Our Women’s Writing Circle prompt—If the world were on the brink of ending, what wisdom would you give the younger generation?—elicited several inspiring essays, including this from author, hiker and photographer Ginger Murphy.
While I have spent much of my time in solitude during these pandemic months, nature has been my constant companion. Solace and sanity are her gifts any time I walk, sit or garden outside. Hours spent weeding, digging and pruning have led me to observe changes over these months that are deeply reassuring.
I am especially attuned to the large, red maple tree in my back garden which now stretches her sinuous limbs high above my three-story stucco twin home. When I moved to Phoenixville 17 years ago, her highest limbs barely reached the top of the first story. My daily morning ritual consists of brewing a pot of coffee, settling in at my kitchen table with a steaming cup of the black brew and gazing out the window at this tree’s growing and ever-changing form. Her current leafless state reveals long, dark branches stretching earnestly in all directions toward the sun that showers her generously from this southern exposure.
My neighbor, an avid bird watcher, has suspended a long cylindrical bird feeder on one of the branches which extends across the fence which runs along our property line. To deter the neighborhood squirrels from raiding this avian restaurant, Chuck has installed a large, floppy green disc about six inches about the feeder. Any squirrel attempting the reach it quickly discovers that using the disc as a stepping stone to the feeder will only lead to an unceremonious fall into the flower beds below. Nonetheless, this does not seem to deter the younger squirrels from investigating the feeder on a regular basis. The inevitable consternation proves to be a source of fascination for my fifteen-year-old cat Josephine who often perches in my kitchen window to watch the show.
This scene unfolds on a daily basis and provides amusement and reassurance in its constancy. I later climb the stairs to my second-floor office to embark on my work-related rituals: turning on my computer, composing my list of priorities for the day and reviewing my constituent cases. Before I read my emails, I often glance at the news headlines which inevitably report gloomy pandemic statistics, stormy political dynamics and the ravages of violent weather related to climate change somewhere in the world. I can feel the muscles in my lower back start to tense as I skim these grim snippets.
Particularly as a person who lives alone, I have felt emotionally vulnerable during the early months of the pandemic when we were advised to stay home to avoid the virus. Left alone with only my own thoughts and headlines like these, how could I possibly feel hopeful?
It’s been a very long almost two years that we’ve endured the uncertainty of a world that constantly feels like it’s on the brink of impending disaster from a health emergency, changing climate and sometimes very cruel and violent behavior we observe in our fellow human beings. At this point, what wisdom would I give our younger generation?
Adopt a tree. Maybe it’s a big maple like mine in your own back yard. Maybe it’s a sapling you plant with other volunteers in your town park. Possibly your tree is a towering white oak like the one I visit on my hikes in a nearby nature preserve. Visit your tree on a regular basis. Notice how it grows, how its foliage changes with the seasons and how it weathers the storms. Like trees, we can’t choose the weather. We can only adapt and, as you watch your tree over time, you will notice it has mastered this lesson and has much to teach you.
About the author: Ginger Murphy is an ardent believer in the healing power of nature. A long-time resident of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, she is also an avid hiker and photographer, spending many restorative hours walking trails along the Schuylkill River and exploring parks across the region. English teacher, grant writer and nonprofit administrator are a few of the positions she has held in her professional life. Ginger completed her undergraduate work in English at Wesleyan University and holds a Masters degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. Her short story “A Daughter’s Dilemma” is featured in The Life Unexpected An Anthology of Stories and Poems from the Women’s Writing Circle.