Calmer Choice, non-profit organization in Barnstable, Massachusetts Calmer Choice, non-profit organization in Barnstable, Massachusetts

The Young Balsam

I took an 8-week class at Calmer Choice last Fall. I am grateful because I learned many things about the practice of mindfulness and I also learned a lot about myself.

And during one of my recent mindful moments, I stood at a window in the early morning and faced the woods behind my house. I saw trees, which were mostly oak and pine. The oaks had that spongy gray moss hanging from high branches. On many of them, I spied clusters of rust-colored leaves, hanging on, like they were playing a game, who would last the longest. The stoic pines were the tallest beings around; their deep green boughs soared high above everything else.

The only creature stirring was a small brown bird, flitting from the highest branches of tall pine. But I lost her behind the mottled trunk. And as I searched to reconnect, I noticed the deep blue sky, which made me inhale sharply with delight, and then I noticed the clouds. Clouds so fluffed up they resembled snow, the kind you see on the side of the road, white with grey underbellies.

And dropping my gaze, I saw a mobile hanging from a low branch, not moving. The heavy beach rocks bright against the undergrowth; the chunks of sea glass glinting in the strong sunlight. And dropping lower still, I saw the grass, bare in many places, green with white tufts sticking up like cowlicks in some places, and in others flattened by the elements. I saw the fire pit, blackened wood and ashes within, and memories surged forth of quiet voices and deep conversations, where everyone present listened respectfully silent, on a frigid New Year’s Eve.

But the saddest sight, was a young balsam lying on its side, no longer adorned by lights, nor balls, nor tinsel, waiting to be taken away, to join others like it at the local recycling center. I’ve seen the others for weeks now in a lonely heap of wreaths and trees. And it brings me back to the fleeting experience of cutting this living being down a month ago, which stood tall and straight on a sunny hillside before I arrived. And my guilt is palpable, sticks in my throat like a hard clump, leaves a bitter taste.

And not for the first time I think, and as I write this, I vow: next year will be different. I will discard this barbaric tradition, and instead, I’ll find a vibrant, living balsam standing tall on another sunny hillside; and I’ll adorn it with bittersweet and holly berries; and I’ll celebrate its existence, as a living, breathing, consequential being in our incredibly diverse and wonderful universe.