In Honor of Mr. Pei: No. 32 of 40 Forts
After studying Tai Chi with Mr. Pei for almost two years, I can’t help but think of him when I see a tree. Probably in my first class, he quoted Trees by Joyce Kilmer while doing Tai Chi.
I already loved trees, their graceful structure and beauty. How they protect us and provide us with fresh air to breathe. They slowly mark the passage of time inside their inner core. My ideal home would be set in a large open pasture with a large beautiful tree just beyond my porch.
When I was a little girl, I desperately wanted trees in our yard that I could climb in or use to support a tree house. But we didn’t have any. A few, but not a tree like THAT. Now, thirty plus years later, we do have two beautiful cherry trees in our backyard. Plus there is a prickly holly tree that has probably harmed the foundation of the house over which it hovers.
But Mr. Pei romantically would talk about how you should keep your feet pressed into the “earth’s sweet flowing breast” and keep your head light so that you won’t break in the wind. Like a pine tree. By being grounded and reaching to the sky, you were to circulate your chi up from the ground to your head and shoulders and out of your finger tips. By doing this practice, according to Mr. Pei, you are uniting heaven and human in one.
Throughout my experience in religion, I never heard of any Christian reference to exercise. Maybe I missed it. But I find it fascinaing that in Eastern traditions, exercise is an important part of religious practice along with meditation. I appreciate how Mr. Pei has connected his Tai Chi practice along with his Christian faith. And he can be quite excited about sharing his beliefs with others. Is circulating your chi somehow connected to the Holy Spirit? I am not one to say. But the idea is interesting, nonetheless.
My weakness is my posture. And it really impacted me during my delivery and after my recovery. Up until I started the Forty Forts, I worked diligently to build up my posture. But in adding this creative project to my daily life of Lent, I gave up a lot of other things. Predominantly exercise. But I had enough of a glimpse of what my body feels like to know how to reteach myself how to stand tall. Like a pine tree. Or at least I am trying. With that, I wrote for this piece:
She strived to be more like the pine tree.
But I also believe that the pine tree has to do with more than just posture. The roots of the tree keep me grounded, just as my long history of my extended family in a certain area of land. Yet my light attitude grants me the flexibility to bend and sway. Be light and not be afraid to explore beyond my comfort zone because I know clearly who I am and what grounds me.
Through this Lent process, the exercises have allowed me to let go of old ideas that no longer served me. Yet also strengthened my understanding of what is important and essential in keeping me grounded and growing.
This fort design is my favorite. It is a long, skinny fold. I used stickers to seam the interior edges together on the back side. Then I cut two slits in the front to insert the message like it was written on the trunk of a tree.
I do truly believe that trees are precious. Not in a dainty kind of way, but in a way that grandparents and octogenarians are awesome. We should treasure them more. I am always sad to see when we have lost trees. To me, they are invaluable.
by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
“Trees” was originally published in Trees and Other Poems. Joyce Kilmer. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1914.
This paper sculpture, roughly the size of a coffee cup, is one of forty forts I created during Lent 2010 as a creative exercise and spiritual exploration.