In the summer of 2021, seven mature kwanzan cherry trees on a quiet street in Northampton MA were slated to be cut down. The residents of the street were never consulted. There was protest and citizen outrage. The citizens, led by Ruth Ozeki and a group of ordained monks, decided to ordain these elder trees as Zen Buddhists priests. The hope was that this would remind the department of public works officials that trees are living beings with much to teach us.
In the fall of 2021, the city showed up on Warfield Place with many trucks, chain saws, police personnel and a fire truck to cut down the trees. Protesters climbed into the trees to stop the cutting. A cease and desist order was obtained from a judge. Despite all this protest, citizens were arrested, the order was ignored and the trees came down. It was a dark day for Northampton.
Only tree stumps remain now. Folks left plants and rocks in their place. I decided to leave letters and dreaming images to express our collective loss. So that we can ask ourselves – What is the sound of a tree’s heartbeat? What is the sound of the absence of a tree’s heart beat? Is there still a wood wide web under a city street? Can we engage in a more reciprocal, symbiotic relationship with all living beings?
While this is grief work, it is made in the emergent space. The venerating of the trees and their ordination invites a shift in consciousness toward what we want to be valuing. The letters and dreaming images grieve our loss and invite further thought on the lives of our tree neighbors.
Below are images of the three moments in time described above.