Shadeless Summer

This week I have been taking my Reiki Master class with and received my Reiki Master attunement from a very dear friend Kathleen,  a massage therapist and Reiki Master.  Kathleen grew up in and lives in the Burncoat neighborhood of the city of Worcester, MA.  during breaks in our work, we take walks in the neighborhood.  I’ve known Kathleen since we were in college together. I’ve been to and through this neighborhood many, many times.

I took me a while to figure out what felt so strange about the walk we were talking. then I figured it out… I should recognize these streets and I don’t.  These streets lead from Route 12 up into the Burncoat neighborhood, across to Burncoat Street and then from Burncoat Street over towards the area of Housatonic Street where Kathleen grew up.  As we walked up and down Burncoat Street, and I looked left and right, I realized I recognized some of the street names we used to travel to get from Route 12 over to Kath’s family’s old home, but none of the streets. They all looked different, out of place, wrong.  There were no trees.

I remember going to visit Kathleen and her family when we were in college. I remember going through this neighborhood.  It was dense with trees.  In full summer, on a couple of the streets, it seemed you couldn’t see the sky if you looked up. Now,  I looked out, down long streets and across to … I didn’t know what, parts of Worcester you could never see from this spot before because that street had a thick canopy of hardwood trees. Almost every single one of them now gone.  The place reminded me, strangely, of where I know live in Texas where there are just fewer trees.

This is the devastation caused by the Asian Longhorned Beetle.  This is what happens when species get introduced, one way or another, into ecosystems where they don’t belong.  And although it is not directly a devastation caused by human neglect or abuse, it is part of the larger story of humanity’s inattention to the fact that everything we do has serious repercussions on the environment in which we live.  It is another reminder that we really don’t want to create a world a without trees.  It reminded me that people grieve for the earth the way we grieve for other loved ones who are hurt, in pain, or dying.  Indeed, Kathleen told me of how she said good-bye to the tree in her backyard, ritualized its passing, cried over it and misses it still.

I did some research this morning on the Asian Longhorned Beetle.   I found a  Longhorned Beetles information sheet as well as portrait of the little guy:

Asian Longhorned Beetle

The Worcester Telegram and Gazette has run some interesting pieces and has an online memory book where people can post photos of trees they’ve lost along with written memories. It’s reminiscent of what funeral homes do for families with online guestbooks.

I also found this editorial by Rosalie Tirella from the May 5th InCityTimes, a free weekly in Worcester.  Tirella takes the Worcester City Council to task for bending to the concerns of Burncoat and Greendale neighborhood voters and for being overly concerned about the trees:

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if Worcesterites  and our politicians would get  upset  over  issues like hunger, poverty and homelessness in our city? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if during a city council  meeting a person  got up and said: Let’s stop the hunger! Every time a kid goes hungry, we  stunt his growth, his mind, dim  his chances of future success. In other words, CUT DOWN his life.

And what if the politicians went wild and agreed and vowed to do everything possible to prevent this beautiful young life from being chopped down?
What kind of movie would that make?”

Yes, BUT….

This situation in the Burncoat and Greendale neighborhoods of Worcester is a prelude to what a world looks like without trees.  There are parts of the world where poor people currently live surrounded by trees and those trees disappear football fields at a time and still not enough people care because the people who live in relationship with those trees aren’t rich, power and well connected.  What about a world where nobody lives with trees?  It won’t be a world where many people live very long or very well.

It is not politics or issues of class that hit you the hardest in Burncoat. It is the spiritual and emotional connection to the earth that hits you the hardest when you walk through the Burncoat area of Worcester.  I walked mostly in a mild shock, my friend Kathleen, who had the gift of more time to process and live with the deforestation of her neighborhood was able to put her grief into words, kept commenting on it, street by street.

I know I will return to a suburban congregation in Texas, where I will also return to work on the issue of homelessness, the inequalities of sexual orientation, race and class in Texas, and  I know that environmental justice is also economic justice and environmental issues disproportionately impact people who are poor and people of color. I also know that before fixing the social, cultural and political environmental problem, the environment must become a matter of the heart, a matter of the spirit, not just another cause for many more people.  It must be okay to grieve the loss of your tree, then we have a chance of stopping silent springs from become shadeless summers – not just for those who have the privilege of taking summer vacations, but especially for those who do not.

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