Before the Sun Rose

 

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April’s moon is on the wane.

This morning’s sky bled fire

burnt ashes at sunrise –

Not a drop of rain.

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Frog Moon Meditation: Frog Woman Am I

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(Green frog in my little pond in Maine)

 

Tonight is full moon and in the northeast we call April’s full moon the “frog moon” because all the wood frogs and peepers are croaking and peeping, mating, and laying mounds of jellied eggs in vernal pools. In June, toads begin to trill laying their strings of eggs in ditches and ponds. Here in Abiquiu I am frog – less and toad –less, missing my amphibious friends mightily…

 

I associate frogs with resurrection – the awakening of Earth from her winter’s sleep – but here in the southwest this seasonal marker of spring is absent. My friend Iren tells me that there will surely be toads laying eggs down by the river’s rivulets, and last year there was a toad in her pond whose trill I recorded in late April. Around the same time I also found one dead toad on my road that someone had run over, a sight that grieved me greatly. This year – nothing. I have no way of knowing how much the drought may be affecting the appearance of toads but I know how much I miss them and long to hear just one sweet trill…

 

Last night we had a few drops of rain, just enough to moisten the ground and open a couple of bird cage primroses that hug the red earth with a tenacity that astounds me … but nary a toad song.

 

The drought drones on…

 

This year the Frog moon and May Day (only a couple of days apart) will pass without celebration because not only are toads absent, but so are most of the high desert wildflowers…

 

In myth frogs and toads are often portrayed as creatures who are shapeshifters. Thus, I usually associate a lack of clarity, understanding, or a disguised identity with these water loving amphibians who breathe through their skin and spend so much extended time underground, especially here in the southwest.

 

I notice that I too experience lack of clarity (froginess?) with respect to who I am and the direction I think I need to be taking in my life that comes with this seasonal shift that seems to be completely at odds with the Earth’s “waking up.” Each spring I have to remind myself that this state of fuzziness is part of my internal cyclic process. I live this season through my body.

 

More important I have to remember that the gift of life just is, and that there is “no way” to live beyond moving with the seasonal cycles. There is no direction home.

 

To combat the spring fog I used to take to the woodlands to search for wildflowers and frogs eggs while clearing and inspecting my flower gardens for new growth, spending each day living in the joyous moment like the birds do as they sing up each dawn while anticipating the arrival of much beloved black bears …

 

Here it is harder. I am out of synch with the season. The drought seems to have captured me internally although I begin each day at the river’s edge, giving thanks for this serpentine sea green body of water.

 

Yesterday I planted iris and two pots with seeds. Charcoaled clouds brought the hope of a soaking rain (which never came) … I awakened from an afternoon nap suddenly, having had a dream that told me I might lose my animals. Sharp images of both of my precious dogs griped me with raw fear, first for the lives of Hope and Lucy, but also because I know that dreaming about losing my animals could mean that I am losing touch with critical parts of myself. I always feel such helplessness in the face of such a message.

 

Soon I was on my way to my neighbor’s house to scatter wild grasses and seeds. Imagine my stunned shock when I was told casually that my two little Chihuahuas were eating ant poison that had been distributed around a new house without my knowledge. Because I am so vigilant with respect to my girls, they didn’t get a chance to ingest much of the poison but at 5 and 6 pounds I knew both were at risk.

 

Poison control did not reassure me. I had no choice but to wait and see… A sleepless night passed uneventfully. My little girls seem fine this morning, apparently having suffered no ill effects, but I am struck by the clarity of the dream message. My mind may be foggy, but my dreaming body is very much awake and warned me that my dogs were going to be threatened by something that hadn’t happened yet.

 

If a person doesn’t experience precognition (dreaming the future) then the possibility of it seems absurd. I, however, live in this watery place between worlds where dreams forecast reality – sometimes literally or figuratively. Often both, I never know. In this sense I am very frog or toad like inhabiting two worlds at once and crossing over from one to another through my dreaming body, through animal sightings/absences, tree conversations, or the presence/absence of earth, air, fire, and water.

 

I find it chilling that this year the frogs are coming to me with warnings. I do know that the ongoing absence of water has left me feeling more than uneasy about the future not just here in Abiquiu, but everywhere because every peep or trill speaks to the necessity of potable water for continued life on Earth.

Matriarchs of the Bosque

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Every morning I walk down to the river’s edge to watch the sunrise. In late April the sky and trees are buzzing with hummingbirds, the mournful cooing of white winged doves, and the trilling of red winged blackbirds. As I wait for that pinpoint of light to blossom into a golden orb I look to the gnarled trunks of cottonwood trees (Populus delitoides wislizenii) that stand out against a background of blue slate marveling at the shapes, size, and trunk texture of such magnificent rapidly growing shade trees, trees that I have come to love so much, now drooping with male and female russet catkins (each on separate trees). I think about the heart shaped leaves that will soon grace bare branches rustling in the slightest breeze and the birds and small animals that will find safety under the massive canopies of these (egalitarian) Matriarchs of the Bosque. And I think about their future…

 

The Rio Grande Bosque is a system of wetlands, oxbow lakes, sandbars and woodlands that supports the growth of cottonwoods and willows, one of the most critically endangered habitats in the world. Seasonal flooding once cleared debris and enriched the soil allowing new seedlings to germinate, but over the last century large scale agriculture, irrigation systems, livestock grazing and logging have created soil erosion and extremes in flooding. Dams were built to control floods and wetlands were drained.

 

Mature cottonwoods have roots that can reach down to the water table, but young cottonwoods cannot germinate or grow unless they have enough water available to them near the surface.

 

The cottonwoods I love are “elders” but young cottonwoods are scarce or completely absent except in a few locations near the river (my friend Iren’s Bosque is a small but healthy ecosystem that is flourishing with the next generation of cottonwoods but this riparian area still floods in the spring). Whenever I gaze up or sit under one of these magnificent trees that are dressed in such golden splendor in the fall, I wonder how many people are aware of the fact that these gracious matriarchs will disappear from the landscape within less than a century even without assistance from climate change.

 

This year severe drought has added another layer of distress to an already critical cottonwood situation. All trees have access to food through their complex underground root systems and their relationship with certain fungi but trees cannot deal with ongoing thirst.

 

Groundbreaking scientific tree/plant research indicates that when trees are threatened with lack of water, food production and growth cease. The trees that suffer the most are the ones like cottonwoods that grow in soils where moisture is most abundant. Deeply distressed thirsty trees send vibrations through their trunks when the flow of water from the roots to the leaves is interrupted. These vibrations could be understood as cries of thirst, a sobering thought for anyone who loves cottonwood trees (or any tree for that matter) and sees them as sentient beings as I certainly do.

Dying into Life

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April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

You circle overhead

as the Hawk does in my dreams…

Broad russet wings and tail,

a golden eye

piercing illusions

of separateness

intertwining the two –

Winter and Summer-

Both, Cycles of Becoming.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Bittersweet flaming orange heat

and bleached blue sky

bend olive trees

with thorns, as leaves unfurl

casting sage green

shadows over

serpentine waters.

Willows glow –

burnishing gold wands

at dusk.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Communing underground

thirsty cottonwoods

gulp much needed water,

give thanks for

Red Willow River

as do I.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

If only rain would come,

these mighty trees

with elephantine arms

would surely

drop pendulous russet flowers,

uncurl scalloped leaves

inviting us to sit awhile

under rough textured bark

to listen carefully,

to reflect upon this canopy

woven out of hearts

murmuring over our heads.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Secrets are revealed

among arching tree boughs,

trunks, roots, and fungi,

truths we cannot bear to hear.

 

Dying into life

is a message

we need to feel.

 

 

Postscript:

 

Today is my father’s birthday…this morning I honored his life sitting by the river before dawn. I waited for the sun to rise through silver clouds… but the sky turned gray.

 

The day I buried my brother, hawks perched in bare branched trees around Trillium rock. One morning I spied a hawk driving to work. He lay lifeless, every feather intact as if asleep, by the side of the road. I stopped, gathering the dead, but still warm bird, gently in my arms. I would cremate him in my wood stove when I reached home… I didn’t know yet that my mother had died during the previous night. Another hawk almost flew into my window one September when a baby I longed for was born. How could I have known I would lose this child too?

Earth Day

 

 

 

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This unknown painter captures Earth Day for me.

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Young dancer after the ceremony

 

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David Garcia and band

 

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Woman on left making contact with the sky and earthing with her other hand… she may be holding Avanyu, Tewa serpent of the river(?) – I am fascinated by the large dog-like animal above her.

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Iren and I at the river…. water women we are!

 

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Honeybee cacophony!

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The seed circle – note the bowls of earth and water

Yesterday we attended The Tewa Seed Exchange at Los Luceros, a magnificent piece of lush irrigated land situated on the Rio Grande a place where many Indigenous peoples once lived and farmed. The orchards were stunning, magenta, deep rose, pale pink, and white clouds of fruit -tree blossoms drew in masses of bees from every direction. Standing under the trees to listen to this joyous buzz was pure honey-bee delight!

 

The seed ceremony was held outdoors in a circle and just as it began two red tailed hawks appeared out of the deep blue sky and circled over our heads – Messengers from the beyond, these birds have a habit of appearing at Indigenous ceremonies, a fact I have witnessed too many times to ignore. And what could be more important than a seed exchange between primarily Native peoples many of which had gathered seed from plants they had grown the year before and brought them to exchange with their neighboring pueblos?

 

The appearance of the two hawks also held personal significance for me because I buried my brother’s ashes on Earth day and this seed ceremony occurred the day before. Every year around this day hawks appear as messengers reminding me that my little brother lives on through these raptors he so loved… a comforting thought though he has been dead for 46 years.

 

Before the actual ceremony the current docent spoke. I was distressed to hear so little about the Tewa speaking peoples we were there to honor. Instead the recent story of conquest and colonization took the usual precedence along with that of the recent history of the mansion located on the property (which had finally been taken over by the state).

 

However, when the actual ceremony began the Tewa women blessed the seeds and we were asked to enter the circle from the direction we came from with our individual offerings all of which were put into a communal container… We moved around the circle counter clockwise before pouring our seeds into the large beautifully woven Indian basket. A simple but moving gesture that united all that participated.

 

The week before I had spent time reflecting on what seed offering I would make. I had saved many wild seeds from last spring but because I wasn’t here last summer, hadn’t planted any. Then just a few days before the ceremony I discovered a “black sage garden” on Iren’s land that she hadn’t known was there! I knew then that I needed to offer the seeds of this black sage, not just because it is a powerful blessing herb, and one deeply meaningful to me, but because of my deep gratitude towards this woman. I have been privileged to stay in safety and comfort on her land for two winters, and to offer these seeds as a form of thanking her as well as an offering for the ceremony felt just right.

 

What I also liked was how the children were encouraged to participate in the ceremony bringing seeds for the communal basket. Seed gifts from the earth belong to the ancestors of the Tewa and are also the seeds of their children’s future…

 

The dancing came next. I am always struck anew by the individuality of the dances although meaning seems to seep through the sound of the drumming. The singers/ musicians came first and two of them carried orange lightening sticks to call down the rain as they chanted. Four young people came next, two boys and two girls dressed in elaborate rainbow regalia, the boys with spear – like projections topped by the deep orange parrot feathers that identified them as the summer people. The boys danced in a circle with the two maidens, each gender moving up and down in a rhythmic way. The two girls wore a circle of red on each cheek to signify purity. The boys wore white net leggings, plowed the earth with their spears, the girls held up their baskets. The sounds of the bells, rattles, and gourds pulled me into their story, one without a need for words…

 

Just after the ceremony ended we were told that the children would use the earth, the water, and the seeds that had been placed within the ceremonial circle to make mud seed balls that could be planted just as they were. What a wonderful idea! I have one sitting on the table waiting to be Earthed until I receive a message as to where it should go…

 

We then entered the building for the actual seed exchange – an unbelievable abundance of seeds were spread out on table after table. With so many to choose from it was hard for me to make choices. I chose seeds that I wanted to grow, herbs in pots, a few kernels of blue corn, some hardy flowers. I did not take more than I needed but even so, I will have plenty to share because if I have a garden it will be a small one…

 

Iren and I wandered down to the river to eat our lunch and when we returned a celebration was in full swing with lots of hot food, music, and dancing. The joy was contagious! David Garcia’s music has no parallel in these parts.

 

When we left we stopped to see some petroglyphs – there was one with an Indigenous woman holding one hand to the sky while earthing the other. This picture caught the spirit of the seed ceremony I had just witnessed in a pictorial way.

 

As a woman with northern Indigenous roots and a dedicated seed saver for most of my adult life I was so grateful to be able to participate in a communal tradition so dear to my heart.

Messengers from the Body and Beyond

 

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Above: Lily b sunbathing while keeping a sharp eye on the hummingbirds

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Lily b snacking on plant greens

 

The night before last I had a dream that has stayed with me. My dreams rise out of my body to teach and to comfort me so I pay close attention. I had recently written tributes for two men, Lynn Rogers, bear biologist, and Rupert Sheldrake, biologist and plant physicist. Both of these men mentored me like a “father” each encouraged me to believe in myself, celebrated my original thinking and told me to trust my intuition. Writing about these mentors reminded me of my own father with whom I had a most difficult relationship…

 

I am talking to my mother (she has been dead for 13 years) about having found someone who could help me with math and stuff I can’t do because of dyslexia. In this conversation my mother is not a personal figure (when she appears as herself it usually means that I am going to face some difficulty – As an impersonal ‘great mother’ figure she is very helpful). She replies that my father wanted to teach me all these things but he just couldn’t. So many problems were in the way. I choke up weeping over this knowing (and my tears carry over into waking) because I know that “my mother” is speaking the truth. I feel such heartbreak for both my dad and for me. Neither of us had a chance… as I awaken from this dream in the middle of the night Lily b., my dove, is bellowing. He is reiterating the truth of the dream.

 

My father died suddenly from a blood infection that he acquired in the hospital after being operated on for colon cancer. The last time I saw him he smiled and called me “his girl,” an endearment he never used to describe his daughter during all the years of her life.

 

I wept.

 

The morning he died I dreamed he became a beaver.

 

A pure white dove appeared at my bird feeder and stayed for just that one day.

 

The night after my father’s death his brother, my uncle, bit into some pasta and discovered to his astonishment and disbelief that he had bitten into a tiny white stone dove that had found its way into his pasta…my uncle never recovered from this shock and placed the diminutive stone dove on his fireplace mantle and kept it there until the time of his death…It wasn’t until this writing that I remembered that my uncle loved birds and kept them as beloved pets. (Like me, he had a very difficult relationship with my father who he said threw tantrums and rages that made him impossible to be around.)

 

Birds were Messengers from the Beyond.

 

I recalled my experience in Assisi Italy (My father was Italian immigrating to this country from Rome when he was twelve years old). When white doves landed around me in a circle one morning at dawn I felt that I was being blessed by something beyond my comprehension… My life long love of wild doves soon turned into an obsession to have a dove of my own.

 

Birds were Messengers.

 

A few months after my father’s death I acquired an African Collared dove that I named Lily and re named Lily b when I discovered he was a boy. Lily b was a free flying house bird. Every morning when I wrote something important in my journal he would coo repeatedly. Because I recorded these responses of his on a daily basis it became impossible to ignore what was happening. This bird was reading my mind.

 

I began corresponding with Biologist Rupert Sheldrake who was studying telepathy in animals. Lily b’s telepathic ability became part of Rupert’s data bank. I remained bewildered – in awe that such a thing was possible until the same thing began to happen with other animals I was studying as a naturalist and I finally came to believe that the extraordinary experiences I had with animals and plants throughout my life were real.

 

Birds were Messengers.

 

Lily b became a father at three years of age and I thought I learned more about what fathering meant from this bird’s behavior than I ever had from a human up to that point. Lily b was an incredibly loving parent who fed and preened his offspring with a dedication that astounded me. And yet, when it was time for his dovelets to leave the nest, he chased them away pecking at their wings even as they fluttered around him anxiously seeking more food. He maintained a deep abiding attachment to each of his three mates throughout their lives. Yet none of these normal dove activities ever interrupted the telepathic communication that routinely occurred between this bird and myself.

 

Birds are Messengers.

 

Vaguely, I associated Lily b with my father but without accompanying awareness of what this relationship actually might auger for me personally or transpersonally. Gradually after Lily b arrival I began to remember that in between the cracks of my father’s unpredictable rages throughout my childhood he demonstrated his love to us through some deeply caring actions.

 

Birds are Messengers.

 

Long buried memories began to surface… My father taking me to the zoo and buying me a child’s umbrella when it rained, the day we went to the circus when he presented me with my first real lizard, the night he introduced me to ruby pomegranate seeds. He brought home metal toy birds that chirped for me when he wound them up. Whenever we went to the beach he would bury my brother and me in the sand and build elaborate sand trains with cabooses for us to play in. When I threw up or needed to go to the hospital it was my father that took me. He was the parent that read us stories at night. He fired my imagination with his fascination for the workings of the universe and the mystery of the stars. When my mother decreed that either of “his” two children needed a spanking he would dutifully come in our bedroom to discipline us after he came home from work. My brother and I stuffed books into the back of our pants so the spankings never hurt, and we thought ourselves so clever because we had outwitted our father. It never occurred to either of us that he saw through this ruse and ignored it!

 

How could I have forgotten all these stories for so long?

 

Birds are Messengers.

 

Later, much later, I learned to respect my father for the way he financially provided for his family putting both his children through college (as undergraduates). He taught us not to waste resources like electricity or heat, to be financially frugal. To this day I never leave a room without turning the lights off and am happy to live in a small warm space!

 

Birds are Messengers.

 

Why did it take me so long to appreciate my father? Violence. As children we both learned that we couldn’t trust a man who took out his explosive rage on us for reasons that we could not comprehend. As adolescents my mother ridiculed her husband’s verbally abusive behavior (my father was never physically violent) and taught us by example to dismiss our father as irrelevant. And yet, she stayed in a marriage she despised, modeling to her children that raging like a madman was somehow acceptable because she put up with it too. She taught us to be non – violent but she “endured”… and my parents both saturated themselves with alcohol to fuel vicious attacks on each other that occurred on a daily basis. Dinners were a nightmare. The fact that my father was never accountable for his actions helped seal our mutual fate as children though I could never have articulated that truth because neither of my parents were self responsible when it came to their actions. Eventually my brother and I both began to hate him, becoming unconscious collaborators (along with help from our mother) collapsing the bridge to positive fathering on any level. My brother and I were orphaned.

 

The result of this breakdown was that neither of us had a positive internal father image to emulate. The consequences were catastrophic. My little brother turned that violence on himself, committing suicide after graduating from Harvard. How could an adolescent boy possibly bridge the gap from adolescence to adulthood on his own?

 

Although I survived, I married another violent man, ended up battered, divorced him, and found other vicious egregious men to take his place repeating the destructive pattern I had learned as a child. Allowing myself to be abused repeatedly as a young mother I modeled the victim becoming a mother my children despised. Every abuser needs a victim and I played the part well.

 

Violence begets violence whether we choose it or not.

 

When my oldest son was born, he had bizarre and violent tantrums, and even as a toddler he hit me and told me he hated me. I was stunned by the force of this hatred – I could feel it on a visceral level. His frightening behavior made no sense to me, and I wondered what I could have done to deserve such treatment from my own child. Was I demented? By the time Chris became an adolescent I was physically afraid of him. It would be years before the consequences of an underlying pattern of intergenerational family violence would reveal itself to me.

 

Violence begets violence (or its opposite – victim) and personal choice isn’t enough to shift the pattern.

 

When my children left home I began to cobble together the fragments of my life. With years of intensive work I eventually developed into a self – directed woman, who was for the most part, author of her own destiny. The weak spot was my children who I continued to long for, years after they had rendered me useless and invisible. “She’s nothing but a victim” is the story they continue to tell to this day…

 

One spring night, early during the process of self recovery, I was driving home in the rain. Tiny frogs and toads were hopping all across the warm wet pavement and I was paralyzed by the thought that I was not going to be able to avoid killing some of them. Pulling over to the side of the deserted country road I got out of the car feeling utterly helpless. My heart ached with misery.

 

The powerful thought sounded like a voice. ‘Look up into the sky’. Although it was raining, I did, and what I saw above me was a shattered mirror that was reassembling itself under a star cracked night. I felt as if I had been struck by lightening, and that this vision of the shattered mirror was about me rebirthing myself.

 

Frogs are Messengers too.

 

When I found the courage to get back into my car I crawled through the dark swerving every few seconds to avoid killing a frog or toad. Miraculously, I managed to get home without squashing one beloved amphibian. I reached the obvious conclusion that under normal circumstances I could not have made this 40 minute drive without incident. I had to have had help.

 

Frogs are Guardians of the Waters and Messengers too…

 

As I developed into the woman I now deeply respect, I took responsibility for my part in the chaos of my life, the victim “hood” I was born into and perpetuated albeit unconsciously. I included the importance of acknowledging the relationship between my fiery temper and my father’s rages. I struck out too on occasion; the difference between us was that when I did get angry I became paralyzed with guilt apologizing too profusely. My children interpreted my sorrowing as weakness, no doubt because I routinely took responsibility for more than my share, to the detriment of us all.

 

Learning how to let go of baggage that belonged to others was probably the most difficult challenge I faced, especially with my children. The roots of entitlement and lack of accountability characterized the lives of both of my parents and now those of my children. In time I discovered this behavior was more about them than me, separating the seeds from chafe. Today I hold my 50 (and 50 plus) year old adult children accountable for their disgraceful treatment of me, just as I held both my parents accountable for irresponsible actions that literally destroyed our family. But I am digressing from my story.

 

In my forties when it seemed that all was lost my Father opened his heart.

 

After one heated telephone exchange my father hung up on me. No surprise there. But what happened next unhinged me. This time my father (now in his sixties) called me right back and apologized for his behavior. That one apology opened the door to others, and led to a reconciliation between a father and his daughter that continues to deepen today, years after my father’s death. By that time I was more than ready to re-weave the broken connection between us but without evidence of some accountability on his part there was no way I knew of to open the door until he made this one gesture. During the last ten years of his life I got to know my father as a person and together we developed a relationship that had meaning for us both.

 

To my absolute horror I also learned that we had to communicate in secret because my mother could not tolerate the fact that my father had developed a relationship with his own daughter and he refused to cross her. My mother also told him I had plenty of money. In truth I was living below the poverty line and had my entire adult life. My dad offered us financial help, but my mother found out and that was the end of that.

 

During those last years I learned a lot about my dad’s family, how his father had beaten him, his brothers and sisters, his mother, the ugly obscene part overt violence had played out in his own life as a child, how he had tried desperately to protect his own mother and stayed loyal to her visiting her (although she rarely knew him) once a week until her death. My father had also put his brothers through college… I also came to understand the part covert violence played in the dance between my mother and father. My mother controlled through deadly silences, secrecy, and lies, fear of abandonment, perfect correlates to her husband’s irresponsible explosive rages. Silence and Rage make grotesque bedmates and both destroy relationships.

 

Today I honor my dad for his accomplishments. I can see the pattern of violence that he was unable to break, understanding that in an opposite way I too perpetuated the same cycle of violence and abuse by becoming a victim. Today I can, and have forgiven us both.

 

Most important are the deeply touching childhood memories that thanks to Lily b’s connection to the Beyond, and perhaps as part of his mission as a Bird Messenger, filtered back into my life enriching it in ways I could never have imagined. There is a sense of peace between my dad and I that literally “passes all understanding.”

 

Whenever I think of him I weep over the loss of having a father for most of my life. I know now that he cared for his daughter deeply and that brings me some comfort.

 

Lily b is still with me at twenty 27 years old, and just commented on my last sentence. It has taken me all these years to comprehend that this bird was not only a personal link between my father and me from the beginning but that Lily b carries a universal “charge” – one that embodies Peace.

 

With my father’s birthday just three days away I will be sending loving messages to him in the Great Beyond and Lily b. will transmit them. What I want most for my father is Peace, and my bird embodies that transpersonal quality so he is the bridge.

 

Lily b. also reminds me that my father and I did the best we could with a script that left us both floundering, caught in a dark net of violence,and chaos, an overreaching intergenerational family pattern that extended far beyond our comprehension. Unfortunately, this pattern has not been broken and it will continue to affect generations to come.

 

Lily b is right: My father and I really never had a chance

 

That we salvaged any relationship is something of a miracle, and Lily B orchestrated that by providing me with information and a context for reconciliation. To “re member” is to return the pieces to the whole. Lily b helped me find my way home to a father, a man I always loved but forgot I knew.

 

Birds are Messengers from the Beyond.

Following in his Father’s Footsteps

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(photo taken directly from Rupert Sheldrake’s website)

 

A Tribute to a Father and his Son.

 

Part 1: The Father

 

I first discovered Rupert Sheldrake’s work by reading his first two books: “A New Science of Life” written in 1981 followed by “The Presence of the Past.” These two books changed my life because they validated my experiential reality and demonstrated that my personal experiences were located in a much larger context. I was not imagining things I felt or dreamed!

 

(At the time I first read these books I was in personal crisis. I was struggling to accept that I was living the shadow side of Rupert’s hypothesis of morphic resonance as a rejected member of my own family. This rejection had so little to do with who I was that it left me paralyzed and numb, least until I began to sense that my situation was rooted deep in a very dark past I knew nothing about.)

 

Nature does have a kind of memory that we can tap into in unexplained ways… the past intersects with the future through resonance which can occur instantly either through our mind/and or body. What this means practically is that we can communicate with those who have gone before or with other species as long as we have a relationship with them. Rupert says like attracts like. I would also add that it is my experience that the opposite can occur. Extremes in relationship carry a charge. It’s the strength of relationship positive or negative, an open mind, and sensitivity to the unknown, that seem to determine whether we will be able understand that we are having these experiences. Only then can we begin to separate past from present.

 

In his visionary hypothesis Rupert Sheldrake describes the process called morphic resonance, in which the forms and behaviors of the past shape living organisms in the present. How this happens is not understood but Rupert suggests that telepathic communication is probably the means by which this communication occurs almost instantly. (Quantum non – locality is another possibility.) There is nothing paranormal about telepathy. Rupert believes as I do that animals developed telepathy to keep in touch with each other. Telepathy developed as a survival technique and anyone that has a close relationship with an animal is privy to this kind of communication although it is still dismissed by materialistic science as wishful thinking or – fill in the blank – for some other equally stupid reason (what would happen if we actually acknowledged that this kind of communication routinely occurs? – we’d have to make a radical change in the way we treat animals for one thing). So many scientists have completely closed minds – a kind of tunnel vision. The “either or principle” – it’s either “hard science” or its just a “story/myth” that can’t be quantified – is still the norm. “Prove it” is one aggressive stance that is taken by some, an attitude I find revolting.

 

The late Sir John Maddocks was Rupert’s long standing critic and the author of an infamous editorial in the prestigious scientific journal Nature in 1981 over A New Science of Life, in which he wrote “This infuriating tract… is the best candidate for burning there has been for many years.” Maddock’s denunciation was followed by a series of hostile reviews in Nature and in British newspapers.

 

In an interview broadcast on BBC television in 1994, Maddocks said: “Sheldrake is putting forward magic instead of science, and that can be condemned in exactly the language that the Pope used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reason. It is heresy.”

 

Naturally, cowardly conventional scientists from countless disciplines jumped on the bandwagon because this was followed by another series of hostile criticism by the entire scientific community.

 

This brilliant visionary scientist became known as a radical fringe pseudo scientist who didn’t adhere to “the man against nature paradigm” arguing instead that all Nature was alive and interconnected and that the past intersected with the present.

 

To make matters worse, Sheldrake also refused to split science from spirituality a fact that also enraged atheistic materialists, biologists, and scientists alike. This trend remains current today as scientists from all disciplines split spirituality from science, often demonizing the former. Sheldrake has the immense courage to maintain that a “both and” perspective can be applied to both science and spirituality, and in his latest book “Science and Spiritual Practices” argues for what he knows to be true, namely that we cannot split science from spirituality because the earth is alive and sentient and science and spirituality are two lens that reveal they are parts of the same whole.

 

Amazingly this man of great kindness, deep humility, and integrity (I know him and his family personally) persevered against all the odds continuing his research, submerging himself in rigorous experimentation and went on to author many more books. He was ridiculed and condemned, and even shot in Texas for giving a talk on animal telepathy.

 

I remember one of my graduate professors dismissing Rupert’s ideas with disgusting hubris claiming that “science didn’t need his hypothesis – DNA can tell us everything we needed to know about heredity.” I heard that same argument robotically repeated by mainstream materialistic/mechanistic/ atheistic scientists for years and years – and most astonishingly by people who actually refused read Rupert’s work.

 

Oh, how pleased I was to read about epigenetics which validates that DNA is NOT the only way human behavior is passed on. Rupert stated years ago that DNA only codes for protein, not for form as part of his hypothesis. We can and do inherit the characteristics and behavior of the family systems’ we came out of. The study of epigenetics moves us on step closer to Rupert’s theory of morphic resonance, once dismissed with such ridicule.

 

When I read The Rebirth of Nature in the late eighties I knew that the naturalist in me had found “home” in western science even though by then Rupert had been banned from the scientific community by his so called radical ideas. Sheldrake argues and demonstrates our intimate relationship with the universe through open minded science — he believes that we are a part of a breathing, living, thinking cosmos and that intelligence is a pervasive reality inseparably one with nature. In The Rebirth of Nature Sheldrake urges us to move beyond the centuries-old mechanistic view of nature, explaining in lucid terms why we can no longer regard the world as inanimate and purposeless. Through an astute critique of the dominant scientific paradigm, Sheldrake shows recent developments in science itself have brought us to the threshold of a new synthesis in which traditional wisdom, intuitive experience, and scientific insight can be mutually enriching.

 

I have been following Rupert’s career and submitting my own experiences with animals (and some with humans) to his data bank for the past twenty plus years. In the process I have come to deeply respect this man not only because of his visionary ideas but because he has somehow persevered in the face of such hostility becoming a model for me to emulate. When I first met him on Cortez Island, B.C. I walked into a room where people were conversing at a table in a far corner with their heads turned away. Instantly, I knew, though it was impossible to identify the people by sight, that the back of the head I felt compelled to stare at belonged to Rupert. That  very second Rupert turned around to look at me and our eyes met. I will never forget the moment. I am so grateful that at this conference I had an opportunity to get to know Rupert’s wife and family, and to thank him for validating my ideas, helping me to believe in myself and for changing the way I perceived the world opening my mind to a whole myriad of new possibilities. I have been blessed by having such an extraordinary mentor.

What follows is a biographical portrait of some of Rupert’s accomplishments:

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and ten books. He was among the top 100 Global Thought Leaders for 2013, as ranked by the Duttweiler Institute, Zurich, Switzerland’s leading think tank. He studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he was a Scholar of Clare College, took a double first class honors degree and was awarded the University Botany Prize (1963). He then studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow (1963-64), before returning to Cambridge, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry (1967). He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge (1967-73), where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society (1970-73), he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University. While at Cambridge, together with Philip Rubery, he discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport, the process by which the plant hormone auxin is carried from the shoots towards the roots.

From 1968 to 1969, as a Royal Society Leverhulme Scholar, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he was Principal Plant Physiologist and Consultant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life, published in 1981 (new edition 2009).

Since 1981, he has continued research on developmental and cell biology. He has also investigated unexplained aspects of animal behavior, including how pigeons find their way home, the telepathic abilities of dogs, cats and other animals, and the apparent abilities of animals to anticipate earthquakes and tsunamis. He subsequently studied similar phenomena in people, including the sense of being stared at, telepathy between mothers and babies, telepathy in connection with telephone calls, and premonitions. Although some of these areas overlap the field of parapsychology, he approaches them as a biologist, and bases his research on natural history and experiments under natural conditions, as opposed to laboratory studies.

The Science Delusion in the UK and Science Set Free in the US, examines the ten dogmas of modern science, and shows how they can be turned into questions that open up new vistas of scientific possibility. This book received the Book of the Year Award from the British Scientific and Medical Network. His most recent book Science and Spiritual Practices is about rediscovering new ways of connecting with the more-than-human world through direct experience.

In 2000, he was the Steinbach Scholar in Residence at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. From 2005-2010 he was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge University. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut, a Fellow of Schumacher College in Devon, England, and a Fellow of the Temenos Academy, London.

He received the 2014 Bridgebuilder Award at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, a prize established by the Doshi family “to honor an individual or organization dedicated to fostering understanding between cultures, peoples and disciplines.” In 2015, in Venice, Italy, he was awarded the first Lucia Torri Cianci prize for innovative thinking.

 

Part 2

The Son

I met Merlin and his brother Cosmo, (a brilliant musician) at Cortez Island when Merlin was an undergraduate. What I remember best was his penetrating dark eyes and his ease around strangers. Polite and friendly, the two brothers were off to an island party to play music (the whole family is musically gifted) so we spoke only briefly and yet I was struck by that same warmth and genuine kindness that made their father Rupert so easy to be around.

 

Merlin Sheldrake graduated from Cambridge in biological sciences history and philosophy of science. He completed his PhD on the ecology of fungal networks at Cambridge and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama where he conducted extensive fieldwork as a Smithsonian Research Fellow. Merlin received a triple first in Biological Sciences and starred First in History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University where he was a prize winning scholar. He is 28 years old.

Dr. Merlin Sheldrake’s experience in the area of ecology, mycology, botany, history and philosophy of science give him a broad perspective from which to write his forthcoming book on mycelium: Entangled Life: Fungal Networks and Intimacies which I cannot wait to read.

 

Merlin Sheldrake is an expert in mycorrhizal fungi, and as such he is part of a research revolution that is changing the way we think about forests. For centuries, fungi were widely held to be harmful to plants, parasites that cause disease and dysfunction. More recently, it has become understood that certain kinds of common fungi exist in subtle symbiosis with plants, bringing about not infection but connection. These fungi send out gossamer-fine fungal tubes called hyphae, which infiltrate the soil and weave into the tips of plant roots at a cellular level. Roots and fungi combine to form what is called a mycorrhiza: itself a growing-together of the Greek words for fungus (mykós) and root (riza). In this way, individual plants are joined to one another by an underground hyphal network: a dazzlingly complex and collaborative structure that has become known as the Wood Wide Web. The  scientific journal Nature first coined the term.

The relationship between these mycorrhizal fungi and the plants they connect is now known to be ancient (around four hundred and fifty million years old) and largely one of mutualism—a subset of symbiosis in which both organisms benefit from their association. In the case of the mycorrhizae, the fungi siphon off food from the trees, taking some of the carbon-rich sugar that they produce during photosynthesis. The plants, in turn, obtain nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that the fungi have acquired from the soil, by means of enzymes that the trees do not possess.

The implications of the Wood Wide Web far exceed this basic exchange of goods between plant and fungi, however. The fungal network also allows plants to distribute resources—sugar, nitrogen, and phosphorus—between one another. A dying tree might divest itself of its resources to the benefit of the community, for example, or a young seedling in a heavily shaded under-story might be supported with extra resources by its stronger neighbors. Even more remarkably, the network also allows plants to send one another warnings. A plant under attack from aphids can indicate to a nearby plant that it should raise its defensive response before the aphids reach it. It has been known for some time that plants communicate above ground in comparable ways, by means of airborne hormones and scent. But such warnings are more precise in terms of source and recipient when sent by means of the myco-net.

The revelation of the Wood Wide Web’s existence, and the increased understanding of its functions, raises big questions—about where species begin and end; about whether a forest might be better imagined as a single super -organism, rather than a grouping of independent individualistic ones; and about what trading, sharing, or even friendship might mean among plants. “Whenever I need to explain my research to someone quickly, I just tell them I work on the social networks of plants,” Sheldrake says.

As an undergraduate studying natural sciences at Cambridge, Sheldrake read the 1988 paper “Mycorrhizal Links Between Plants: Their Functioning and Ecological Significance,” by the plant scientist E. I. Newman, in which Newman argued boldly for the existence of a “mycelial network” linking plants. “If this phenomenon is widespread,” Newman wrote, “it could have profound implications for the functioning of ecosystems.”

Those implications fascinated Sheldrake. He had long loved fungi, which seemed to him possessed of superpowers. He knew that they could turn rocks to rubble, move with eerie swiftness both above ground and under it, reproduce horizontally, and digest food outside their bodies via excreted enzymes. He was aware that their toxins could kill people, and that their psychoactive chemicals could induce hallucinogenic states. After reading Newman’s paper, he understood that fungi could also allow plants to communicate with one another.

“All of these trees have mycorrhizal fungi growing into their roots,” Sheldrake said. “You could imagine the fungi themselves as forming a massive underground tree, or as a cobweb of fine filaments, acting as a sort of prosthesis to the trees, a further root system, extending outwards into the soil, acquiring nutrients and floating them back to the plants, as the plants fix carbon in their leaves and send sugar to their roots, and out into the fungi. And this is all happening right under our feet.”

Hyphae will be growing around in the decomposing matter of half-rotting leaves, rotting twigs and logs and then the mycorrhizal fungi grow into hotspots, Sheldrake explains. In addition to penetrating the tree roots, the hyphae also interpenetrate each other—mycorrhizal fungi on the whole don’t have divisions between their cells. “This interpenetration permits the wildly promiscuous horizontal transfer of genetic material,” Sheldrake finishes.

A central debate over the Wood Wide Web concerns the language used to describe the transactions it enables, which suggest two competing visions of the network: the socialist forest, in which trees act as caregivers to one another, with the well-off supporting the needy, and the capitalist forest, in which all entities are acting out of self-interest within a competitive system. Sheldrake is especially exasperated by what he called the “super-neoliberal capitalist” discourse of the biological free market.

Working with local field assistants while obtaining his PhD Sheldrake carried out a painstaking census of the soil in a series of plots, sequencing the DNA of hundreds of root samples taken both from green plants and mycohets, a kind of plant that has no chlorophyll.

Sheldrake became interested in mycoheterotrophs, or “mycohets” for short. Because mycohets are plants that lack chlorophyll, they are unable to photosynthesize, making them entirely reliant on the fungal network for their provision of carbon. “These little green-less plants plug into the network, and somehow derive everything from it without paying anything back, at least in the usual coin,” Sheldrake exclaims. “They don’t play by the normal rules of symbiosis, but we can’t prove they’re parasites.” Sheldrake focused on a genus of mycohets called Voyria, part of the gentian family. One of the reasons Sheldrake loves these plants is that they are harder to understand, and more mysterious. He calls them the hackers of the Wood Wide Web.

His research allowed him to determine which species of fungi were connecting which plants, and thereby to make an unprecedentedly detailed map of the Panama jungle’s social network.

For each formal scientific paper he published about mycorrhizae, he plans to publish the paper’s “dark twin,” in which he plans to describe the “messy network of crazy things that underlies every piece of cool, clean science, but that you aren’t usually allowed to see—the fortunate accidents of field work, the tangential serendipitous observation that sets off a thought train, the boredom, the chance encounters.” No doubt the Voyria will find a way to become one of the dark twins.

When you look at the network of fungi Sheldrake states it starts to look back at you! This remark sounds so much like something his father would say that I have to laugh. Everything is predicated on relationship. Both Father and Son are brilliant cutting edge scientists who I hope together, will continue to shift the present destructive “man over nature” paradigm into one that has interconnection, caring, and cooperation at its core.

Exploring the mysteries of the Earth and Cosmos as both father and son continue to do is rigorous open-minded scientific inquiry that could lead to a new way humans perceive themselves in relationship to our planet and cosmos, penetrating more deeply into the wonders inherent in “Great Mystery” through direct experience and rigorous scientific experimentation. Ironically, keen observation, understanding that non – human life forms and the entire Earth and Cosmos are our spiritual and scientific teachers is a practice Indigenous people have been engaged in for millennia.

In this sense the work of both Rupert and Merlin have the capacity to return us to our lost beginnings and open up almost unimaginable possibilities for a new future if only we will join them on this journey.

 

 

Postscript:

Normally I spend little time highlighting credentials because I have always believed that it was the person that mattered, not the degrees he or she amassed.

But in this case I feel differently because my own life journey has been tied to that of Rupert Sheldrake’s over a period of almost 40 years. After discovering that this remarkable open-minded scientist/naturalist was asking the same questions I was afraid to voice I was horrified to learn how viciously his ideas were attacked and continued to be dismissed by the scientific establishment. (In my personal life and through my own writing I have encountered the same resistance and skepticism.) This condemnation continues among skeptics today who refute Rupert’s visionary work as fraudulent because he dared to stand up for open – minded scientific inquiry and refused to be bludgeoned by a crumbling dogmatic atheistic scientific establishment. We would not be in global environmental crisis today if we had listened to what Rupert Sheldrake had to say 40 years ago. Once, I was in awe of science as a discipline, not so today. Materialistic atheistic science is the myth of our time, not Eternal Truth.

When I first read an article praising Merlin’s groundbreaking work article in The New Yorker I experienced pure jubilance. Perhaps Rupert’s work will remain controversial but his son is in the thick of it getting attention from every direction! I feel a personal sense of vindication for them (and for me) because without having Rupert as his father Merlin might not have had the courage to explore the mysteries of Nature with the confidence that has led this 28 year old man into uncharted  territory with such enthusiasm. I look forward with great anticipation to further publications from a father and son team who are changing the way some humans see and understand the world. With scientists like this working so diligently to change human perceptions of how the Earth and Cosmos works and how relationship and interconnection are fundamental aspects of both I can even feel a spark of hope.