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The New Year of the Trees Offers Opportunity for Reflection

I will not just survive. I will thrive as the ones who came before me have always done. I am Chaya Aviva.

One of Navajo Emily McDonnell’s favorite holidays is Tu B’shvat, The New Year of Trees, this holiday provided her with a frame for thinking about her move from the Southwest to the American South and her own growth.

It is Spring 5781 (2021). It is the New Year for trees…unless you’re in the desert. Then it’s just varying degrees of hot. I am running in a nature reserve in the Sonoran desert. There is no shade and nowhere to hide. The scorching temperatures expose your weaknesses for all to see. Only the strong will survive. I am strong. I am like those who came before me who have stewarded these lands for generations. This is one of the last runs in this spot, before I move to a new place to begin an exciting adventure! Until next time, my desert friend.

It is Summer 5781. I am walking up a hill to meet my advisor on a land that is not mine. What is this? They call it “humidity?” I have never felt more out of place. I sweat but it does not evaporate. I am being initiated to this place. With each step the land takes more of me, demanding respect and reminding me who is in charge. I say, “Mind over matter” with each step. I think I can do this.

It is Rosh Hashanah 5782. Another year of the High Holy Days in isolation. I am so bogged down with reading that I forgot to look up local fruits for the Rosh Hashanah seder. Maybe I have time to find a pomegranate at the grocery store? Where is the closest grocery store? Ugh, all the fresh pomegranates are all gone. I guess seeds from the frozen aisle will have to suffice.

Emily, who are you? What happened to you? The land calls out but I do not answer. I have more reading to do.

It is Erev Sukkot 5782. I really need to go for a run. I am homesick and more stressed than I have ever been. It’s been too long since my feet have run across the earth. Does she even remember who I am? To be honest I do not even recognize myself. Those few minutes of running across the grass feel familiar. “Where have you been?” she asks? I sigh, as I have no excuse. Ignoring this space, this place, comes at a price. I crash to the ground, hearing a pop as my body slams into the earth. I cry out in pain and grip the grass. I am angry, and not just because I should have known better. I should have known not to run in a place I did not take the time to familiarize myself with. She knew this, and she reminded me. That hole was the wake-up call I desperately needed. More than anything, I am angry at myself, angry that I forgot who I am.

It is almost Tu B’Shevat 5782. I will prepare a seder with the fruits of this land as the trees are reborn. Like my Hebrew name, I am life. I have taken time to learn the land and listen to her stories. Thankfully, we are on better terms now. She knows that I hold her with the utmost reverence, while also bringing knowledge pathways from my ancestral lands. I think I’m ready to go for a run again. The cold air that fills my lungs feels like home. It is a bold, yet gentle reminder that I am loved. I can make this space, this place, mine. Life will always find a way, and so will I. I will not just survive. I will thrive as the ones who came before me have always done. I am Chaya Aviva.

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