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A brother, an old friend

The bedroom of my apartment is a tiny cubicle adjoining the tiny kitchen. It's roughly the size of a large closet, and so small I find it difficult to sleep there. Consequently, I sleep in the living room, on the couch, and utilize the bedroom as a study. There's room for a desk, chair, reading lamp and bookshelves. It's a suitable arrangement, cramped but cozy, and I average several hours there daily, busy behind the desk.

When I begin to tire, become frustrated or simply bored, I often pull back the curtain and look out through the room's one window: a small round aperture which looks over parking lots, cars, some sidewalk, the fronts of houses and the backs of apartments, more parking lots, more cars. And, somewhere in the front of all this, immediately beyond my window, is a small tree, rooted incongruously between sidewalk and street, in a few square inches of exposed earth.

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A tree.

I must have stared at it for hours, maybe days, before I recognized what I was looking at, before something clicked in my mind and a voice said tree, a growing thing, something alive.

Why hadn't I seen it before? And what had I been seeing? The answer was that I hadn't been seeing much of anything; had only rarely looked beyond my own interior states, my own anxieties, fears, needs, doubts, the paper I was finishing for my Lit. class, the utility bill which awaited my check. My consciousness had become ingrown to the point where a distance, or blind spot, had developed between my limited inner world and the larger physical world in which I lived. That distance had widened to the point where, when I finally noticed the tree, I was surprised and a little shocked by what I saw. It was like being awakened from sleep, or looking up and discovering that I wasn't alone in a room, that someone else was there with me, someone I knew -- or should know -- someone I should say ''Good morning'' to.

And I wasn't sure, of course, just how to say that - not to a tree. I felt a need to extend my consciousness in some way to the tree, to incorporate it into my world -- or me into its world -- to interact with it on some level.

I thought then of the ways in which primitive peoples had done that, how they'd related to trees and to plants. These living things had been sacred to them, had provided them with materials essential to their lives, and in turn they'd been regarded with respect. I recalled an Indian legend in which a young warrior had received advice and counsel from an elderly spruce. The myth was farfetched but suggested that some means of communication existed between the world of men and the world of trees. That communication did not exist now, and perhaps was impossible. What was possible -- and what had been lost -- was an awareness or recognition of a tree's existence: this tree, other trees, plants, animals, the whole of the natural world. What had happened to me, the distance or blind spot which had developed, had resulted from a diminished awareness, a failure to recognize and to acknowledge, to see those natural elements, those other living things with whom I shared the world. It was so easy to exclude them - to exclude everything which was different, or was located outside the self, apart from my own routine and the closed sphere of my own perceptions.

So now some things had to be changed. Recognizing the distance, the shadow area which insulated me from the world of the tree, was the first step. The next was to alter my way of perceiving, my way of seeing, to locate new ways of looking beyond the limitations of the self. I began to take inventory of what I saw and how, taking notice of and naming everything which existed around me and which I'd overlooked before. What had been excluded I wrote down on paper: whole lists of things which had gone unrecognized, inhabiting the gray area of my vision.

By the time I'd finished, the extent of my inventory astonished me. I was sitting then at my desk, the curtain pulled back, my eyes at rest once more on the landscape outside my window. I'd come back finally to the tree, the one which had served as catalyst for all my recent changes. As I examined it now, I saw that it was growing at an angle, a slight but distinct curve to one side.

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I immediately located a rope, a small stake and a hammer, and walked outside. The trunk of the tree was about the width of my arm, and, as I straightened it, pointing it carefully skyward, I felt as though I were shaking someone's hand, a person I'd permitted to slip out of my world - and was welcoming home now, a brother, an old friend.

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