For well over a year, the tree has been silent. But at first, it was noisy. The incense cedar sits next to the path I walk most days, a band around our hayfield trampled by foot falls—mine and my husband’s and the dog’s. At the time of the noise, I walked early most days, around dawn. I’d just lost my best friend, a Trappist monk I met twenty years earlier. Martin and I were like family, though closer than family, and roughly three weeks had passed since his death. Because of Covid, I’d been unable to attend his memorial and burial—the monastery being on lockdown.
The first thing I noticed was a monarch beside me as I walked the path, then hovering before me a good spell in front of that tree.
Next, three days later, a flock of mourning doves took off out of the cedar as I passed; and the very next day, it happened again. As I passed, a flock of mourning doves noisily ascended from the branches of the cedar. “What’s going on? … Is that you, Martin?” Those days, I’d been talking to him at times as I walked. Not out loud, but silently. After the second clatter of doves, I went into the house and started to write these things down: butterfly; doves; doves, in detail, with dates.
The next day as I passed the tree, I saw a wispy flock of starlings fly over the farm, whipping back and forth as they do—a murmuration. Earlier that week as I watched a murmuration of starlings elsewhere, I thought how the sight always excited both me and Martin, how it was, for both of us, a spiritual experience. How we both felt closer to God during such nature experiences than at any other times. That same evening, I walked again. This time, right next to the cedar tree, two strikingly marked birds perched on old fence wire. I stopped to look at them. They didn’t move.
The following day, our skittish barn cat, never to be picked up and hardly ever petted, walked alongside me for the first time—several dozen yards along the west side of the hayfield, finally parting with me in the corner where the cedar stands. When I rounded that corner a second time, she remained by the tree.
Two days later, as I rounded the corner by the eventful cedar, I noticed off to the east a glowing toenail moon hovering over the farm, and just as I did, a dozen starlings swooped over the hayfield again. The next day, it was again two birds, again a species I didn’t recognize—this time yellow with black markings. They perched together on a branch right next to the cedar. They sat together a good while as I watched them.
The consistency of these experiences at the cedar tree started to make me wonder: Were these things always happening in that spot and I’d just started to notice them because I was thinking of Martin? Maybe I was conjuring them up by looking for them. I tend to be skeptical, to second-guess serendipitous experiences, though they’ve happened to me frequently. Then four days passed with nothing. On the fourth day, as I rounded ‘cedar corner’, a strip of amber-coral in an otherwise blue sky hit my vision. A stop-me-in-my-tracks sunrise. But I found it interesting. The four-day break in the experiences, in which the tree, that corner, were silent, corrected my idea that something happens there all the time and I was conjuring the experiences by looking for them. On each of the silent days, I looked and found nothing.
Two days after the brilliant sunrise, I rounded the corner to see the sun peeking up over the easterly hills at that very moment. And two days after that, I heard two crickets loudly conversing at the cedar tree, but only at that tree. Do crickets even sing at dawn? This was October 10, 2021.
After that, nothing. Roughly three weeks after the first sighting—the butterfly—the tree went silent. From then on, and for a year now, it has been utterly quiet.
Several weeks after the crickets, I did dream of Martin—a vivid dream I remembered well upon waking. In the dream I am at a cabin (my own, in the dream) and Martin comes for a visit. He pulls up in a maroon minivan with a friend driving. He wears a huge grin as I see him through the windshield, and I walk out the door to greet him. I am with someone (my husband?). The cabin is surrounded by trees, almost like a treehouse, and the minivan is new. Martin’s driver-friend smiles as well—a younger woman with dark hair.
Then again, silence. In the hayfield and in dreams. Six months later, I sat in front of my house at dawn, drinking morning coffee. It was about 7 a.m. and I asked Martin to join me. Right after I did, a hummingbird hovered in front of the tree just before me, then about 6 inches in front of our kitten Bob, who had clambered to the top of that tree. The hummer then sat on a branch right next to Bob for several seconds, only about 5-6” away from the cat, seemingly unperturbed by a feline in close proximity.
Since then, only silence.
For a long time, the silence bothered me. I lamented that Martin seemed so distant—so utterly gone. Then in early October 2022, I heard someone conceptualize the afterlife as an extension of the work we did on Earth. This isn’t a new concept to me, but it hit me in a new, specific way as I thought about Martin. Martin’s gift or work was hospitality, conversation and connection, ‘ministry of presence.’ What it means for him to continue this work in the afterlife, I don’t know, but the idea that he’s still at it does resonate for me. The thought comforts me, even as he feels distant.
I’ve started asking Martin’s assistance with things—as a way to forge a connection—like he is a guardian of me and those I love. Will this make a difference—a difference in whether I sense him or not? Will this make tangible differences in my life or the lives of others I love? It’s likely too soon to tell. But I will keep you posted.