Morphic resonance, memory, and the habits of nature/Sheldrake
Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s theory posits that memory is inherent in nature.
Memory is not stored in our brainsbut is situated in “fields” that surround us
The laws of nature actually more like habits – we live in an evolutionary universe where everything changes…
In humans (and in the rest of nature) morphic/body, social, psychological, behavioral fields etc, can all be tapped into individually and collectively. Our minds don’t store memories – they act as receivers.
From a psychological perspective resonance from the past is strongest with family – and family patterns exert the most pressure on each succeeding generation for good or ill. This theory explains why both positive and negative patterns repeat. (family, community, religious affiliation, political, cultural , nature – the circle gets wider and wider and the further you have to jump – to create a bridge – in order to seek healing the harder it is – but it can be done)… for example if there are problems within a family and a child has a relative, friend, mentor, teacher, a successful bridge to healing can occur. If not a tribe might be found as part of a community or religious tradition…. Nature, the container for the whole on earth is perhaps the hardest to access directly (by westerners) unless one is an Indigenous person, mystic, or has developed an intimate relationship with nature and has animal/plant familiars that open the door. The entire cosmos – an unimaginably large field – lies on the outermost rim.
In my case I experience unwelcome memories as takeovers by foreign entities – these memories feel like mine but I also have the weird sense that they also belong to someone else. In this case I believe my fear of death comes directly from my mother. I ‘knew’ this before I ever discovered Sheldrake’s theory in the 80’s. Up until that time I thought I was deranged. These family constellations can be either positive or negative – usually a combination of both – but my mother remains a mostly negative figure even in death.
During the environmental movement of the early 20th century two complementary organizations emerged: preservationists and conservationists. Preservation and Conservation are closely linked and may seem to have the same meaning. Both terms involve a degree of protection, but how that protection is carried out is the key difference. Preservationists seek to protect land and eliminate human impact on nature altogether. Conservationists are more interested in protecting certain habitats while allowing restricted human access.
Within the last 40 or so years the word ‘conservation’ has also come to include mechanized human recreation, some forms of which might be seen as being detrimental to the land.
Rewilding is a progressive approach to preservation and conservation that emerged recently in response to the loss of our forests, and to the threat of Climate Change. Rewilding enables natural processes to shape the land, repair damaged ecosystems, and restore degraded landscapes by allowing nature to take care of itself. In this way of thinking humans no longer ‘manage’ the land but allow nature to take the lead.
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where humans dominate the landscape, is recognized as an area where the earth and its community are not necessarily pristine but are free, and protected from human dominion. Rewilding is the most promising conservation strategy to slow down the mass extinction of species, and science demonstrates that there is perhaps no better solution for combating Climate Change than by protecting wild lands.
Wilderness preservation is fundamental to the idea of deep ecology, the philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of all living beings; this kind of thinking does not privilege humans over other species.
The Northeast Wilderness Trust (NEWT) is a regional organization based in New England that incorporates this philosophy. It makes a commitment to rewild forests in an era when we are facing the loss of all but three percent of our old growth forest in the United States. NEWT is the only land trust that can promise that every acre they protect today will become old growth forest in the future. But because this organization takes a multivalent approach to land conservation, NEWT partners with other land trusts that focus on conserving well-managed timberlands and farms.
As an example, NEWT partners with the New England Forestry Foundation. NEFF pursues innovative programs to advance conservation and forestry throughout New England. In partnership with landowners, NEFF has conserved more than 1.1 million acres of forest. This organization also works to provide timber for construction and supports local jobs.
According to NEWT land conservation can take many forms. Some conservation focuses on supporting human communities with a sustainable supply of forest and agricultural products (resource conservation). Others secure lands specifically for wildlife, so that they can have peaceful homes where ecological processes unfold naturally (nature conservation). These realms of conservation are essential and complementary.
At present The Northeast Wilderness Trust is trying to raise 1.4 million dollars by this coming December to create the Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve, a forever – wild area along Maine’s Appalachian Trail in the spectacular Mahoosuc Mountain range. This area provides a critical ecological link between the western portion of the Northern Forest (the Adirondack, Green and White Mountains) and eastern stretches that reach into New Brunswick and beyond. The proposed preserve is part of a five million acre stretch that currently supports 34 northern woodland songbirds. This habitat is also an important wildlife corridor. Animals rely on large undisturbed forests to forage, mate, and raise their young. This region is also home to the largest population of moose in the lower 48 states. The high ridgelines are migratory routes for many migrating birds and bats.
The Proposed Grafton Wilderness Preserve also stores an incredible amount of carbon within its mature forest and will sequester more when forests are allowed to regenerate. Sequestered carbon slows Climate Change. The Northeast Wilderness places an emphasis on protecting land like this that has high climate resiliency, which is the capacity of a place to support diverse flora and fauna as they attempt to adapt to Climate Change. Diversity and carbon storage go hand in hand. Wild forests also promote restoration. If purchased, the 1388 acres, adjacent to the Appalachian Trail will connect the Grafton State Forest, the Mahoosuc’s Ecological Reserve, and a large managed forest that will also soon be protected.
The most exciting part of this proposed Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve is that it is practically in our own back yard. A picturesque drive will bring us to an official Appalachian side trail. The Speck Pond Trail traverses the future Grafton Wilderness Preserve for more than 1.5 miles and situates the visitor in an area of unparalleled beauty and solitude.
The Wilderness Trust was founded to help restore and preserve new wilderness areas on private land at a time when Climate Change has become our greatest threat. I see this kind of organization as writing a ‘new story’, one in which forests are allowed to reach maturity and beyond, one that encourages diversity, promotes resilience and encourages people who visit these areas to develop a quiet, contemplative, reciprocal relationship with nature that may even change lives.
To Donate to the Proposed Grafton Forest Wilderness Preserve:www.newildernesstrust.org/grafton-forest
Early in January I discovered a chickadee with a broken wing floundering in the snow. I recued him, providing him with a safe haven in the house, hoping he might recover use of his wing. For the first couple of days we conversed at the edge of the mesh that covered the sides of his cage and he seemed pleased to be with me. I named him Blue.
On the third morning a solitary chickadee chirped just behind me outside the window. I immediately suspected it was his mate because Blue became frantic jumping back and forth on the mesh that faced the window.
After that incident things changed radically. Blue bit me hard whenever I changed his water. He tried to escape repeatedly. I knew that to let him go was to consign him to death because sub zero temperatures were the norm for this time of year. I resisted. It took a few more days to face the truth. I could feel and sense it. I had to let him go although I knew he would die.
I placed a small balsam tree next to the house. I left fat, food and water in the lush gray green branches. I didn’t sleep that night. I was drowning in regret. I had made a mistake by intervening in Nature’s Way and in the process I had become too attached to a wild bird.
When I carried the cage outdoors the next morning I choked back tears as I gently lifted Blue out and placed him in the tree. Immediately he bellowed “Chicka dee dee dee.” Suddenly a bevy of chickadees appeared on nearby branches all conversing excitedly at the same time. It was impossible not to draw the conclusion that this chickadee had been sorely missed and was being welcomed back by his friends and kin even if it was only for a brief moment in time. When he tried to fly towards them and fell to the ground, I picked him up and set him back in the tree. In moments he disappeared into fragrant fir branches.
I never saw him again.
One morning about a week later a chickadee landed on my head and stayed there. Another day one continued eating as I filled the feeder he was in. Chickadees were now hanging around the house in large numbers conversing with me whenever I stepped out the door. I could feel the comfort of their presence on a visceral level. Gradually, I reached a point of acceptance. I stopped questioning my poor judgment.
Then, a couple of nights ago I had a strange dream. In the vignette a chickadee was talking to me in a language I understood through my body– not through words.
The chickadee told me that I had no protection (protectoress) except the kind that came through nature.
That Nature was my muse was reality but trusting her as a protectoress seemed scary – Nature was focused on the whole life death life process more than its individual parts I thought uneasily… and death was on my mind all the time these days with Covid and other health problems, so surrendering my trust to nature seemed very risky – wasn’t I opening myself to allow her to orchestrate my own death like I had with Blue? Yet, the message seemed clear – Letting Nature lead in death as well as life seemed to be what was being required of me. First I had done it with Blue; now I had to do it with myself. I finally understood that this was why I had saved the chickadee, an action that made no sense to me as a seasoned naturalist.
When I first began to work with clay about 35 years ago bird-women goddesses emerged out of the clay. Ah, I thought, here are images of the animal familiars that had been appearing as helpers all my life. Birds (and animals) were frequently associated with the ancient goddess according to Marija Gimbutas. I remember pouring over the images in “The Language of the Goddess” with a kind of awe and recognition, feeling validated on a level I had never experienced before.
My expectation is that nature is always communicating with me; all I have to do is to listen. The more than human aspect of the world has always seemed wiser to me than the culture I was dropped into. When the incident with Blue occurred I sensed that this heartbreaking experience held a critical lesson for me that I was still resisting on an emotional level with all my might.
Now that I have uncovered it I must turn back to Nature to ask for help to internalize in my body what is being required of me.
Postscript: I have a particular fondness for grouse and turkeys.
This winter I do not have turkeys living here but I do have grouse, although with the crusty snow I no longer see their tracks and it will be another month or so before they explode out of the tree wells (places where these birds nestle down during inclement months).
When I think about these birds I see them as body birds – that is, birds that are most comfortable living on the earth, although both can fly.
So am I!
In the spring I look forward to listening to the males displaying their beautiful fan shaped tail feathers as they drum in my woods, and if I am fortunate one or two will gather around to eat the seed I scatter. Later the females may have a chick or two. In the last few years I have noticed that many babies don’t survive.
I just read that grouse (these are Ruffed grouse) are one of the birds that are seriously threatened by the way we treat the earth and by climate change. It is shocking to read statistics that tell us that in the US we have lost 60 billion birds since the 1970’s. Every state except Maine has a declining population and yet here we shoot them while encouraging out of state hunters to come and slaughter more.
This is the first winter that I am noticing a sharp decline in the diversity of all birds (except pine siskins) that visit my feeders, and I feel a deep sense of grief that this is so. I hope that the grouse around here will be able to find a safe haven for a few more years.
Meanwhile I treasure each feather they leave for me.
This sounds like a fairy tale. Today I met the three at my gate. Had I not been coming down my road would they have once again yanked off my “no trespassing” sign? Their two dogs were roaming free and rampant hostility flooded the air around them. I asked them kindly if they would refrain from bringing their dogs to the edge of my property because my five – pound Chihuahuas roamed free on my land ( I am always with them) and I did not want an altercation. One of their dogs does not respond to commands. This set off a brief explosion on their part – something about their calling the dog constable that didn’t make sense; then they turned around and left. I followed them up the road because once again I hoped to talk with them reasonably – these people have been harassing me for 15 years – once again I hoped to create a bridge. I remember saying that we were neighbors (or their mother was – the three daughters live elsewhere) and I had done everything I could to get along with them. I asked them again why we couldn’t get along. The tirade that followed was hard to follow because all three were bellowing at once. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but the three were hurling insults at me. “We don’t like you”, something about me singing 60’s songs. I couldn’t hear the others (fortunately I do not take umbrage from people like this seriously) – At one point one of them did something quite bizarre. She raised her fists over her head and yelled, “You won!” I did? Won what? Then, “we’re going to walk down the road anyway; our mother owns land.” Huh? Do I need to add that my neighbors that do live here have never done any maintenance on this road since they moved in? – They both live at the top of the road. The bully sisters wouldn’t have been able to walk down today had I not paid to have the road sanded. Finally, I shook my head and left them as they were getting in the last words. Bullies never listen, so it is impossible to have a genuine conversation with any of them… but they do not intimidate me. Bullies are always cowards at heart. I find their behavior pathetic.
What’s the moral behind this story? Accept the fact that some people take pleasure out of creating chaos/misery for others because they NEED an enemy? That some people don’t want to bridge difference and try to work together? That these people are full of hatred? I think all are true, sadly.
On another note I tried to snowshoe in my woods this morning and couldn’t break the crust. I think it’s time to accept that I need to start walking on the road again, at least for now. Thankfully, I also have another neighbor/friend next door who owns lots of land and we are always welcome to walk there.
Yesterday while snowshoeing on my land I looked up and there S/he was framed by a woodland eye – a balsam spire. With Climate Change upon us these most beloved fragrant trees will be moving northward if they survive disease and one day they will be gone.
I spend so much time with trees. They have taught me that life and death are woven into one tapestry and that roots of what was will live on in another as yet unknown form.
Today on Valentines Day I had an illumination… many years ago a child was born on this day and that night I witnessed a deer lying under a balsam tree in a moonlit field. I experienced such a sense of PEACE that I believed that one day “All Would Be Well Again” although at the time this vision seemed so impersonal it disturbed me.
Twenty five years passed.
One day last spring I met a boy who would change my life, a boy who cared about me like I did him, a boy who loved trees, one that continues to teach me not only about the forest but how to live. I love him. And now I remember that vision, knowing that nature was leading me home to him.
I almost never glimpse a rabbit or hare until spring but am much aware of their presence as I snowshoe over the tracks they make on my woodland trails all winter. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I inadvertently invoked lagomorphs in this poem since these two animals have been with me all winter long! I have always found it odd that both rabbits and hares live on this one piece of property. Albeit totally invisible. At this time of year I begin to yearn for an end to winter white. Rabbit and Hare, (I used to use the two interchangeably) although sometimes mythologies do not, remind me that I need to reign in my longings.
I have a life long history with rabbits because I have loved them since I was a child, raised many, most of which got away. As an adult I continued this practice of acquiring rabbits as pets until their uncanny escapes finally brought me to the realization that rabbits were not supposed to be pets (at least for me), even when raised in captivity as ‘domestic’ animals. Unfortunately this took years; I am a slow learner.
The very last rabbit I had was an orphan I had no intention of getting after the bears let the last two go. But my vet advised me that “the orphan had no home”, and thus the deed was done. Naturally, this animal got free almost immediately and every time I almost caught him, he would jump high in the air and twist himself around like a whirling dervish to escape my frustrated grasp. Worse, I was convinced he enjoyed our daily three week chase. Although I finally trapped this tricky little character, I let him go as soon as he was old enough to care for himself.
I don’t remember when it occurred to me that this pattern of ongoing escapes might be trying to bring rabbit as trickster to my attention! I guess it will come as no surprise to the reader that I am easily hoodwinked.
In world mythology both the hare and the rabbit are ancient archetypal figures associated with the Great Mother that stretch across cultures in Europe and Asia and Indigenous America. Freya, one of my favorites is a European goddess of winter who controls the weather and she rides through the night in a chariot that is drawn by rabbits or hares (depending upon the version).
One curious aspect of some myths is that a rabbit or hare lives with his grandmother in the moon. In these stories the rabbit/hare is not only a male, but also has a trickster shape-shifting aspect with ambivalent qualities. I immediately think of the patriarchal “either or” way of thinking – black or white – but never “both and.” Grandmother Moon demonstrates the “both and” principle by not only containing the male/masculine but identifying parts of him as trickster in stories and myth. What’s interesting to me about this poem is that it is the female (or perhaps androgynous) HARE aspect of the goddess or nature that keeps returning me to the importance of staying in the present. The trickster aspect is RABBIT a domesticated animal who repeatedly attempts to seduce me through my own imagination painting pictures of a future that keeps me out of now. What I have learned by writing this poem is that for me there is a real difference between the two – one suggests culture, the other wild nature.
When I was searching for an image I came across countless baby rabbit pictures one of which appears above. Even with my history I am still seduced by those images – they look so innocent and helpless. Rabbits not hares – Hares do not appeal to me in the same way.
My lifetime experience with so called domesticated rabbits has called into question the issue of domestication. I do know that domesticated rabbits are closely related to wild cottontails and because it is clear that interbreeding occurs between the two I could be criticized for introducing an invasive species or something to that effect.
As a naturalist I have witnessed so many of my rabbits adapting to the field and forest around my house that I suspect domestication might be more about perception than reality, although DNA evidence does show some changes….I think this is an ongoing process that can still be easily reversed. Trickster rises again!
Yesterday a friend mentioned that she was thinking about what she could do to help with Climate Change when she looked out her window and noticed a cluster of trees on her property. Trees! Carbon sequestration is part of the solution, she thought suddenly. After listening to this soliloquy I instantly agreed. Every person who lives on a piece of property has the option to address Climate Change because one solution to our current global crisis is to allow as many trees as possible to mature into old age, and some of us can begin this process at home.
Long ago I reached the conclusion that the best thing I could do for the small parcel of land I lived on was to leave it alone, and this was before the threat of Climate Change loomed high on the horizon. When it did, I had already begun the process of allowing all of my trees to mature. Sequestering more carbon is a natural process, part of what each adult tree does to keep the air clean. The only requirement is encouraging a tree to reach adulthood, and beyond that, into old age (at one time it was believed that an old tree no longer sequestered carbon but the newest research informs us that this initial assessment was incorrect). Old trees sequester carbon until they die of old age or disease.
On ‘my’ land, what once was field has now become a young pine forest; across the brook in the mixed deciduous and conifer forest the hemlocks have matured creating a moist environment with their umbrella -like canopies, while other trees have died opening niches for wildflowers, a multitude of understory plants, berries, and some second succession seedlings. Each spring my first spring forays into the forest are always a time of excitement, because I never know what I might find. This patch of woods is rebirthing itself after having been cut over about 40 plus years ago, and I have been fortunate enough to witness the change. I am keenly aware that forests are adept at regenerating themselves because they have been around in some form for almost 400 million years.
As the summers grow hotter I find myself spending more time in the cool moist woods sitting next to feeder brooks that tumble down the mountain while sniffing the fragrant sponge -like duff beneath my feet. Sometimes, I dig through rich detritus to pick mushrooms or to uncover bright orange and yellow threads that make up parts of the mycelial network that connects the root systems of one tree to another in such complex ways that some scientists believe the forest is a single living organism. Around me, old decaying tree stumps are blanketed in mosses and lichens; those same tree stumps are still storing carbon. Others are sprouting seedlings. In the forest life and death are woven into a tapestry without discernable boundaries. I reflect in wonder over this fluidity that reinforces my belief that forests are adept at taking exceptionally good care of themselves and don’t need people to manage them.
I have been a conservationist all my life participating in one of the first of the Nature Conservancy’s acquisition ceremonies in NY as a member of the town I lived in. As children and adolescents my brother and I haunted this forested land that was rife with forgotten Indian mounds, land that would now be protected by the Conservancy. We were both thrilled to know that the ancient trees caves and ledges, streams and hills would be preserved for perpetuity, or so we were told at the time.
Later, as a young mother I moved into an old house next door to Rachel Carson’s summer home in Maine, the place where she wrote “the Edge of the Sea” and later finished “Silent Spring” the book that would bring the threat of insecticidal use/DDT to the attention of the public, officially launching the Environmental Movement.
It would be fair to say that nature and my love of wilderness have always been in the foreground of my life.
Of course, my perspective is somewhat unusual – most people see the forest as a resource to be used to strengthen the economy or a place for recreation. Today we find ourselves living in an era that demands more wood than the disappearing woodlands will be able to continue to provide. Still, for the present, logging was and is a viable economic industry, especially here in Maine, one that continues to provide families with homes, heat, and a myriad of other necessities as well as financial solvency for some. I do not make money from the forest but I am still one of those people. I live in a log cabin, I heat with wood, and daily I use an appalling amount of paper products.
With a planet in crisis and a continued need for wood products we find ourselves backed against the wall. How do we find balance and begin to troubleshoot solutions in a situation like this one? One way I would answer this query is by saying that we have to work together to support responsible logging, managed forests and most importantly begin to investigate the concept of rewilding nature – that is, allowing forests to begin ‘managing’ themselves ways that would allow trees to mature into old undisturbed forests.
When I think about responsible logging I remember a good friend of mine whose family logged for generations. He told me that his grandfather had taught him never to take too many large trees because they were needed as “seeders” for the next generation. I used to walk on his property a lot and even after trees were harvested within a year the forest seemed to be thriving. We can’t return to the past, of course, but perhaps we can find a kinder way to remove the trees we must have for homes and wood products?
When a forest is no longer logged or harvested virtually all of the carbon on those acres will stay in the forest, and not in the atmosphere. This is not to say that we couldn’t also continue to log, (logging is an obvious necessity) or support managed forests that allow for recreation, but it does mean that we also must make a firm commitment to set aside large swathes of undisturbed land, places where nature is allowed to thrive on her own, growing and tending seedlings until they become adult trees that are then allowed to share nutrients (including carbon) with one another and live out their natural lives. Eventually these old trees die, becoming snags for woodpeckers and owls to nest in as well as providing food and homes for other birds and woodland creatures. This kind of forest also tends to its understory, creates food rich areas for birds, animals, and insects while turning its fallen and decaying logs into even richer soil. A forest undisturbed. And in these areas, recreation, if allowed at all is restricted to hiking or skiing. ‘Nature for natures sake’, and ultimately, for the survival of our species.
This multivalent approach to working with nature, one that supports responsible logging, managed forests, and untouched land full of aging trees and rich soil allows us to effectively combat Climate Change by reducing carbon emissions radically.
Recent peer reviewed science demonstrates that there is perhaps no better solution for combating Climate Change than by protecting wild lands. Below is a brief summary of some of the important issues regarding carbon sequestration:
Trees accumulate carbon over their entire lifetime.
Whole tree carbon accumulation rates increase with age and size.
Old forests accumulate vast quantities of carbon
Old forests accumulate more carbon in the soil
Forests share carbon among and between tree species
Forest carbon helps slow Climate Change.
It’s worth stating that as things stand now we have less than three percent of wilderness left in the northeast. Without taking concrete action to care for what’s left of our forests and ‘rewilding’ others we will have lost access to a precious resource that can help us create a more sustainable future.
There is one organization that is attempting to address our present crisis with a multivalent approach – the Northeast Wilderness Trust – and I will have more to say about NEWT in the future. Please check it out: newildernesstrust.org.
In the meantime, even though it is winter, some of you might do what my neighbor and I did – climb one of your trees – I didn’t climb high in my crabapple tree, and yet the rough bark that held me secure while light winds blew snow in my face let me see the tightly closed faintly rose colored buds embedded in each branch. Surely, more signs of spring can’t be that far away.