Extracts from a series of meditations about practices—Hasidic practices, the practices of forest ecology
The first time I saw dawn I thought the Messiah had arrived. The sky glowed, but briefly and from the west, where waves reach up to meet fir, spruce, and cedar and aging hippies gather around sparking fires of driftwood on sand.
From where comes a spiritual thirst? And to what purpose? Ashrei Yoshvei Veisecha Od Yehalelucha Selah.
On Nittel Nacht—Christmas Eve—all the small tasks from throughout the year are taken out: Buttons to be sewn, rips to be mended. The intellectuals emulate the rebbes and play a game of chess. For the forces of impurity are about and should not be fed with holy words of Torah.
Later, I sat in a movie theater and marveled at the bustle of people on a Friday night.
Pinus ponderosa. Three long needles, bright green. Cones with sharp pricks. The bark thick and plated in orange-brown hues, dark fissures between. I found a piece sloughing off an old giant, its surface metallic, thin plates layered and pressed to form its thickness. It helps to survive fire, charred bark dissolving gray on the fingers, healthy within.
The pine grows on the slopes of the mountainous western states, extending a finger into Canada’s Okanagan, where we searched for woodpecker feeding holes and pine beetle exit wounds, as we studied the effects of healing fires, the injuries still fresh—only five years old—just cracks in the charring and oozing pitch. The older scars—decades old—on the hillslopes above camp showed windows of bare sapwood and bark creeping, curving over to hide the past.
A short time before dusk I climbed a hill, following the line of gold and fire-red aspens to sing come my beloved towards the bride, to receive the face of shabbos. The red and gold disappeared as the skies darkened, by whose word dusk settles and the constellations turn, who created day and night and rolls away light from before darkness and darkness from before light.
It was the season of the prayer for rain. To condense, to cloud, to empty out, to rain. And nothing is familiar but the rain.
I write these from my place near the forest and the bog, from where that first fall I heard the coyotes howling, but now just the big band cacophony of Pacific tree frogs calling.
Someone must have thought words of Torah here.
Yudel Huberman’s writing combines forest ecology, a love for the outdoors, and an upbringing in the Chabad Hasidic tradition. He is a student in the department of forestry at the University of British Columbia.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.