There is a tree on one of the grassy benches above my home that is sacred. It’s a stalwart Douglas fir that rises up just a little taller than the other fir and spruce that surround it. From its base there is a standard tremendous view of the Bow Valley, the Three Sisters, Mount Peter Lougheed and Wind Ridge. It’s both easy to find and a surprise when stumbled upon. It’s like a thousand other Douglas fir that dot the sunny south-eastern side of this deep mountain vale, and singular in every way.

It is a prayer tree. Around its roots are a circle of stones with an entrance that allows access to the tree’s circumference. Approach the tree as I often do from the path that winds by its bottom and soon all manner of offerings appear: beads and glass bobbles scattered in the dust among its roots; hand written notes, an empty vile of homeopathic medicine, coins and a key are wedged in its thick bark; notes and pouches are suspended from its branches by string. A spiral of twigs is laid out in a neat pattern on the bare earth below the spreading limbs.

I found this tree by accident on one of my first runs through the woods above my home more than a year ago. I’ve had other such companions throughout my days on the trail over this lifetime. In high school I named a spreading American Beech ‘Phaedrus’ after a character in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and mourned it’s lose when my precious woods were cut to make way for the 427 toll highway. When I lived in Harvie Heights for six years in the 1990’s I named a massive Engleman Spruce Issrigill, one of the pillars of the earth in Roman mythology.

By the time I worked at Royal Roads University a few years ago I had stopped naming my favourite trees, but found them never the less. On a campus full of extraordinary trees – 16 of the largest Douglas fir left on the Vancouver Island were on the upland slopes of the grounds – there was a massive Norway Maple that at its base was six feet across. I found a way to run by that tree almost every day I was on campus and it never failed to fill me with a sense of magical wonder.

But never have I come across a tree that is so obviously important to so many other people. Despite the conspicuous adoration felt for this particular tree, I’ve yet to meet anybody there on my dozens of runs past it. And that’s just as well, because the sort of druidic reverence I and others evidently feel for this tree is best practiced in private.

A few days ago while running in the warm afternoon sun I came upon the tree as I usually do: by accident. On my circuitous routes through the woods and meadows along the slopes of Grotto Mountain I often let whimsy decide my course, so I’m always pleasantly surprised to find myself at the base of this tree.

I stopped running and walked through the opening in the stones that circled the tree. For some reason I have it in my head that the offerings left at this tree have been done so by young people. I figure most adults have lost the sense of wonder and suspended judgment that is required to leave a prayer in the form of a note, a coin or a key in such a place. I wanted to offer something but didn’t have anything to leave: somehow I didn’t think the wrapper from a Cliff Shot could be interpreted as anything but garbage.

But I did have something I needed to take with me. I circled the tree a few times, trying to quiet my racing mind. There has been a lot of pain in the world of late; a lot of pain in my family too. Several dear family members are sick. Two of the people I love the most in this world are facing the end of the journey. I do not want them to leave just yet. A friend is passing through dark times. And on the same day I was saying my prayers at this tree the father of friends I grew up with – a man whose presence when I was a child seemed like it would last forever – was being put to rest after a massive heart attack.

There were other prayers to offer. Last week a child was born to friends who are love incarnate, and this little boy will grow up deeply cared for and cherished. They named him Isaiah and recalled the Words: Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed. (Isaiah 54:10)

When we need something that we believe is beyond our control we sometimes pray for it.

More money.

More health.

More choices.

More time.

I do not believe there is a supernatural being to pray to, and nobody will respond to my supplication except the wind and the sun. So why do I find myself praying when I run past this tree?

Because all life is a prayer. Because every moment, every word, every breath is a prayer. Prayer focuses our intent, and calls together the sometimes magical and often mundane coagulation of hope and belief and the power of our thoughts to create reality.

And because sometimes prayer is all we have. And sometimes prayer is all we need.

And so, at the base of the tree where others have left gifts I leave love and courage for my family and friends who are struggling to hold onto life, and offer the gift of hope and peace for baby Isaiah. And then, the afternoon sun warming my face and the wind speeding my steps, I keep running through the prayer filed woods.