No one owns a woodpecker!


Pileated Woodpecker

It was only a matter of time. Its girth was huge — much too big to get our arms around. Its top had fallen off. What remained was filled with gaping holes, but still standing at the southwest edge of the land with the cabin by the wetland. 

The tree had stood here decades before we imagined ourselves to be its owners last August. We paid good money to buy the property, including the naked tree that had not yet fallen. It was only a matter of time before it fell. It concerned us that it would topple on someone playing on the back of the yard — Barclay, the canine member of the family, one of the grandchildren, or the grounds-keeper who comes by every three weeks — but not enough to take it down. It continued to stand there with a still attached heavy limb causing it to lean slightly toward he east. It would fall of its own weight or by a lightning strike in due time. 

IMG_1546Tom, the Mennonite grounds-keeper, found the upper parts of the dead tree on the lawn last week while we were away. Its five-feet girth logs now serve as a barrier between the woods and the open space where the cabin sits. There’s no one left to remember how old the tree was, and what remains of it is too rotten to identify the rings. But the fallen tree that once fed the pileated woodpeckers continues to serve the community as a grocery for ground-feeding birds and other animals that feast on the termites and carpenter ants that once drew the woodpeckers.

IMG_1547Property is only a matter of time. No one owns a woodpecker. No one owns an insect!

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, August 16, 2018.

The Gift of Green Again

Spencer Swanson

Spencer Swanson, a 16 year-old student at the Integrated Arts Academy in Chaska,  died tragically on October 15 when an errant arrow from his good friend’s bow ricocheted and hit Spencer

At 3:00 p.m. yesterday, November 20, Spencer’s schoolmates who study visual arts, cultinary arts and horticulture, gathered with Spencer’s family to dedicate a new 10′ tall red oak tree in his memory.

I never met Spencer, his friend, or their families. I attended yesterday’s dedication at the invitation of John Hopkins, a member of Shepherd of the Hill who teaches horticulture at the school. “The kids have put this program together,” said John. “If you’re not doing anything at 3:00, swing by.”

Spencer’s death had hit everyone at the school hard. I went to show support from the wider Chaska community for the students who had put this program together, as the program said,

“To comfort and help restore the hearts affected by the hurt of Spencer’s death.”

The printed program featured not only a carefully selected poem of Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “When Autumn Came”  but art created from closer to home by the students of the Arts Academy.

Brieann’s drawing depicts her fallen schoolmate as a tree growing taller with the caption “Grow till Tall”; Dominika, another of Spencer’s schoolmates, wrote and read aloud her poem “I can see a lot of life in you”:

Hold on to the memories of

the ones we love and lost.

Take time to say what’s right.

Take time to forgive and not

fight. Each day’s a gift and

not a given right. You have to

wonder and find out what’s

your light.  Is it the One to


Each day is new and full of life.

Listen through the whistling wind.

Your time is here

be content don’t linger.”

There were words there on the hill… but not many. There was quiet…. No cell phones ringing. No one texting. No one looking around in boredom. Just all of us, young and old, at home, for a moment, in the sacred silence of the community standing together to celebrate life in Spencer’s honor.

tree dedication

“To plant a tree is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world,” wrote Russell Page.

The red oak will grow over the years to great height and girth, spreading its branches for the birds and the squirrels, reminding each of us to honor the gift of life and the gift of the community of thoughtful speech and silence.

This is the way that autumn came to the trees:

it stripped them down to the skin,

left their ebony bodies naked.

It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,

scattered them over the ground.

Anyone could trample them out of shape

undisturbed by a single moan of protest.

The birds that herald dreams

were exiled from their song,

each voice torn out of its throat.

They dropped into the dust

even before the hunter strung his bow.

Oh, God of May have mercy.

Bless these withered bodies

with the passion of your resurrection;

make their dead veins flow with blood again.

Give some tree the gift of green again.

Let one bird sing.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz