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How to find peace of mind

People walk among trees near river
Walking among trees near the Animas River in Farmington, NM

As we faced on January 6 perhaps the most dangerous challenge to our country we had ever experienced, when domestic terrorists tried to stop the United States Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes that confirmed the victory of President-Elect Joe Biden, we found ourselves in different locations, different frames of mind, and different levels of emotion.

 

How do we get past that? How do we become a united country again? How do we continue to function with some peace of mind?

 

The people lawfully appointed to handle justice will determine what happens to those domestic terrorists, but how do we carry on? How do we find the peace of mind to perform our daily tasks?

 

Those of us who have developed some proficiency with prayer and/or meditation can turn to that. But not all of us are very adept at prayer or meditation.

 

In those times of agitation, fear, anger, or confusion, it can be helpful to find a place nearby where there are quite a few trees. Take a walk among those trees. As you walk, try to calm yourself by noticing details about the trees – the texture of their bark, the shape of their leaves, how tall they grow, how wide they spread their branches.

 

When you notice such things, you are starting to take your mind off of other things. One of the first steps to practicing prayer or meditation is to take your focus off of those other things and place them on getting into a state of quiet contemplation.

 

That first step can be so hard it may seem impossible. But persevere. See the trees as allies in your efforts to gain a sense of calm. As you keep at it, you may notice that your breathing slows and your mind quits churning quite so much.

 

Give yourself enough time as you walk among the trees to sense that you are calming down. You are beginning to find a sense of peace.

 

Though walking among trees is not the only way to find a calmer, more peaceful frame of mind, it can be quite effective. Whatever works best for you, see if you can practice it a little bit every day. When you do, you will find that peace and calmness stay with you longer, even when you find yourself in difficult circumstances.

 

May you find the way that works best for you and keep practicing it. The more people who do that, the more our efforts will help to expand calm and peace all around the world. Then, when we face dangerous challenges, negative emotions and attitudes will have less of an impact.

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Keeping Hope Alive

Cottonwood tree shelters a tent
Tent under a cottonwood tree in Simon Canyon, northwest New Mexico

As we venture into 2021, coming out of 2020 full of grief, worry, frustration and a boatload of other emotions, it can be hard to feel hopeful.

 

Even so, there are reasons to keep our hope alive and to look forward to positive change. When I worry that more people I know could get very sick with Covid-19 and its emerging virus strains, I think about trees.

 

What could trees teach us? They have weathered all kinds of challenges, from invasive beetles to the possibility of being cut down, and they've faced a whole host of other threats from many different sources. What keeps them going?

 

They are rooted to one spot. They can't run away from danger. But they can draw on strengths. They change their behavior as needed to stay healthy.

 

In the winter, trees go dormant. As some animals hibernate during the winter, trees slow down their metabolism. That helps them to conserve the food they have stored. They want it to last since they don't make food in the winter. That's the season when they slow down their energy consumption and growth. Many trees shed their leaves in the winter because they don't need the leaves to help them form simple sugar, their kind of food, in the presence of sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. That sugar helps to give them energy, but in winter they take a rest.

 

Just as trees go into a dormant state during the winter, in this time of Covid-19, we need to slow down our activities by staying indoors more, not gathering in large groups, and shopping in stores only for essentials. If we wear masks, keep at least six feet from other people, and wash our hands frequently, we also reduce the chance of getting the virus. Those are all activities that slow us down and make us practice different behavior than we normally would. It can be frustrating and downright maddening to have to change our behaviors. But it gives us and others a better chance to remain healthy.

 

Trees know how to be dormant. They do it naturally. They slow their activity level to stay healthy during the winter. If trees can adjust their behavior during winter to keep themselves safe, perhaps it doesn't seem quite so limiting to adjust our behavior too.

 

Trees also do something called respiration. In this process, they convert energy stored in the form of glucose, the sugar that leaves and sunlight produce during photosynthesis. That energy is needed to carry out the tree's metabolic reactions, which occur even in winter. During respiration, carbon dioxide oozes through the trees' pores. Carbon dioxide is essential to create the energy trees need to keep themselves healthy. They get a lot of that carbon dioxide from animals, including humans, when we breathe out that gas. In return, trees give off oxygen, which is toxic to them, but we would die without enough of it.

 

No matter how challenging life may be for them at times, trees continue to create the carbon

dioxide they need and to get rid of the oxygen that we need. If they didn't keep doing what they need to do to survive, we wouldn't be able to survive ourselves.

 

When I look at trees, I don't often think about the chemical reactions that happen within them. I just enjoy their beauty, the shade their provide, and the habitat they offer for birds and other critters.

 

I'm glad trees remain committed to doing what comes naturally to survive. It helps me think that, even though it's not easy to wear a mask, social distance, and wash my hands often, it is helping to give me and others a better chance to stay healthy. That gives me hope.

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Meditating among Trees When You Face Troubling Times

Cottonwood grows near irrigation ditch bank
Cottonwood tree

If you are struggling with an issue in your life that weighs you down or stresses you almost beyond your ability to cope, take time to visit the trees you have come to appreciate. Many of them may be in your yard or around your neighborhood.

 

When you get to one of those trees, stand near it. Quiet your mind as much as you can and focus on the tree. Notice the texture of its bark. Touch the bark to sense how it feels to your hands. Is it rough, smooth, lumpy? Look higher up into the tree. Trace the branches with your eyes. Notice how the twigs and any remaining leaves that have not fallen attach to the branches and spread beyond them.

 

Do you see any nests in the tree, any birds perched there, perhaps squawking at you for standing so close to the tree? Are there any other wildlife? Once I saw a porcupine perched in a tall cottonwood. Another time I saw a snake winding its way up the trunk of a tree toward a bird's nest containing, it hoped, eggs to eat.

 

Then bring your gaze back down to the base of the tree. Notice the roots, how they splay out from the tree trunk and bury themselves into the ground, forming a strong, sturdy base for the tree. Imagine what it would be like for you to let strong pillars of support flow from your feet deep into the earth, letting the planet nurture you and help you feel stronger.

 

Once you feel well grounded as you enjoy that connection you have forged with the earth, stand quietly as you feel strength flow into you. Look up into the tree again. If you feel so inclined, say a prayer of blessing, gratitude or encouragement for it.

 

As you feel calmness resting like a warm, comfortable cloak around you, listen to impressions that go beyond the sounds of branches brushing against each other in a gentle breeze, beyond the rustle of dried leaves on the ground as a squirrel passes by. In that quietness that takes you into a place deep within yourself, listen for any impressions that come to your mind.

 

You may become aware of an encouraging thought, a supportive idea, a phrase to cling to when life seems too difficult, too overwhelming, too confusing. You may feel filled with love so deep that it fills you up and overflows in tears of joy.

 

Is the thought coming from the tree? Is it coming from the greater wisdom within you, from the divine presence that always surrounds you even when you forget it's there? You don't have to figure out where it's coming from. Just notice the message, repeat it so that you don't forget it, and thank the tree for helping you find your way into a meditative state that allowed that thought to give you the strength, courage and stamina to carry on.

 

When you feel ready, say goodbye to the tree and head back to your life full of challenges. No matter what you face, remember the message, the sense of love or joy that filled you with hope and strength. Carry it like a treasure in your mind and repeat it as often as you need to. Write it down somewhere so that in the coming days, when you need it most and have a hard time recalling it, you can find it and be strengthened once again by its powerful message.

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Using Trees to Bring Christmas Cheer

Christmas tree
Christmas tree

December is here, and we are well into the Christmas season. With the generosity that permeates this season, I thought about ways we could honor trees, help our local communities and do something positive for the planet on which we live.

 

I didn't have to come up with my own plan, because the business in Farmington, NM, where I buy a lot of my flowers and bushes, San Juan Nurseries Inc., already has a great plan in mind. It might be a fun Christmas season activity to check with the nursery in whatever town, state or country you live in to see if that nursery also has a plan involving trees for the Christmas season.

 

Here's how the one at San Juan Nurseries works. People may come in to buy a live Christmas tree in a pot at the nursery and use it in their home for a Christmas tree. After Christmas is over, they can donate the live tree to the city of Farmington or to any other business that participates. If you are going to do that, San Juan Nurseries will give you a discount on the purchase of the tree.

 

If you donate the tree after Christmas to the city of Farmington, the city will use it in medians and parks and around corporate buildings. The nursery is working with the city on a botanical garden at Gateway Museum. Some of the trees will be used on the river walk, a lovely trail system along the Animas River that runs through Farmington. Gateway Museum may also use the trees in other ways that promote the Christmas season and keep the trees alive and healthy.

 

I am sure San Juan Nurseries and the city of Farmington are not the only nurseries and cities that have plans to promote planting trees in the community. Check out your own favorite nursery in your own town to see what opportunities are available to spread Christmas cheer and allow you to support businesses and the community as well.

 

It brings a smile to my face to think of all the live trees that could be added to my community so that it benefits from the many wonderful things that trees do for us.

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Thanksgiving Blessings

My adopted dog, Peanut
My adopted dog, Peanut

In this time of COVID-19 when cases of the virus skyrocket and people are urged to stay at home to reduce COVID-19's spread, it is easy to feel lonely. That sense of loneliness kept growing and growing in me until I finally made the decision to adopt a dog from the local animal shelter.

 

I have had Peanut, a 31-pound mixed breed who's two-and-a-half years old, for a week now. She has banished loneliness totally. I discovered after walking her on a leash for several days that the leash approach doesn't work for me. My body protested with all sorts of aches and pains. But I do have a large back yard that Peanut loves to explore. She races joyfully around the yard, which she couldn't do on a leash. She and I go out several times a day. I watch her play, and she loves to run huge circles around the yard and around me.

 

In my back yard I have a garden plot, empty now that freezing weather has come, and Peanut likes to sniff around in it, finding all sorts of smells that tantalize her nose. This afternoon, one of those tantalizing smells was a baby elm tree that grew between my chain link fence and the cement wall that separates my property from my neighbor's back yard. She poked her nose through the chain link as far as she could and stretched her tongue out until she managed to wrap it around the baby elm. She snagged a leaf or two and ate them with relish.

 

A tall elm tree grows in my neighbor's back yard, and, as most elms do, it does its best to reproduce itself. Unfortunately, this summer I found hundreds of elm sprouts in my garden, many hiding under carrot and beet leaves. I had to methodically pull them up before they grew bigger. It was an endless task. And even today, in the last half of November, I occasionally find baby elm trees taking root.

 

How interesting that the dog I chose to adopt from the animal shelter likes to chow down on baby elm trees. That is icing on the cake. Peanut is a friendly, lovable dog who came to me housebroken and obedient. And now I discover she likes to eat baby elm trees too. Extraordinary!

 

At first, I wondered how I would survive having a dog in the house, because she was triggering my asthma symptoms. Then a friend told me she'd had a similar reaction with her dogs until she shampooed them with Douxo, a chlorhexidine shampoo that is antiseptic and helps to kill bacteria on the skin of dogs and cats. I ordered it on the Internet, and it arrived today. I wasn't sure how well it would work, but I put a reluctant Peanut in a bathtub of warm water and shampooed her. She graciously put up with the shampoo, and now she smells so good. She is no longer triggering asthma symptoms, and I am so thankful to my friend who shared how well this shampoo worked for her.

 

How lucky can I be to have a dog who likes to eat baby elm trees and a friend who shared such helpful information with me. As Thanksgiving approaches, I am feeling so thankful for my dog and my friend! They have both made life much easier and enjoyable!

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Reduce Stress by Walking Near Trees

Trees and the sound of a peaceful river create calmness
Trees along a river

When you feel stressed, sit under a tree or walk near where there are trees. Without a doubt, in these post-election moments, we have an extra need for stress reducing activities.

 

Focus on the trees. Notice their bark, branches, needles or leaves, the way they sway in a gentle breeze. Hear the sounds they make such as rustling leaves or branches rubbing against each other. Listen to the birds as they flit from branch to branch, then race off to find a different tree or land in the grass to eat seeds, worms, and insects. Feel the smooth or rough consistency of tree bark as you run your hands along their trunks.

 

Once you've experienced all those sensory details while immersing yourself in the experience of being around trees, you may discover that you feel calmer, a little happier. Maybe you feel less stressed over what's going on in the world around you. Though you may worry about what's happening, there is seldom much you can do about it.

 

Never underestimate the healing power of your time around trees and other aspects of nature. Being surrounded by trees, bushes, flowers, and bodies of water helps to heal us. That may be one reason some of us like to garden and why we feel sad when gardening season is over.

 

Connecting with nature not only has a way of bringing healing calmness to is, but it encourages us to take care of ourselves better by walking more. Walking also helps to boost our creativity. Getting your exercise on a treadmill may be good exercise, but walking in nature does something extra to activate creative ideas. It triggers our brains to blossom with all kinds of positive impressions.

 

If you have a dog, when you need to generate new ideas, take your dog for a walk. It will benefit both of you. Your dog will love it, and you will prime your wellspring of ideas to gush like a fountain.

 

These days, as we've gone through the long season leading up to elections and are now in the post-election season with all its temporary uncertainties, we need more than ever to take time for walking. If you can walk among trees and other beautiful aspects of nature, your stress will slide away more easily. So take a walk, and let go of stress. You deserve to feel good!

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Nature Park in Singapore Saves Wildlife, Nature, and Improves Human Conditions

Mangrove forests store more carbon than other trees, stop erosion, and help coastal cities stay above water during rise of sea levels.
Mangrove tree

Trees play such an important role in the health of our planet and of our own selves. Because of that, it's especially nice to learn that some people are promoting projects with positive results far into the future. One of those projects is happening in Singapore. It was reported in the Singapore newspaper, Mongabay, this Oct. 9. To learn more about the newspaper, go to https://news.mongabay.com. It provides news and inspiration from nature's frontline.

 

According to the article, between 1953 and 2018, Singapore lost nearly 90 percent of its mangrove trees to urban expansion and other human activities. To help turn that around, Singapore launched a new nature park. It covers 990 acres in an area where migratory birds stop to refuel. They fly from Russia and Alaska to Australia and New Zealand along the East Asian-Australasian flyway. It is also home to oriental hornbills, otters, crocodiles and many other species. The nature park is part of a larger effort to plant one million trees across the city-state of Singapore by 2030. The reforestation will not only add wildlife habitat, but will help sequester carbon, lower the city's temperature, and help to reduce erosion and rising sea levels, and improve living conditions for human residents.

 

In August 2020, the Singapore government announced the launch of the new nature park, which is called the Sungei Bulon Park Network, located in the northern part of the island. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is home to smooth-coated otters, who were found there in the 1990s after they were thought to be locally extinct. It's also home to 11 of the 200 critically endangered Eye of the Crocodile trees in the world. The Sungei Buloh Park Network triples the size of the protected area and aims to protect the biodiversity of many areas, among them the Kranji marshes, the Mandai mangrove and mudflat, and the coastal Lim Chu Kang Nature Park. Within these habitats, researches have recorded 279 bird species. They include many different kinds of ecosystems. In Lim Chua Kang Nature Park are mangrove, woodland, scrubland and grassland habitats. It attracts many coastal birds, among them the gray-headed fish eagle and the baya weaver.

 

Thirty-five different plant species of mangroves have been found in Singapore, while in the United States, only three different species of the mangrove plant species have been found, according to geography professor Dan Friess from the National University of Singapore. He has studied mangroves for 11 years, and he heads the university's Mangrove Lab. It focuses on studying coastal wetlands in Southeast Asia.

 

Because of the many different species in Singapore, those mangroves have an important ecological impact. Twenty species new to science have been found by researchers in the Mandai mangroves alone. Now, visitors can view the Sungei Buloh wetlands from boardwalks and watchtowers. That will change in 2022, when they can watch migratory birds from hides near the Mandai mudflat.

 

In the 19th century, Singapore lost much of its primary forest to logging. A fast-growing population and rapid urban development in the 20th century caused the removal of many trees for land reclamation and to build reservoirs for water security. As a result of that development, mangrove forests, which in 1953 covered about 24.5 square miles, covered only 3.1 miles by 2018. Singapore's goal is to replace its losses by turning areas used for industry and infrastructure back into landscapes that look more natural.

 

Part of that effort includes the One Million Trees project launched on March 4, 2020. It involves restoring both inland and mangrove forests. The trees are coming from Singapore's tree banks, which include nurseries and trees salvaged from construction sites. Transport and housing projects could result in the removal of up to 13,000 trees over the next 15 years, but the government plans to replant one tree for every tree removed. The One Million Trees project will be placed in parks, on university grounds, rooftop gardens, roadsides and on outlying islands. The project will also create therapeutic gardens for aging people in Singapore. It is the city's goal, when the project is completed in 2030, that every household will be within a 10-minute walk of a park. It is hoped that the trees will help to cool the environment and attract butterflies, garden birds and small mammals so that biodiversity and nature can be enjoyed in an urban landscape.

 

Mangrove trees have characteristics that make them especially beneficial in this project. Their roots help to stop erosion by holding in the soil. They also reduce the impact of waves on the shore. They trap sediment between their roots and create their own soil. That could help coastal cities like Singapore stay above water as global warming leads to the rise of sea levels – if that rise does not occur too quickly.

 

Research indicates that mangroves can sequester more carbon that rainforests do. Friess said that mangrove trees can store three to five times more carbon per hectare than other forest types of trees do. A hectare equals 2.47 acres. That ability could reduce excess carbon in the atmosphere around the world where reforestation projects take place.

 

In the Mongabay article, Friess is quoted as saying, "In a normal forest, leaves and branches would die, fall to the forest floor, and quickly get broken down by bacteria and fungi, which releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. Mangrove soils are waterlogged so they have a different microbial community, so organic matter is not broken down and the carbon stays locked up in the soils."

 

A key to successful mandrake reforestation projects is to grow the right species at the right sites. For other cities, states or countries who decide to try reforestation projects, a key is to ask reforestation experts which species are the right kinds to plant in which areas.

 

If Singapore can carry out this bold and planet-healing project, then other places around the world with the will to do so also could create their own reforestation projects. Even on a much smaller scale, reforestation projects could make a positive difference. Trees are even more important for our health and welfare than many of us realize.

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When You Face Change, Take a Lesson from Trees

Mulberry tree in neighbor's yard

I joined two neighborhood friends in the front yard of one of their homes. We sat under a huge mulberry tree whose big green leaves spread over much of the front yard.

 

"When the leaves of the mulberry fall this autumn," the owner said, "they fall all at once. One day they're there, and the next day, they're on the ground."

 

Just as all of us humans are different and handle the changing seasons in our own ways, so trees have their own way of letting go of the leaves of spring and summer to step into autumn and winter. For them, it's built into their tree-ness to handle leaf shedding based on signals they get from nature.

 

For us, when we face change, whether it's seasonal change or a change in our life circumstances – a change in jobs, the loss of a loved one, a move from one place to another, a different way of doing something familiar – we often get our signals from our own fear or apprehension of facing something different.

 

Will we like the new job, can we handle the tasks, will other people on the job accept and respect us? How can we survive without the person we lost? Will we ever get over the grief, the loneliness, the sudden change of almost every detail of our life? Will the place we're moving to be a pleasant one surrounded by the activities and the kinds of people that we have come to expect? Why does someone want to do a particular task in a different way when we can see there is only one sensible way to handle it?

 

When we face change, we recognize the need to take one step at a time through all the aspects of adjusting to that change. There's no easy way to do it. We just have to move through it, putting one foot in front of the other with determination.

 

No matter how hard the change in life circumstances seem, we can look to trees for inspiration. No matter what happens to trees – a seasonal change, the beginning of life as a young sprout or the end of life as a dying tree – they find a way to support each other. The stump of a cut down tree continues to be nurtured by trees around it so that it remains alive. A young sprout finds itself in the protective shade of a larger tree. No matter what the seasonal change, trees see in other trees that the change is handled with innate wisdom.

 

As trees prepare to move into the changes brought about by cooler weather, how can we as family, friends, and neighbors help each other face changes that inevitably come to us at one time or another? A kind word, a visit, sharing a chore, keeping in touch with someone who has moved away, a smile – the simplest things help to make life a little easier during change.

 

As you notice trees changing this fall season, remember that change is easier when we let people know they're not alone. Mother Teresa once told people who wanted to contribute financially to her ministry that, instead, they should take time to let people in their own community know they are not alone. We're all in this together, the trees and us, and we handle change better when we know others are encouraging and supporting our various journeys.

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Gardens and Trees Unite Us

Cottonwood with three trunks

I have a little backyard garden where I grow tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, asparagus, sweet red peppers, beets and carrots. It has been fun sharing some of my bounty with neighbors. The young neighbor family whose backyard abuts my backyard, is fun to interact with. They have two preschool kids who get so excited when I give each of them a carrot or a tomato. Sometimes their dad sends them to the fence between our yards with a couple of sweet juicy apples from one of their trees.

 

I sometimes think about that apple tree and how it and my garden have become a sharing conduit between my neighbors and myself. How wonderful that we can still be connected in ways that help us all feel cared about and appreciated.

 

I walked with friends today through the neighborhood for exercise. Seeing so many trees along the way made our walk even more beautiful and provided shade when we needed it. Trees have so much to offer us. I wanted to capture some of what they can provide in my book, Healing with Trees: Finding a Path to Wholeness. When people see me around town, they sometimes make a special effort to tell me how much that book means to them.

 

Trees have so much to offer, and I am delighted when people discover they too can have a connection with trees. People may enjoy a shady spot under tree branches to rest in. Or they may sense a welcoming feeling coming from certain trees. It can be an adventure to notice trees as you take a walk. One thing most people notice is how many trees there are all around us. It's fun to see what happens as you acknowledge the trees you pass and appreciate their beauty.

 

Sometimes that focus on trees and other plants can create a connection between you and a neighbor or someone you didn't know before. As I discovered with my garden and my neighbor's apple tree, trees and other plants have a way of helping us reach out to each other as we create loving community connections.

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Listening to Trees

Juniper tree in the neighborhood

Sometimes when I need a little extra exercise, I walk through parts of my neighborhood. It's a great way to stretch my legs and strengthen my muscles.

 

There are lots of trees in the neighborhood where I live. Almost everyone has trees in their front, back or side yards. Every once in a while, one of those trees will grab my attention. From past interaction with trees, I know that means they want something from me or they have something to tell me. So I have learned to listen. It may sound strange to think of listening to trees. That kind of listening isn't done with your ears. It's done with your heart.

 

Often, a tree wants me to pray for it or to send it Reiki, which is a Japanese form of energy healing that promotes relaxation, rest, and other healthy things. Getting to do that is one of the joyful things about being a Reiki Master. If a tree wants Reiki, I also send Reiki to everyone and everything in the area that would like to receive it. Reiki can help to provide relaxation, rest and healing to a large area, which is a wonderful way of bringing a greater sense of peace to the neighborhood.

 

If a tree wants prayer, I don't usually know what it needs. I just pray that it receives whatever it needs to find healing and wholeness. I sometimes feel a rush of joy coming from the tree to me immediately after I have prayed for it. It's the tree's way of thanking me and of telling me it received benefits from the prayer.

 

Sometimes trees have something to tell me. Their message is always one of encouragement or support. I am amazed at how much trees feel an interconnection with us, a sense of community in which we all benefit as we support each other.

 

Some people don't feel anything special when they walk among trees. They may have a hard time understanding how anyone else could connect with trees. They may wonder if it's all in our heads. Perhaps they might think we have an overactive imagination or we're just a little bit crazy. But almost anyone can enjoy the shade that trees provide, the perches they offer in their branches for singing birds, the beauty they add wherever they grow.

 

When you walk by a tree, it might be fun to try an experiment. Using your mind, not your voice, tell the tree how beautiful you think it is. Acknowledge it by thanking it for all it provides. Then stand quietly near the tree and listen. You may hear birds sing, branches rustle in the wind, leaves swish together. But underneath those sounds, you just might sense something else, a blip of joy, a rush of love that overtakes you in a gentle way. If that happens, you just might have heard with your heart a thank you coming from that tree.

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