The Common Good
September-October 2003

Patience of the Cross Timbers

by Cynthia Gustavson | September-October 2003

Hundreds of years growing on a steep hill, desolate, aging / despite scarce nourishment, they wait for history to recognize them.

Hundreds of years growing on a steep hill, desolate, aging
despite scarce nourishment, they wait for history to recognize them.

Crooked cedars, centuries old, twist in the shifting light of seasons,
and cling to a long forgotten hill shared by three-hundred-

year-old post oaks, every head cut off by lightning, every stump holding out
side limbs like wires on ragged and weathered clothes-line poles.

Recorded history reveals itself in the cross timbers' rings, some narrow
as a spider's thread, examined not by eye, but magnified to count

each period of drought, season of rain, each scarring fire, tornado, flood,
times of settlement and grazing. Washington Irving slept here

among the timbers, now a century older, and proclaimed them
beautiful. They have waited these years to hear it once again.

I wait. Transition is permanent. I understand these trees which grow
around rock and moss, trees which stretch limbs in crooked lines

seeking elusive light, trying to catch the run-away water, clinging to life
long enough to leave a legacy on the land before becoming

firewood. Their endurance, spirituality of patience, their
mandala of encyclopedic rings. What they have is what I want.


Cynthia Gustavson is a psychotherapist at a pastoral counseling center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The cross timbers are remains of old growth forest in the South Central United States.

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