I’ve lucked out and gotten one of the best seats in Cambridge for people watching and writing. With a pot of peppermint tea and a pocket of time, I settle in to write about whatever is right in front of me: the eastern façade of King’s College Chapel standing side by side with a massive chestnut tree.
The chapel has parallel lines, right angles, exact geometries, and intricate symmetries. It has been planned and crafted by hands over centuries. An alchemy of faith and mathematics, this architecture still makes me draw my breath with wonder each time I step inside. It has been built from steel, stone, brick, iron, glass, plaster.
A refuge. A constant. For all the activity in the street and the endless stream of footsteps down its aisles, it never loses composure. The inside can make you forget the outside. It would be easy to spend hours in its cool recesses, shifting highlights from the stained glass the only hint of the sun tracking the sky.
It couldn’t be mistaken for any other building in the world. Only one exists.
And the tree? Its shape is irregular. The branches don’t follow straight edges, but spread along paths seeking light. Supported by a central pillar of strength, its limbs radiate outwards in myriad angles. I wonder if it could grow taller than the chapel. It thrives in the mixed media of wood, leaves, water, air, sunlight, soil.
It is a sanctuary for birds, insects, squirrels, moths. As perennial as the grass, distributing generous shade from wide, soft foliage in the summer, donning regal robes in autumn, offering scant shelter in winter. Rain cuts through its canopies and wind shifts its boughs. Although its roots go deep, in time it will fall. All trees do. But all trees can also recreate themselves. They drop seeds and fruit that travel by bird and by zephyr to grow into other trees elsewhere.
There are many such chestnuts in the world.
As I look long at these two marvels, the thought arises: One of these has been built. One has grown. And I wonder which is my course?
What are you growing? What are you building?