The Color of a Birch Tree

by Catherine Doherty

One day when I was a child in Russia, an old woman, a pilgrim came to our house. While I served her food in the warm kitchen of our big country house, she talked to me.

She told me about the joy of being a pilgrim, of walking on green grass and stopping to rest at a tree trunk. She said an old tree trunk had so many colors.

Did I think a birch tree was white? No, she said, it wasn’t white. It had black spots all over it. Also, the white of the bark had many shades. One has only to look at it closely to know. And the same with pines and oaks.

Tree barks were a symphony of color. And the green of the forest, she said, is of a thousand hues.

As she was speaking, I could see all that she said actually taking shape before my eyes, for I loved nature, too.

But, she went on to explain, this quality of wonderment, of joy and of appreciation had to be a prayer, because of God. It was God who had created all this beauty.

He, the humble carpenter of Nazareth, was, as she put it, the king of the trees and the stars and the earth and the moon, king of the tiniest blade of grass, of every insect that ever lived, of all the animals, and especially, of course, of people. All these creatures were in God and he was in us.

Today as I thought of this woman, I understood that she was truly childlike. It is to such childlike ones that the Lord reveals the mysteries of his kingdom.

Excerpted and adapted from Welcome Pilgrim (1991), pp. 53-54, MH Publications, out of print