ve done their little magic trick with photosynthesis and need to exhale, I can breathe in the oxygen they’ve made to sustain myself. We are made for each other. I no longer need to see myself as making poison. I simply need to find a partner who needs what I have to give.

Sharing those walks with my father when I was little was lonely but it was also one of the loveliest things I’ve ever done. The intimacy of kicking pine cones down the road or counting circles on a tree stump cannot be overstated. He gave me a home in the woods and a love of trees that won’t abandon me.

It’s a bitter idea to think I’m part of a toxic exchange, but it’s an idea that softens with each sip and each breath.

Do you have a favorite tree? Tell me about the altared spaces that make up your toxic exchanges. What is your favorite way to sweeten dessert?

I’m writing about gratitude because I’m positively amazed at how powerful it is to say thank you each day for a handful of life’s offerings. I’d dearly love to hear from you. Please call me 970-210-4480 or write me so I can know how gratitude has impacted you.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

suzicate June 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm

This is most beautifully written, Rebecca. Your words touch me deeply. I also have a connection to my father through trees. (Currently writing something about our days in the apple orchards) I’m glad your father gave you such love and roots to himself. I know the feeling of not being lonely while in the woods…a comforting feeling of home.
Thank you for sharing these words today.

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Privilege of Parenting June 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm

This ripples with synchronicity for me today, for my own wanderings and those of others whose threads also cross my path today. While I have too many favorite trees to single any out, our symbiosis with them is not a toxic exchange in my view, but a reciprocity of alchemical oneness, at moments marked by bitter decomposition out of which rises anew the same old eternal tree of life, mirror of us as we are of it. Sending you best wishes in the forest.

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Amber June 13, 2012 at 11:35 am

I believe in gratitude to help me remember that life’s challenges, though hard, are full of teaching moments that have shaped me into who I am.

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