August 5th, 2008 (04:30 pm)
current location: public library
current mood: sad
[excerpted from Sacred Plant Medicine by Stephen Harrod Buhner (pp.4-5):]
As Mother Theresa said, softly, when receiving her Nobel Prize, "It is not we who are poor but you."
The poverty Mother Theresa spoke of can be felt strongly when comparing the following stories:
In Korea, it is said that in the year 850 A.D. the Ginkgo tree was in danger of becoming extinct. It is a tree whose existence is interwoven with that of human beings in Asia, only recently (about 1800) having been introduced into the west. The Ginkgo is used for food and medicine and additionally is held to have many spiritual attributes. In that time of danger, many Buddhist monasteries in Korea began taking saplings into the monasteries to protect the tree from extinction. The Buddhists were credited with saving the Ginkgo from extinction by taking it into their temple gardens.1 One of the largest ginkgo trees in Asia grows on the grounds of Yongmun-san temple in Korea. It stands 180 feet tall, 15 feet in diameter, and is said to have been planted in the ninth century. This tree, planted to protect the species from extinction, was kept with reverence and prayer for over a millennium. People still make pilgrimage there to visit it.
Some 1100 years later (around the 1950's), a graduate student was finishing his Ph.D. on the bristlecone pine. He had completed his course work and was working on his dissertation, conducting field research in a bristlecone pine forest. He was trying to establish the bristlecone as one of the oldest trees on the North American continent.
He hiked for many days, packing in his equipment, and set up camp. Eventually he located the tree he would study, the tree which he believed was the oldest tree in the forest. In fact, he intended to use a core drill to extract a sample from the tree in order to count its rings and establish its age. He kept extensive field notes and made careful preparations. His Ph.D. degree depended on the research he was conducting on this tree. However, when he was ready to drill a core from the tree, the core drill was not working. He struggled with it for days trying to fix it but to no avail. He did not have another core drill but he did have a saw. And he cut down the tree and found it was some 4000 years old by counting its rings. A tree already 2000 years old when Christ lived, cut down for a Ph.D.2
It is never possible to share this story without experiencing deep feelings of sorrow. The story brings home the rift between humans and the world, the poverty and illness with which we struggle with as a species. The feelings it brings to the heart are often too deep for words. Yet, they are the ones all of us try, often with great success, to repress. There is not a one of us who does not carry the grief concominant with the damage to our home. As Aldo Leopold notes:
One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on the land is invisible to laymen. An ecologis must either harden its shell and make believe the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.3
1. Del Tredici, Peter, Arnoldia, 51(2):2-15, 1991, revised by author, 1992 as
Classic Botanical Reprint Number 224.
2. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_R._Currey for more details).
3. Leopold, Aldo, A Sand County Almanac. New York: Ballantine, 1991, p. 197.