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In the weeks prior to moving with my family to our new home, my 8-year-old child came to me and confided a big truth. “Mom, before, only half of my body wanted to move to the new house, but now my whole body wants to move to the new house!”

I did a double take from behind a pile of boxes and dropped the pan I was trying to pack. “What do you mean, oh wise child?”

“Well, um, before, I didn’t know if I would like going to a new house; but now I like it [the house] and I’m sure I wanna move.”

I hugged my child and thought about the lesson in her simple comment. As children, we knew how to think with our bodies. It was not until we were indoctrinated into Western traditions of separation of mind and body, and the supremacy of the mind over the body, that we forgot that we ARE inside a body that feels and absorbs all our emotions. Stress is the result of the body’s inability to assimilate all the stuff we pile up on ourselves. Symptoms such as chronic backaches, headaches and heartburn are signals your body sends to remind you that you have overdone it.

This is not just new age theory, the American Academy of Family Physicians recognizes the effects of stress on your body’s wellbeing. They go as far as to point out that even “good stress,” such as having a baby, can affect your health.

Humans are creatures of habit and any change can bring about emotions that we think with our Western minds that we can control, only to have our bodies tell us otherwise.

We need to remember to listen to our bodies – our whole bodies. Like my 8-year-old.

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Bald cypress, RGR.I’m getting ready to move to a new house. As I pack, I reflect on all the other places where I’ve lived and what each place felt like. The “spirit of place” at the house where I’ve lived for the past year lives in an old, huge, bald cypress tree. It dominates the yard, the canal and all other mature trees around. It has its own symphony of birds, ants and wind. In its shade, time slows down. A microclimate envelopes and nourishes everything around it. This is what this tree gave me on the eve of my move:   

…I’m just out here playing on the margin, walking the fence. I’m a human bridge between the old and the new. I’m a transition. I’m the amorphous seed holding together both the old brown leaf and the new green leaf on the cypress tree. I hold both firmly and keep them alive.

One morning, I was wondering how people write so personally about their ancestors; as if they were narrating their own lives. Then I opened the back door and walked to the bald cypress. The tree extended one branch and handed me a brown leaf. It’s summer, the brown leaf should have fallen off months ago, so I thought I’d help by pulling. The brown leaf, the white seed AND the new green leaf all came off in my hand. Now I’ve done it. I started to ask forgiveness of the tree. But this tree is 100 feet tall, is probably about 100 years old and has seen it all. He meant to bend down, hand me that leaf and answer my question. I kept the leaf to help me reflect on my mother and my grandmothers. Later, I started to feel like the seed in the middle; holding past and present (and future?) in one firm grasp.

Four years ago, a dear professor and friend gave me a wonderful gift I did not immediately understand. It was an ordinary-looking little tree with big leaves, which came planted in a one-gallon container. “Here’s a palabra tree, a baobab from Senegal,” was all he had time to tell me before we were rushing down the hall to meet with the other two dear professors who had agreed to evaluate my master’s thesis/exam. I thanked him and started to look for a spot to leave the tree, but he said I could use its help at this meeting. I was never gabbier or more eloquent than that day, little baobab prompting words just by sitting there in the middle of the conference room table.

I’ve moved a couple of times and I’ve managed to bring the tree along. It’s now about five feet tall and lush with leaves. My daughter likes to measure herself against it. I like to have conversations with it and use it as a meditation tool. The tree has given me words to put into poems. As I wait to move to a new place and transplant an errant tree yet again, I reflect on baobab lessons I’ve learned over the past four years.           

Here’s 10 things my baobab tree has taught me (there are more lessons, but these seemed right to share now):

  1. Movement is not limited to N-S-E-W. Move on the vertical plane. Grow UP.
  2. You grow faster and taller when your roots are firmly planted.
  3. Your leaves (like “hojas de papel” on which you write) will give you a lift.
  4. You need not wait for everything to be perfect to start growing. Grow wherever and whenever. 
  5. If you die from the cold, curl back into your root and come back stronger.
  6. Take your time.
  7. Don’t cry over the leaves that yellow out and fall. Just let them go.
  8. Save some water/energy for later.  Be giving, but save some energy for yourself.
  9. When you feel stuck, go up like an elevator for a new perspective.
  10. Don’t confuse your wings(leaves/hojas) with your roots.   

Please visit this page for a quick reference on the amazing qualities of baobab trees: http://www.baobab-solutions.com/the_baobab.htm.