Answering a Call

Answering a Call 

“Shamans bridge the night flow…” the first lines from a poem I wrote long ago keep coming into my mind. Frustrated because I can no longer access the poem, I accept that the first line is what I need… ‘bridging the night flow’ of intrusive negative feelings/actions on the part of others (as well as myself) is precisely the edge I am on. Even smoke – filled rooms remind me that I need personal protection.

 An Indigenous healer and impeccable scientist and naturalist friend of mine reminds me of what I know, spiritual forces are moving. When I told him of my dream his response was to focus on protection, create the intention, and let it go… I tried to do this in my mind with limited success but apparently our discussion around this subject opened a door for me or we both did as I remembered how important it is for me to ground my intentions in something concrete. How had I forgotten?

 I have a terrarium that I created from plants and debris from a beloved forest, and it occurred to me to put my need for protection into this square container allowing nature to take the lead. My friend and I are both aware that this is a dangerous time of year – a time when Shadow is on the move. What’s critical is to acknowledge the danger but not to get caught by either extreme (fear or aggression), allowing these forces to dissipate over time. Winter solstice is over, but fire lingers on; the bridge to a new year is in the making, but new year’s eve is still caught in dark revelry – the kind that hides violence under fun… again, a continuation of this dangerous time ( a personal example : last year I broke my foot on new year’s eve shoveling ice away from my door, and that turned out to be the beginning of a negatively charged year, the details of which no longer matter ). Taking an active stance is necessary. As is staying with the process.

After making the necessary offerings, the identity of one of which came to me directly from a plant, the other from a plant scientist’s remark, I continue to hold this awareness of the need for protection close. The child nudged me too and I brought down our spirit animals putting one bear and a frog in my terrarium as she requested, and the rest she directed me, needed to circle my crisped balsam wreath. I recalled the Pueblo Animal Dances beginning on or after the 1st of the year extending into spring. She was right again! Having specific animal protection is necessity. Animals ground us in our bodies.

I peer deeply into the shadows gathered around me with the eyes of the mystic turned realist, a person who seeks solid ground within her own little forest, self and in nature. I heed the warnings of smoke; the fire is not yet out. I make a promise to nature to remember that I am part of earth and sky, and both are always present in me along with humans and their non – human relatives.  When bad things happen it is a challenge to keep this door open, but I commit to doing my best not to turn away. And most importantly, I get on with my life…

 I will digress into Usneas natural history to use as my example: I spied a tangle of Usnea lying on snow I couldn’t reach. The lichen kept calling, so out the door I went on a quest to gather this lichen that is called “the lungs of the forest”. Indigenous peoples have used the herb for respiratory issues for millennia. Usnea is also useful for wounds helping them to heal faster. 

Walking up a dirt road near my house I was impressed by the amount of Usnea present on the ground even though it is only December. Usually, I collect this lichen in the spring on those first rainy days that turn the clusters bright green. Every piece I pick up reminds me that this organism, composed of an alga, a fungus and cyanobacteria (sometimes) was the first to inhabit dry land perhaps more than 400 million years ago (there is an ongoing debate on this issue of the oldest land plants). The alga photosynthesizes feeding the fungus, and in return the fungus attaches itself to rock and breaks it down creating the first soil. Imagine. Today, neither can live without the other. Out of twenty thousand lichen possibilities I found hirta, a branched version and glabrescens, one that looks like hair. It wasn’t too long before I had a whole bag full. I deliberately took some from each fallen branch but left some tufts for the deer. Many animals need these lichens for winter food. I was pleased to see that the heavy winds had also deposited plenty of birch seeds on the snow so birds would not go hungry, at least until the next storm. There are so many trees down so early into the winter season that I cannot imagine what the woods will look by spring. The forests as whole are under so much stress from abrupt weather changes, wind, insects, drought, flooding that they are more vulnerable now than ever before. Broken branches lay everywhere. Usnea likes high places, and not surprisingly I picked most of my bounty from fallen topmost branches – many from pines. Returning to the house I cleaned my lichens while thanking them and tinctured the whole with alcohol – Within a few weeks I will have yet another useful medicine on hand. This helpful diversion helped me deal with my general unease.

 I believe that having adequate protection from dark forces within and without becomes a priority during the times when our Cultural Shadow is on the increase. Indigenous and countryfolk historically dressed in masks to protect their identity from being stolen during the dark of the year. Masking is also useful when dealing with personal shadow. Reflecting. Holding oneself close. Saying less not more. Collectively, political and economic forces are intent upon keeping the public unaware of the extent of the ecological danger we are in. Add to this the normalization of violence on every level from noise (that destroys the cells of all living creatures) to rape and murder. All commonplace. Forests are on fire. Weather is just beginning to show her darker face and humans are responsible. We have lost 60 percent of our wildlife, three percent of our forests remain, clean air and water are under assault from pollution. We have lost ourselves because of our belief that we are separated from nature. What happens to one species will happen to the others even with denial firmly in place.

 In the hopes that some will take heed of the need for personal protection, I close with this offering to others, while I give thanks for healing plants and nature as a whole.

Apartment 11

Yesterday I

glimpsed my nest 

future becoming

now.

Imagining those

trees outside

needled pine window.

I am warm,

 protected

 inside

yet

perched

in green branches

shielded

from falling

ice and snow.

Trees,

beloved sisters

brothers,

Mothers all

help me

ground me –

you know

I need this

winter home.

December Meditations

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Erosion anyone? When the soil is gone this is what happens… what about Maine’s famous “ beauty way” – 6 feet of trees left along the side of the road so people can’t see the devastation occurring behind it – here they didn’t bother at all. Are we aware that with industrial logging like this that we have no idea WHAT will grow because it takes 50 – 100 years to find out and the logging machine has only been operating for roughly 40 years.

If we don’t protect more land and trees one day in the not too far future our once beautiful ‘pine tree state’ will look like this. Is that what people want? What about the children? This legacy is one to be ashamed of.

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Some think of feeling joy as an experience of lightheartedness.

For others joy is more about fierce engagement and deep concentration. 

For me, it’s both.

Morning sunrise on the mountain…outdoors tipping the rest of my greens out of the wind and in silence, and then returning to the house to work a little on my terrarium (amazing that such a small piece of the forest can bring such deep pleasure) then cutting out frames for wreaths – while listening to Andreas Bocelli – this must be the Italian in me coming to the fore because this man was born to sing sacred arias…Lily b loves Bocelli and often sings along! It was while I was in the process of clearing table for wreath making that I found myself giving thanks for being aware of PROCESS joy – nothing quite like it… Lady bugs hibernating!

Winter walk through frosty field – two bucks scooting into the brush…later another forest walk – hemlock hollow is especially beautiful – with all the leaves gone and mosses frozen in ice forming on the water I suddenly “saw” the exquisite beauty of the simplicity that winter brings moving from empty into fullness- this is an amazing time of the year. Lichens, Farinose and Usnea look so alike I confuse them – these sage greens provide such a contrast to decaying leaf strewn floor. Pincushion mosses pop up like balls of green carpet but my favorite lichen Lobaria pulmonaria is scarce – too sensitive to pollution it is disappearing around the world…I love its leafy texture – leathery when frozen – this one has three different organisms that work together as one plant fungus, cyanobacteria and green algae – the latter two providing the plant with the ability to photosynthesize… grouse everywhere exploding out of the brush and me in a state of joy taking such sweet pleasure in the three hemlock sisters that belong to one tree! These three are totally entwined. If I don’t get back before the snow comes I will have had this exquisite day – last year’s broken foot will make it impossible to get out here after the snow flies – at home a warm fire, sweet fragrant balsam and me noticing once again that when dogs and I sit on the couch our passionflower that faces the window hums, turns and stretches her tendrils towards us – these plants speak with a clarity that astounds me!

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The practice of magic is nothing more than a shift in perception.

Nature orchestrates these shifts when I am in an open and receptive state… 

Colors intensify as do shapes – the simple act of gazing into clear water or up at one of my fir trees or at a glorious lichen growing out of a small stump can transport me!

Afterwards when I look at the pictures I took I want practical information especially when it comes to lichens that are notoriously hard to identify – I know for example that this one is some kind of Cladonia – a pixie lichen? Not sure!

Yesterday was Earth School devoted almost entirely to frog conversation – frustrated I ask why I cannot find in depth research on these frogs – my scientist friend says simply “ no one cares”. OH.

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Trees and Turkey Tales are on my mind…

I just had a response from someone who is as concerned as I am about the loss of our forests… I had just written a two – part article on hemlocks for the local paper – the Citizen (the latter of which got botched somehow) and this person’s response heartened me because she and her husband are so distraught about what’s happening to our forests… I have written before about hemlocks – that they are a foundation tree that affects the entire ecosystem around them – I spend time with these trees in my favorite forest – and I am hoping that because this area has been protected by caring people that these trees might live to see old age… I include pictures of one tree that became three! I call this one “The Three Sisters”.

In this same forest I find turkey tail mushrooms and I include pictures of some I took this fall – a saprophyte, they are also used medicinally –

And, of course here I include today’s turkey convocation!

Chickadee calling for breakfast.

Yesterday was blustery so I stayed home and finished more wreaths for myself and others who want the scent of balsam to permeate the house but choose not to kill a tree to get it. The terpenes are so powerful the house smells like a tree… when I finally walk the sun is setting, the wind has quieted and alpine glow radiates from the mountains as I walk through my field

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I was listening to an interview last night between Richard Powers and someone else. Powers made the salient point that outer space exploration has so far shown us that we are probably unique ( the Fermy paradox ) – earth is special and that this should help us turn our attention to this planet so that we might focus on caring for and about her…with the awareness that S/he is deserving of our love attention respect.

The picture of the moon is one I couldn’t have planned on – it is literally a moon held by the trees – and this is the month we celebrate the Tree of Life couched in whatever religion.

The river is winter blue and I spent time trying to figure out where the beaver is stashing his logs ! A bank beaver for sure – he has to drop them at least twenty feet down to hit the water.

The branches of the silver maples are full of buds – startling in December.

Hope needs something to perch on.

Yesterday was a home day with me writing and watching birds. In the afternoon I listen to Emergence’s podcast on “ecological technology” a critical look at how we can bring technology into a story that may be able to help us see and understand that more than human intelligence is real – the tendency to let technology separate us from earth wisdom is what has created this earth crisis… not a technology fan in general ( although I am extremely grateful for computers and phones) I was so impressed with this podcast because it grounded me in real possibility and genuine hope has to be predicated on real information not just an attitude developed to keep us suspended in delusion. Emergence is free – please listen more than once – lots of good stuff here   (Interview James Bridle)

Imagine, horned frogs bite! They have back curved teeth that hook you -and according to scientist friend Al they can also be bad tempered! They hiss when annoyed. Frogs are 300 million years old – imagine what a person could learn from one if ‘other than human intelligence’ was acknowledged. What I want to know is when did they start singing. Al believes it was quite early on.Earth school is so much fun, I never know what I’ll learn next. Yesterday’s conversation stretched from frog talk to Spiritus Loci and finished with stories told in the old ways about solstice gatherings and the meanings behind them…

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Pale winter sunrise, a dusting of white and cheeps whistles and clucks begin the day before dawn with the chickadees at the window followed by nuthatches and titmice – so hard to capture the little ones coming and going – they have less than two hours before the squirrels arrive! – one giant turkey makes pitifully small cries below the window to let me know he needs more food. Yesterday I tried unsuccessfully to capture some of turkeys glorious colors in the morning sun – impossible – rainbows on the move – a trip to the river – another goodbye – poignant since I won’t be snowshoeing this winter because of last year’s broken foot… late afternoons sitting by the fire draw me into reverie- all the stories told long ago seem to come alive in the fire – an element we acknowledge with respect at this time of year as those did before us…

This has been a week for stories. Yesterday I read a children’s story that begins….

“ On my first Maine Christmas a woodsman gave to me

One dark – green WILD ( capitals are mine)pine tree”. 

This book otherwise mimics the 12 days of Christmas with 12 pine trees illustrated as sitting in pots as gifts for the children.

The message runs clear – trees are expendable – and taking them from the forest is a good thing.

My question to all: isn’t this the wrong message to be sending to our children?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our next generation how to protect the three percent of mature trees that are still living instead of removing them?

The river runs swiftly and ice tumbled through the churning waters – quite a beautiful sight.

I spent much of the day outdoors walking there and around here. Heavy snow due tomorrow.

First Congratulations to the Northeast Wilderness that has saved another 25,000 acres in New England – The Blue Mountain Wilderness Sanctuary will be left ‘forever wild’ – no more logging roads vehicles etc. This land will be left to heal herself…

With winter on its way I turn my attention to my indoor plants that provide me with green just as the evergreens do…

Most exciting is the terrarium I have filled with bits and pieces of plants, lichen mosses and fungi from my favorite forest. My scientist friend directed its basic construction – pebbles and good soil, and I chose plants that normally live together… I am hoping to create a mycelial network that will support not only the whole environment but become a healthy habitat for Al’s baby frogs, whenever they are ready. Every morning I open the little doors and the scent of breathing forest wafts through the air….so far all plants seem to be thriving…

Plant cognition is the study of the mental capacities of plants – how they respond and learn from their surroundings. Darwin first studied this ability … Dr Monica Gagliano is studying plant memory and has demonstrated that plants learn by association and can anticipate events. Like scientists Simard and Kimmerer she has spent time with Indigenous peoples who have never lost access to this knowing.

Having been a plant woman all my life I too have learned a lot from plants. Gagliano states that plants ‘speak’ and we hear what they have to say by listening with our bodies. This has been my experience too.

The fact that science in the service of willful blindness still denies these truths is more about a distorted paradigm than anything else.

Frogs of the future included.

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While we are buried in white this little tree frog enchants me with his extraordinary pads…

My friend – scientist Al tells me my powers of observation allow me entrance into other dimensions. He’s right of course. There is no magic here just an ability to pay attention – when we do the ordinary opens a door that is already there.

My second memory as a baby was tied up with “seeing” and the first pictures of myself that I drew showed a little girl without any features except eyes.

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“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves”

Thomas Merton

Morning light – the pale pink- a relief from monochromatic gray and white. One brave turkey and cardinal in the tree waiting for seed…

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Crossing the Abyss

Mountains of snow

smother flight

unable to escape

monochromatic gray

trees bow double

break under lead

trapped birds 

flounder

No choice

but to be

‘With What Is’

What if I cannot

Cross the abyss?

Red bird is Witness

An intrepid turkey

chortles Yes!

“ The wound is the place where the Light enters you…”Rumi

Yesterday skies cleared. It felt so good just to be walking, appreciating… with 28 inches of snow on the ground I was amazed to see intrepid turkeys deal with floundering and taking flight to reach the house – their fall abundance has ended and with this much snow it is impossible to dig for seed so I am scattering seed. They arrived again before day break from across the brook- I love the sounds of contentment they make . Wild turkeys are fascinating birds to watch and so bright. After road walking I light the wreath and tree and sit in the living room in the fading twilight – my absolutely favorite winter pattern/ pass – time – and I always have cocoa…With all the weather disruptions – three inches of rain after more snow this weekend will make walking anywhere impossible if we get it – it is comforting to have it get dark when it is supposed to this time of year – this cyclic seasonal pattern remains intact – nothing else does.

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Today is the winter solstice – this is a Fire festival -Europeans and Indigenous peoples wore masks as they danced around bonfires. Why the masks? To protect the wearer’s identity from the dark spirits that roamed in the night- Winter was a dangerous time. If you attend Indigenous dances today you will still see those masked dancers… new age folks turned this festival into one of light… as the wheel turns to winter challenges are ahead… the winter solstice gives all an opportunity to turn inward – to do shadow work – a time to rest and reflect

…it will be weeks before the sun grows stronger….some call that next turning “ First Light.”

Yesterday the turkeys were hilarious peeping in at every window the first arriving just before daybreak – such intrepid birds… one mountain picture that reveals the skidder marks where trees are not – once a lush green mountain – the others are covered in alpine glow.

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“ These days scientists are starting to talk like shamans and shamans are starting to talk like scientists”.

Anthropologist Jeremy Narby

Marrying science to our senses – seeing feeling intuiting etc is marrying our minds to our bodies – only then can we access nature’s mysteries.

Me

I am fortunate to have both scientists and one shaman in my life – people who validate what I believe is true though the public does not, sadly.

Yesterday’s conversation revolved around this issue with my shaman friend who says simply “ people do not observe” and without this willingness to see we will remain as we are. A frightening thought. Even the word intelligence is problematic because the dictionary meaning states that it is a human attribute.

I prefer using the words ‘developing awareness’ when I can to get around intelligence which is the idea that only humans can make this determination about other species. Unbelievable arrogance – hubris which is creating its own “fall”.

 Around here turkeys arrive the moment seed is on the ground. I discover a bunch of them are roosting in Mother Pine outside my door. This arrival gets Lily b’s attention! Oh, how much I want to get this on camera – there is something about these giant birds catapulting out of tall trees that is amazing to watch!

I am already sick of the foot thick blobs of snow stuck to the trees. Tonight more snow and then rain – lots of it and then a freeze… winter has begun.

“ The past provides CONTEXT and CONSTRAINTS for the future for animals, plants”( and people -me) resilience can fold into catastrophe” ( can’t remember which scientist made this statement)

A critically important concept

In the biosphere resilience is deeply entwined with memory – the ability of a system to find its way back into equilibrium following a perturbation…a forest has memory that contains information that allows for adaptation to fires drought and extreme temp changes. These memories can be lost or diminished when environmental changes occur too rapidly – our human induced changes are reducing the capacity of the whole forest to recover (forests are just one example) – because these changes occur so slowly observers may mistake breakdown for resilience.

All week I have been looking at the trees bowed limbs laboring under leaden snow – this morning we have rain thank god and not snow that is helping the trees to shed their miserable burden but temps will shoot into 50s and then plunge into single numbers by nightfall – at least 40 degree shift freezing whatever is left solid –

Because I live in the woods, I am aware that all our trees – the ones left – are under stresses like never before and the question I have is whether we have just gone too far with our selfishness and indifference.

Meanwhile I take comfort in turkeys and this morning I saw my first grouse – every year around this time I see one – a partridge in a pear tree!

Blessings to the ground birds – every single one – and to the trees who support them

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“We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understanding and our hearts” 

William Hazlitt

I think we see nature when we allow ourselves to become part of who S/he is… – a different kind of seeing – being from the inside looking out…

Yesterdays maelstrom was brutal – no power again and torrential rains saturated the snow – early last evening after shoveling as best as I could it was so warm I opened the windows to listen to the roaring river whose banks cut deeper into the little gorge… Fresh air permeated the house – now with almost a 50 degree drop we are living in a frozen world – though one where the trees are freed from their heavy burden- you see my favorite wrinkled lettuce lichen – note in the close up the brown edges which are the fruiting bodies of this amazing organism – this dawning pink sky and turkeys crossing the brook chortling and cheeping warms my heart- not one slept in the mother pine – too windy!

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Last night I thought about Saint Francis who authored the nativity scene in about 1200AD one of my favorite stories- as my animals gathered round a Festival of Lights with candles and trees and lights. Frogs are visiting and turkeys begin today clucking with anticipation of breakfast… here they get fed not eaten!.. One a cannonball in flight! Best of all a Blessed Silence permeates the balsam sweetened air…

Imagination can turn a boundary into a horizon…

Barry Lopez

Dr Monica Gagliano a plant scientist says much the same thing with respect to doing good science. One of her most famous experiments showed us that plants not only hear sound but gravitate to water and learn how to avoid being tricked by machines. Her experiences in the Amazon with plants taught her that plants speak – not through words but through her body – anyone can begin to listen but imagination must open the closed door she says- the one Aristotle initiated by stating arrogantly that plants had no feelings and were only useful as things – my lifetime experiences have taught me that plants do speak – but we have to learn to listen – I was fortunate to have had my first experience with a plant as a baby –so perhaps the conditioning of my culture had a crack in it from the beginning….plants are intelligent – perhaps more so than people? They have certainly been around longer …. I have had amazing experiences with passionflowers who die when given to unkind or mean people which I stupidly did….just yesterday one plant answered a question I posed instantly – the one pictured is moving across my bedroom and allows me to watch her progress… my little forest is thriving and every time I open the door some plant speaks… naturally I am ridiculed for saying such things but I turn to my plants – we know – and science is catching up – imagination, respect for these Living Beings an open mind and heart and keen observation are what’s needed… Had such a good day yesterday! But walking a couple of miles left me grateful indeed for a warm fire at home…Blessings for all Living Things non- human – the ones without “ personhood” (for lack of a better word) according to the dominant culture – for anyone interested in plant stories read Gagliano book “ Thus Spoke the Plant” – this is my second time around!

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“  Beloved Mother of all things I bow my head before you as I look deeply and recognize that you are present in me and that I am a part of you…” Love letters to the Earth    –  T N Hanh

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“ Knowledge attained by conventional science is an intellectual enterprise abstracted from the subjective experience of the mind body and spirit”

Monica Gagliano – plant physicist

Until we marry ‘ objective’ (no such thing- remember the observer effect?) science with subjective experience,  science as a practice remains crippled – me

A perfect example of this is separating art from science. I include a piece done by a gifted artist in the 80s when she was told that “she was not spiritually in tune with the times”- what crap – forest devastation was just ‘ becoming’ —- many of our most gifted artists are way ahead of our time. 

I have been so fortunate to have scientist as friends in my life beginning about 40 years ago who were also way ahead of their time – Rupert Sheldrake being the first – scientists who could marry science with subjective experience and therefore were ostracized as Gagliano has been today …

I learn things at Earth School that I didn’t even know I wanted to learn! A lesson in chemistry took over the day

“I promise to keep the awareness alive that you are always in me, and I am always in you…your health and well being are my own health and well being”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Not even light and the wings of turkeys create their own song as they arrive … Lucy looks forward every morning to the arrival of Grey who intrigues us all as he peers in the window – friendship wrought in the fire.

And me winter foraging in the snow !

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Fire, Ice and Usnea…yesterday two fantastic skies sandwiched under gray – whenever the winter sky catches fire I have two choices – stay here and watch it or run out and take pictures! It happens so fast that I always miss the astonishing and much beloved COLOR when I do the latter, so yesterday I just watched… I may do this more often – winter is monochromatic and I am starved for color! A blood red sky yesterday morning. Here come the turkeys…the moment i think about putting out food they’re here- telepathy is real – it’s still dark! This species of Usnea is hirta – one of about 600 species in Maine – now tinctured.

It was so mild that I spent most of the afternoon outdoors – the turkeys provided me with a trail to the brook where i sat listening to clear water and marveling over ice crystals – some shapes I have never seen before – freeze thaw global warming even changes ice forms.

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“ Not all those who are wandering are lost”

Monica Gagliano – plant ecologist

Wandering happens to be one of my favorite pass times – and yesterday’s sun, 52 degree weather coupled with lack of wind enticed me to walk on open road close to home – a truly astonishing day -staring into receding ice and clear water and finding the birds nest with its broken blue shell fragment intact in the scrub were highlights

– even all the bald mountains didn’t seem so noticeable in the distance though the future remains veiled as to regeneration of life – so much diversity lost…. The turkeys were out and about on my road…but as soon as I returned they followed me home!

Circle of Protection; A festival of lights

A frozen walk,

ashes scattered

for purchase

traversing solid ground

Necessity. 

Hammering away

frozen lead –

Winter chores

exhaust me.

A pale white star

slices trees

freed from hell

by wind and rain

for this I am

grateful.

My body

aches

from buzzing…

numbing creative thought.

Machines

invade my cells –

kill senses

Yet –

Gratitude

For

light

and heat

 remain.

Dimming only under

 anguish.

Christmas eve

 once 

embodied holy.

Behind me

pain endures.

Shadowy

limbs etch

charcoal on pearl

fracture

 winter white.

At dusk

a Festival of Lights!

Spirit Animals and

Ground birds

circle round…

 turkey, grouse

dove and bear…

frogs and

 chickadees all

cast Protection

at Midnight.

Forest Grace

 surrounds me.

 Bless the birds

who round

the house

Animal Spirits too.

Tiny stars are

  Birch Tree seeds

scattered by

wind driven snow.

Postscript: This poem was written December 24th and 25th….after two winter storms one that brought 28 inches of snow and another that brought a flood. I spent four days without power – fortunately I have a generator but the sound invades my body creating a buzz that won’t let me relax…

We know from scientific research how dangerous machine noise is to people. Protective devices are used by folks using machines or gunning to keep these sounds out of human ears. But because we do not honor the integrity of our bodies we do NOTHING to protect them, and this noise kills cells. Of course the rest of nature has to endure this assault as well and no serious research that I know of has been done on animals and plants except Monica Gagliano. A plant physicist, Gagliano studies the way plants listen to, and attempt to move towards water. What’s important here is that she attempts to trick the plants by playing sounds of water on a machine and the plants turn away. Gagliano believes the Electromagnetic forces are responsible for this plant behavior… my sense is that it’s more than this – the plant cells can’t deal with the vibrations…It may even kill them.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were quiet and windless…. and I had such a lovely interlude celebrating peace with a festival of lights and a warm fire, eating a wonderful meal, and feeding all the birds that surround my house…. the BEST Christmas in years! On Christmas Day one of my plants answered a question I posed instantly – clearly, my plants as well as my animals love peace!

Winter Solstice : Fire and Ice

Solstice Stories : Fire and Ice

The winter solstice is almost upon us just as the first heavy snow buries the forest and house under 28 inches of snow. I never look forward to this shift into the cold, ice, and snow, although I do wrap myself in peaceful silence, sitting by the fire dreaming as twilight turns to night. My Norfolk Island pine and tipped balsam wreath shimmer with tiny stars.

The scent of balsam soothes my senses and purifies the air. This month above all others is my time to honor the trees… I am keenly aware that Bone Woman and Old Man Winter are rising with the moon, whipped up by Northwest winds.

My scientist and naturalist friend, a member of one of the seven Indigenous Sioux tribes agrees with me that winter solstice is a dangerous time, one of the reasons in the old European way that everyone is masked while acting out winter solstice stories. These tales may vary in content but all have the same root. Shadow is on the move. Masks protect the people, the risk of exposure to danger is minimized in this way. 

In every version I am familiar with the four directions and elements are addressed with gratitude and respect beginning with the element of fire. The rest of the elements, forests, animals, birds, fields, mountains and meadows are invited in and thanked. Prayers for protection are a fundamental aspect of this turning.  The experience of being at the bottom of a vortex feels heavy to the initiated, those whose storied past contains present and future – or those who are open and have allowed themselves to be taught by nature. 

I came to these celebrations of the year through myth and ecofeminism adapting each according to my dreams, myths, experiences with animals, plants and people, all nudges from nature. There are eight festivals that acknowledge the sacred turning of the seasons, and all occur around the same time comprising an equilateral wheel. All are of pre -Christian origin practiced by Indigenous and countryfolk throughout the world.

In this country the Christian Christmas has become a consumer holiday for most, one without discernable meaning for me. There is, however, one advent story that I like. Around 1200 AD Saint Francis of Assisi authored the First Nativity Scene.  In some places it is still common to see a cardboard or plastic display of Mary Joseph and baby Jesus housed in a stable with animals milling about. 

 When I was a small child, my Italian grandmother took me to live a nativity story, one that was acted out on the town square. I remember that night with a clarity that decries my 77 years. Mary, dressed in pale blue stood just behind the rough straw manger in which a baby lay. Joseph stood to one side of her. I recall a wooden staff in his hands. A white moon was shining through the trees.There was music in the air and the animals, donkeys, and sheep roamed in the area. All were free. To the left of the humble thatched dwelling three magnificently jeweled ‘wise men’ were waiting in the shadows, and to the right there were shepherds who also held crooked staffs. 

The story goes that Mary was ready to give birth and there was no room at the inn and so the couple ended up in a barn -like structure where Jesus was born amongst the animals. A star was leading the wise men to the creche to honor the birth of a prophet while shepherds watched over their flocks.

 Although I left Christianity behind a long time ago, I still love this tale partly because animals were included. However, today I see hidden elements – the frighteningly destructive pattern that lies hidden behind this myth as it unfolds. From this tale it is possible to discern that from his birth onward Jesus was an Outsider who would become a radical preacher that believed that love would conquer all, a man who lived a life predicated on betrayal, and one who would eventually be crucified for his beliefs. Not a happy ending.

The worst part of the story from my point of view is that Jesus somehow got twisted into this ‘holy lamb of god’ taking on people’s sins and forgiving them. All people had to do was to admit to sin… Who made this up? People who refused to be accountable for their own actions for sure. Jesus was forced to take on the burden of sin-eater even after his death. *****

The myth of the scapegoat lives on. 

Perhaps equally destructive is the idea that love ‘conquers’ all. 

It doesn’t.

 How did this seemingly benign and so often sentimentalized story carry such an underlying dark message without people seeing it? Perhaps some did and this story of being an outsider, experiencing a life predicated on betrayal and dying a horrible death (crucifixion) satisfies the need for truly victimized people to be mirrored, at least unconsciously.   For example, oppressed Native American and African peoples still chooseChristianity even if they also stay in touch with their original beliefs. Jesus was born with his instincts/ body knowledge intact (surrounded by animals). He expressed and acted out his own struggles with darkness throughout his life. Two of my favorite sayings of his come from the Gospel of Thomas: 

“He who is close to me is close to the fire”. 

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Words to ponder.  

The more ancient and universal solstice stories inform us that light and darkness exist as one continuum and that we are moving back and forth between the two poles all the time. The fact that Jesus was born in the spring when his pretend birth occurred during the winter months reveals how important it was for Christians to squash winter solstice and its accompanying darkness. The winter solstice acknowledges the need to turn inward to reflect during the dark months of the year, moving close to the fire in every sense of the word.

 Winter solstice tales teach us about the importance of acknowledging the powers of darkness and the reality of shadow without being possessed by either of these forces. The need for protection is invoked with good reason along with masked dancing to humor the spirits as fires are lit to light up the night. Maybe we need to become masked dancers?

  A good Indigenous example is the Heyokas who are Sacred Beings belonging to the Sioux culture of the American plains. Heyokas portray many aspects of the sacred. They fool around; they ask difficult questions and say things others are too afraid to say. The point is to look at things in a different way. 

 Heyokas function as both mirrors and teachers at the same time, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, inviting people to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. Encouraging us to participate in shadow work. These beings also have the power to heal emotional pain; the power of which comes from the experience of shame. Heyokas sing of shameful events in their lives, beg for food, and live as clowns. They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are. They are always masked figures and are associated with lightening. They are children of the fire…

Having participated in many Pueblo celebrations I am familiar with the clowns whose masked actions are hilarious sometimes, and not so at others. As a person who takes life too seriously, I know that I need to invite these sacred beings into my own life to redress my own imbalances.

As I create my own ritual at this winter solstice turning I ask to be opened to the healing power of the sacred clowns.

****There is something very odd going on here – those words are not meant to be so large – and yet they appeared enlarged three times today in a draft, and have spontaneously re-occurred just now. For whatever reason, I am surrendering to something beyond my understanding.

Crossing the Abyss

Crossing the Abyss

Mountains of snow

smother flight

unable to escape

monochromatic gray

trees bow double

break under lead

trapped birds 

flounder

No choice

but to be

‘With What Is’

What if I cannot

Cross the abyss?

Red bird is Witness

An intrepid turkey

chortles Yes.

Commentary: Birds are messengers. If we pay attention they bring us what we need.

When Betrayal Makes Sense

When Betrayal Makes Sense.

 When I was a young woman, a divorced mother of two, working as a waitress I became obsessed by a window hanging in a local store. This cluster of grapes was fashioned out of thick, uneven hunks of stained glass that the artist had retrieved from bombed cathedrals in Europe. The grapes shimmered – ecclesiastical purple with limed green leaves. Although I could hardly afford to, I paid an outrageous $50.00 for this piece and hung it above my bedroom window. I never regretted the choice. Whenever I looked at the stained glass, I had the strange sense that there was a message hidden there. I ignored it. 

After my brother’s death two years later (my youngest son was two) I lost most of myself, but held on to my love for plants tending to them with deep affection and attention. 

My first word was ‘fower’ for flower so my relationship with plants stretched back to babyhood. I believed the flowers plants and trees that lived around my grandmother’s house were my close friends.

 I began to wonder – were those grapes an image for my love of all plants?

Although I was socialized into Christianity I lost my tenuous connection to that religion in my twenties because it discounted nature as divinity, and it was in nature that I felt closest to Something I couldn’t define. 

I reconnected briefly at mid life when my children left home. During this second time around with Christianity I became friends with an Episcopalian priest who was a nature mystic. He sent me on my way, when he too, chose nature and left the church assuring me that I was in good hands…When he died, John became a bear.

I was left in liminal space. Now when I looked at the grapes that still hung in my window I thought about Jesus. I remembered words about his being the vine, and something about fruit. Christianity might be dead, but Jesus seemed to live on in me in some peculiar way. Long ago I had acknowledged this figure as radical teacher who loved women and nature. He was a man betrayed by men who died a horrible death. When I read Elaine Pagel’s, the Gospel of Thomas the words of Jesus came to life with an authenticity that seemed to be missing in the Bible. “He who is close to me is close to the fire”. I was finally convinced. This piece of stained – glass was a vegetative aspect of Jesus.

 Soon after I moved to the mountains. Forests of fragrant evergreens  embraced me. I wandered through tall pines spruce and fir feeling a sense of deep peace. I befriended all trees, and every animal that chose me. First it was the chickadees who lived in the pines…then doves and cardinals. I raised frogs each spring. I hadn’t been this happy since before my brother died… Deer, fox, coyote, porcupines, rabbits and bears were always around; the naturalist blossomed. I was becoming who I was meant to be. I forgot about Jesus. The trees became my Cathedral. When the logging machine began to strip the mountains of trees I was devastated.  

A year or two after moving I had a strange dream. In it I was a trailing emerald green vine that snaked along the ground. In addition to the green I was also deep purple. The startling sense of being that vine stayed with me. The luminescent colors reminded me of my grapes. 

When I met my first passionflower I was stunned by the astonishing deep violet blue crowns, the fragrance of these flowers, their deep green leaves. I began to root cuttings for myself and others. When I learned that this flower was associated with the crucifixion of Jesus, I felt uneasy, almost revolted. (I most definitely did not want to be identified with betrayal and crucifixion).

 I was not yet conscious of the extent of betrayal that had permeated my life.  Instead, I blamed myself. I also started to hate Jesus believing that somehow I had gotten stuck to him and his crucifixion. I began to dread spring because the six – week period that led up to Jesus’s final  betrayals and death was a time when personal betrayals occurred for me with frightening cyclic regularity.

Twenty plus years passed before I finally wove my love and relationship to plants, the stained glass grapes, the vine that was me, trees, and the passionflowers into one cogent picture. Each of these images was showing me something I did not want to see. The plants spoke, not once, but again and again until I finally got the message… The same pattern of betrayal that dominated Jesus’s life also ruled mine. The grief and compassion I once felt over Jesus’s life and death returned, but this time I grieved primarily for me. The plants had led me home.

Postscript:

Both Mythic and intergenerational family patterns live us whether we choose them or not. What’s important is to uncover the stories being told and come to terms with them even when they hurt.It’s probably not surprising to the reader that plants do speak to me on a regular basis – not through words, but through the truth of my body.

Tree of Life?

Every culture has a myth about the “tree of life” except the western one unless we include the Christmas tree which today is often made of plastic. As we approach the holiday season I am sickened by the thought of more live trees being cut down, only to be thrown out the door as soon as the presents are opened. I see the tree as a kind of backdrop for the human drama. The Christmas tree seems to be a symbol for excessive consumption for most.    

Nature no longer structures our collective reality in any meaningful way, and trees if they are noticed at all viewed as a kind of indoor or outdoor wallpaper.

It is my intent in this article to bring one tree to life…

  Eastern Hemlocks are one of my favorite woodland trees and have been since I was a child. During the years my brother was at Harvard I spent a lot of time at that institution because my brother trained in the Harvard Forest. Davey was an internationally known runner who held the steeplechase record until about 20 years ago. Not surprisingly, we always ended our time in Petersham relaxing and talking under the hemlocks.  

Every year in the late fall after all the leaves of deciduous trees have fallen the deep green needles and elegant curved shapes of hemlocks stand out like sentries bowing over my brook. Graceful evergreen boughs cascade over the water creating a canopy that stabilizes temperatures all year long. The first snows bow the young ones low, but they never break. In my small hemlock forest that borders both sides of the stream it is always cool and dark. Plant growth is sparse in the places where hemlocks overlap one another. In places where hemlock forests have been left to re-wild themselves many ground covers and other interesting plants can be found growing near hemlocks and their companions, oak and beech, including some rare species.

Animals thrive in hemlock territory; the red eft is one that appears regularly after a rain. Deer browse and seek cover under hemlock boughs. Red squirrels and mice feast on hemlock seeds. Hares like the foliage. Bears take cover under their boughs. Many insects inhabit the rich humus under hemlocks and in the branches of these trees songbirds flourish. Blue throated green warblers, Blackburnian warblers, Acadian flycatchers, hermit thrushes, winter wrens, nuthatches are just a few examples. The Blackburnian warbler nests nowhere else. Most of the warblers that I heard this summer were hiding in hemlocks! Ruffed grouse, barred, great horned owls, and saw whet owls like to roost in hemlocks branches.  Hawks like them too. Brook trout need hemlocks to keep the water pure and cool. 

Hemlocks are also one of the trees that have been spared by logging up until recently (now we take them to be ground up for pulp and garden mulch – spreading the wooly adelgid in the process of mulching gardens). This means that in most forests hemlocks may be older than other trees because their wood was not deemed valuable. All forests have been cut at least two or three times, usually sustainably until about 40 years ago when what I call ‘the industrial logging machine’ took over stripping forests, uprooting tree trunks, and ruining the soil.

 Hemlocks have both male and female reproductive structures on each tree and in the fall small cones adorn the tips of flat – needled branches. The tree’s ability to seed itself so close to a parent – within a hundred feet – allows the seedlings to be nourished through roots from the mother tree. Hemlock roots are attached to a complex underground mycelial network that stretches across the forest floor. Wherever hemlocks survive each is a living museum of the ecology of the woods in that particular region. Because these trees thrive in the lowlands hemlock pollen can also be studied because it has been preserved for millennia in the sediments of lakes, bogs, swamps and wetlands where these trees have grown. 

 Eastern Hemlocks returned after the last glacial period arriving in New England about 10,000 years ago from the south. They ‘migrated’ north about 900 miles in in 5000 years keeping up with changing climate conditions. Their range extends from Nova Scotia to Michigan. Today, of course, with  climate change upon us, these trees are under stresses they haven’t been before.

Curiously, hemlocks and the chestnut tree had a reciprocal relationship. There is no evidence of hemlock disturbance by Native peoples prior to the European invasion. For the last 5000 years hemlocks have been interspersed with white pine, beech, oak, maple and birch, cedar and spruce. Beech and oak are also very shade tolerant trees.

In addition to being shade tolerant, hemlocks are also the most patient of trees. When a space in the canopy opens even a tree that is already 75 – 100 years old will shoot up to the sky, branching ladders reaching for sun. A pencil thin hemlock can be 100 years old! Tiny flat forest green needles create and layer their own canopy in a patterned way that allows every stream of light to be maximized by the tree – an incredible strategy to make the most of low light. 

Hemlocks can also photosynthesize at very low temperatures – just above freezing. In the spring before leaf out the hemlocks absorb high light creating optimal conditions for growth.  Besides pine, beech and oak, in untrammeled forested areas hemlocks are also peppered with mountain laurel, hobblebush, and witch hazel, understory plants that can also tolerate lower light. A small plant called twisted stalk can also be found here. Indian pipes are a common sight in summer. Partridgeberry and wintergreen too.

When adult trees die their nutrients slowly seep into the ground because this tree decays very slowly nourishing the rest of the trees and plants of the forest. Mushrooms, fruiting bodies of fungi that belong the complex underground highway of the mycelial network, appear at their feet. There are 20,000 fruiting fungi in all. Hemlock varnished shelf mushrooms are my favorites. Morels and Chanterelles are editable mushrooms that I have found growing under hemlocks. Amanitas, giant Lactarius  (some reach the size of dinner plates) and blushing Russulas are also common around here, as are Boletes. Coral mushrooms are also familiar sights. Various Cortinaruis species abound…. Hemlocks seem to be a hotbed for so many species of fruiting fungi. 

Most if not all have a mycorrhizal relationship with hemlocks. Recall that mycorrhizal mushrooms are mutualistic fungi that form a symbiotic relationship with plants and trees. In the west a list of over 100 mycorrhizal fungi were associated with hemlocks. Mycorrhizal mushrooms can extend a plant’s root system up to a 1000 times, playing a critical role in forest ecosystems. The presence of so many plants and mushrooms under or around forests free of recent logging was what drew me to these magnificent trees in the first place aside from their size and beauty.

Hemlocks moderate temperatures, dropping them about 10 degrees in the canopy, and 5 to 10 degrees below on the forest floor. Feathery branches intercept rain or snow reducing the moisture that actually reaches the ground that helps control flooding. These trees also purify the waters beneath them allowing brook trout to thrive. If left alone hemlocks can live 800 years making them the longest – lived tree in the east.

 About 5000 years ago hemlocks almost disappeared and then resurrected themselves to become a “Foundational Tree” (Harvard Forest Hemlock Research) helping to structure the rest of our eastern forests. Although fewer trees and plants thrive directly under hemlocks the duff creates a very rich layer of humus (sometimes many feet deep) that stays moist even in drought and is capable of storing seeds hundreds, even thousands of years old making them a veritable seed bank.

Last spring when I was on the coast, I saw whole tracts totally stripped of what used to be hemlock forests. Harvard’s Hemlock project states that preemptive logging not only kills the trees but destroys any chance of the trees’ ability to develop a natural defense that might eventually help the species to survive. The second cause of death is the woolly adelgid. According to sources like fish and game the adelgid has spread as far west as Poland and Minot but is not yet here

in western Maine. I challenge this supposition because I have found the insects infesting hemlocks in heavily logged areas, although thankfully I have yet to find evidence of it on my property or that of protected forests that I visit. That’s not to say that I think our trees will be spared in the long run, because I don’t.

 It is easy to see this insect sucking the life out of needles simply by turning over a branch. Adelgids appear like fuzzy white clusters for most of the year. Another sign of a diseased hemlock is the loss of its crown or the raining down of dis –colored brown needles. This insect is impossible to eradicate although the use of pesticides and the introduction of would be predators have been tried and failed (we make same mistakes over and over – never learning).  

 Dr. Suzanne Simard’s work and that of other scientists and studies done by Harvard ecologists inform us that cutting trees preemptively doesn’t allow the hemlocks to develop natural defenses against insect invasion. My observations and senses also suggest that forests that are left to care for themselves may slow the spread of the wooly adelgid because forests are one living organism that already has many natural defenses against invasions of all kinds. Most have not yet been either identified or studied, or if they have (like Suzanne Simard’s groundbreaking work) the results are simply dismissed. 

 Maine’s Forestry folks are operating out of a severely outdated paradigm. Why? Because economy trumps nature every time. We could make changes but we won’t because we want to keep logging our trees instead of saving the trees we have left while focusing on developing healthy tree plantations to supply us with wood…

 Because I am aware that the loss of this tree is going to alter the character of what’s left of our fragmented forests I spend more time than ever before in hemlock peppered woodlands.  In fact it was my love for these trees and my need to be around them that first spoke to me of their antiquity in ways I cannot explain… And they did this before I ever did any research. 

I also have a beautiful four foot piece of smooth hemlock wood that was dredged up from a local pond that stands perpendicular like the tree it once was in front of some healthy young hemlocks. I see it as a natural sculpture with an ‘eye’ that opens to the future. Because of the resinous heartwood that preserves the wood even under water I find myself querying ‘what truths might the future hold for trees under siege’ every time I pass by this piece.

The Harvard Hemlock research team has been studying the hemlock and other trees since the early 1900’s. These scientists state that ecology is rarely a consideration in land management decisions. If the objective is to ‘manage’ in harmony with natural processes then the most efficient ecological approach to the slow dying of the hemlock is to DO NOTHING. 

 They go on to say that cutting or girdling, salvage logging as well as preemptive harvesting of declining trees interrupts forest continuity and recovery. Harvesting dying trees  compromises the ongoing capacity of the forest to take up nutrients and moisture damaging any surviving plants. No small points, these.

These folks also remind us that left alone the effects of dying hemlocks will remain for decades as important structural elements that support a diversity of organisms. Think of the seeds that remain in the soil for hundreds or thousands of years. The Hemlocks may be dying but if their forests are left to themselves in a relatively short time emerging trees, some will be hardwoods with canopy protection, will help create a very different but healthy woodland. And in today’s disappearing forested landscape that means life, carbon sequestration etc.

Unfortunately change is the only constant and warming temperatures, the logging machine, and the introduction of the Asian woolly adelgid is sucking the life out of these magnificent eastern trees.

 Harvard’s ecologists inform us that once infected a tree will succumb in four to twelve years. Harvard’s hemlock forests are dying and to honor this passage they have created the Hemlock Hospice project, bringing in international artists to highlight what is happening to these foundational trees by creating sculptures in the hemlock forest. 

I think it is so hopeful that an institution like Harvard is honoring the death of hemlocks as REAL trees whose loss is to be mourned.  

If, and this is a big IF we can cease industrial logging that uproots not only the trunks of trees (where new life begins immediately in the decaying trunk) and the soil beneath them, there is hope. 

Because under those dead hemlocks, seeds that are hundreds or thousands of years old may one day rise to repopulate the planet with this ‘Tree of Life’.

 In the meantime it might be prudent to spend a little time with these majestic denizens of our forests while we still have them.

Postscript: My life this year seems to have been dominated by hemlock trees because I spend so much time with them and this is the last and most complete post about the natural history of these trees.

Saying Goodbye Refuge

Saying Goodbye     (Refuge)

 Leaving chores behind I bundled up and grabbed a trowel and drove between still waters to my beloved forest. The premature snow had melted, cracked ice created fantastic glittering patterns in shallow waters informing me that it was probably too late to dig plants for the frog house. Al, scientist, scholar and naturalist, Owl, my friend had just given me a terrarium, someday to become a frog house… my intention was to gather moss and jagged pieces of lichen covered bark…maybe a partridgeberry or two for both of us. Coming here to Hemlock Hollow seemed like just the right place. I also had come to say goodbye to my friends the Hemlock trees for the winter season…

At first, I scrambled around disappointed that most plants were frozen in including the sphagnum moss. Not wanting to disturb sleeping plants, I lifted pincushion and red stemmed moss that grows quickly and visited an old log ripe with rich soil and rotting sides which came away easily. This decaying wood would make walls for my frogs to cling to as vines crept up the sides. Picking up lichens on old sticks, I also uprooted two tiny hemlocks growing on a log that would thrive in a moist environment. Satisfied, that a little of this forest would spend the winter with me I returned to the car with enough bounty to satisfy both Al and me. I was going to give him and his frogs more than half of what I gathered as a surprise. 

After eating my sandwich sitting on granite overlooking the water my focus softened. Suddenly the sparse ground of the forest seemed to glow. Club mosses caught fire in the slanting sun. I had been mourning the end of the season and now I was experiencing a sense of abundance. Each plump pincushion, gray green lichen seemed to be trying to get my attention. Empty was full! I couldn’t explain it – a veil had parted. Winter might be coming but I was being given a gift; to witness the end of the season. 

 Soon late fall colors – wheat, cinnamon, rust, gray, oak brown , sage green, algae/lichen, mosses and old tree stumps would be wearing winter white, some resting, some photosynthesizing under ice or snow. I was ready to let go. 

 I peered around taking in the wonder of slanted silver light on rapidly flowing river water, listened to silence, celebrating the wholeness I felt in this forest. As I traversed the winding path I began my conversation…. Endearments flowed. I have been so happy here. Some force always pulls me into NOW, and each twig, lichen and rock fern has something important to say.

 Last year a dream told me that my brother ( whose ashes are buried on my land) now lives free in this forest and I can feel an amorphous presence – not him precisely – but some benign force…the kind of love that asks for nothing even as it overflows.… When I reach Hemlock Hollow I stop to visit with the trees, gazing up into whirling canopies, arms outstretched, crowns thick and healthy, all bowing to the river…Someday, I will be buried here. Reveling in the bushy green hemlock children I fall into spontaneous prayer – oh please let these beloved trees live on. I lean against the rough trunk of one; grief and gratitude are woven into one fabric. And I am a part of all there is.

Afterwards I return the same way I entered so I don’t miss the club mosses the hardwood trunk topped with spiked lichen, the reversed branches of the tall hemlocks, or the deep green hedges of young hemlocks all viewed from the opposite direction. There’s joy in this place and I wonder what might have transpired here to make it so. Good Spirits live here.

  The day after this visit I asked my friend scientist/Indigenous healer about this powerful sense of Presence and he tells me that what I feel is Spiritus loci. When I looked up the definition of Spiritus loci I note that contemporary ideas focus on a distinctive atmosphere or a ‘spirit of the place’ rather than a guardian spirit. I think it may be both depending on the place – a spirit of place, and some sort of guardian.  

When I first came to this area 40 years ago I was ‘called’ to land about 15 minutes from here. That first summer I was out in the field picking blueberries when the field rose up around me and held me like a mother. For the first time in my life I felt loved. Shortly afterwards I visited an area that had been brutally logged. I had never seen anything like this and just the scent of weeping pines sickened me. That night I had a dream: the terrifying picture of dying trees and slash and then superimposed over it the image of my beautiful land. When I awakened I thought that the dream was telling me that loving my land was somehow helping the ravaged forest I had seen the day before.

 Soon after this experience frightening tree dreams began… whole forests were being slaughtered all around me. The waters were receding in my brook and destructive uncaring neighbors moved in. Two were already living here.

I was stunned. I had no close neighbors except down the hill and they seemed friendly. I had a beloved relationship with my land and her brook was flowing, full and clear. I was happier here than I ever had been in my life. Why was I having these nightmares?

The next year the two pieces of property up the hill from me were sold. The first man cut down my trees and built a bridge over the stream on my land. Six months later the second neighbor moved in; she had a dog that bullied mine – for years. The nightmare had begun. The trees were stripped from my back borders. It took a few more years for the first neighbor to chop the crowns off all his trees. Hatred bullying, betrayal, unpredictable explosions became the norm. Another neighbor across the road created a huge pond lowering the water table permanently. The brook was no longer clear; I stopped drinking brook water. Meanwhile the logging machine was stripping whole mountains of their pines. Skidder marks carved up what was left of these foothills leaving ugly scars. Every time I mentioned the loss of trees to people they said “oh, our trees always grow back; Maine has more forest now than it did a century ago”.

 Dismissed, I gave up, there was nothing I could do.

 As the trees disappeared so did the bears that I had studied and loved along with foxes, barred owls, and cottontail rabbits. More difficult to explain was the increasing sense that the Spirit of this Place was receding. I felt it but I had no idea what I was responding to. What did I mean? Now I believe the Spiritus loci, the Spirit of Place was losing power. I am not certain a guardian ever watched over this land, just me, and I was not enough.

 I believe the Spiritus loci is attached to the loss of trees. Finding a protected forest that was rewilding itself helped me understand this truth long before groundbreaking science confirmed that the forest was a Living Being and all parts of it were connected, above and below.

 Meanwhile, I gradually adapted to the sadness that pervades the air around my home. For awhile I believed I must be projecting my own losses outward but almost 40 years later it is clear that my sorrow and the loss of Spiritus loci are both parts of the same story. Every border of my land is stripped of trees. As more forest/land destruction continues this once stunning wild place has become a Shadow of its own Past. 

I survive because I have learned how to live with what is. By appreciating each bird, each tree, my small field, my shrinking brook I participate in a greater round; one in which giving thanks and protecting this small oasis is all I can do.

 I also advocate fiercely for the trees writing my way through the rooftop of hell.

 It doesn’t escape me that my dreams forecast every single incident  that happened to me on this land. The gift was that I finally found protected land and forest I could love. For years I wondered why I was called to witness such malignant behavior and mindless destruction here. Sometimes the anguish was overwhelming. Today I understand that I live through an intergenerational pattern of loss and if I hadn’t lived it here it would have happened elsewhere. I believe the other reason is that Nature needs reciprocity. By this I mean that S/he needs humans to be emotionally present, to grieve losses with her and this was the place S/he chose for me to do this work.

Yesterday morning I discovered a little chickadee that had been mauled by something in my caged bird -feeder. It was my mother’s birthday. After I extricated the dead bird, I shuddered. Chickadees are beloved birds to me. Where should I bury him, I said to no one in particular. The place I chose was under thick needles and sticks of the Old Mother Pine. When I stood up after internment at least 40 chickadees were chirping in a nearby crabapple. Forty at least! That they were witnessing the loss of one of their relatives was obvious. I felt a deep sense of gratitude that we were together. The chickadees and I are one with the spirit of the land, what’s left of the Spiritus Loci, the shadow that remains…