I have been making friends with the Russian olive tree on my Living Prayer Room patio. I admire the strength and seeming single-mindedness of its trunk and limbs. I inhale a fresh New Mexican breeze and find pleasure in the tree’s slender silvery leaves that dangle in the same gust of wind.
But what I’ve learned is that the Russian olive tree is a bully, taking water from plants and trees that are native to the land. A bully is not the best choice for a friend, but my Russian olive was here before I. And although it is a bully, I’ve found shade, which has allowed me to sit outdoors during summer’s midday heat.
The Russian olive is like the person who refuses to move into the second half of life, determined to make things happen and forcing an agenda by replicating one’s self, achieving more and more by doing the first half, harder. What was helpful, even endearing, in younger years, became obnoxious and exhausting in the later, simply because the person refused to move gracefully into new seasons of life.
With all of the takeover warnings, this friendship is understandably tentative in its beginnings, but strangely, the mere acquaintance is inviting me to drop more of my stubborn will and to let go, accepting wu-wei.
As I’ve learned what the Russian olive has done to New Mexico’s landscape, I see the ugly alternative. It gives my spirit pause. For that lesson, its beautiful silvery leaves and the shade that it provides for me, I am grateful.
I step back and ask, “What will I bring to this union, whether it be friendship with my tree, marriage with my loving other, a blending in with this new land and her people or oneness with God? How will I affect the spiritual temperature of the one that is native, or more so than I? Will the well rooted ones garner anything at all because I lived here among them?”
What was planted in the Western United States as a dense stand to protect against drought, high winds and wildly fluctuating temperatures, became just that, a dense stand. The Russian olive grows fast and reproduces aggressively, edging out plants and trees that are native to the land. The noxious weed has lifted up its thorny spears and pulled out war shields, refusing to acknowledge the environment in which it was transplanted.
My Russian olive reminds me that what is a beautiful gift, may also have a looming shadow side that can destroy the natural habitat of others.
In becoming one with, I have to ask, “How many times have I stood, determined in, or even forcing my beliefs, only to miss connecting with and learning from another who is somewhat different than I and perhaps more native to a particular leg of the journey?”