“The Cottonwood Dance”

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(The Cottonwoods outside my window)

 

A couple of days ago I went to a late spring Corn Dance at Okay Owingeh Pueblo. For the Tewa, spring, summer and fall are dedicated to the seasonal agricultural round and the late spring dances acknowledge the necessity of adequate rain for the newly planted corn to grow. Because the Tewa people have a living tradition each dance is unique although a general pattern is followed – one that has ancient origins. The point of these dances is to pray for rain, help the corn and other crops grow through dancing prayer, and to keep the Earth and her people in balance. One experiences the dance; no words are spoken. Drumming is an integral part of this ritual cycle.

 

There were many participants, men women and children, and a number of clay striped clowns who wore turtle shells on their legs. Both the women and the men also carried and shook gourds that sounded like rain. Both men and boys wore kilts trimmed with bells and shells and turtle shell rattles on their legs. The men also wore brightly colored arm – bands some of which were yellow. Most had feather top knots. The women wore white wrap around high legged moccasins made from the softest deer skin, beautifully belted dresses, predominantly rose patterned shawls, their shiny long black hair hanging down their backs. The men danced in moccasins trimmed with skunk fur. Some of these moccasins were dyed a bright yellow and I wondered if the color had something to do with the corn. Skunks love water so even the footwear that touches the Earth becomes a prayer for rain.

 

Each set begins and ends in one of the four plazas to honor each of the Four Directions with breaks between each set. I attended the first set and at the end of the dance all the dancers (there must have been a hundred or more) entered a ramada for a blessing and then filed into one of the two kivas where secret rites are completed in private.

 

Because it was getting hot I had not planned on staying for more than one set. I knew that the dance would be repeated in exactly the same way in each plaza until each of the Four Directions had been honored and the dance ended.

 

The rhythm of the dance had a hypnotic effect on me that by now I had become accustomed to experiencing. I find these dances deeply moving, perhaps because I have Indigenous roots, and because my life is so tightly woven to the cycles of Nature. I also understood that the Tewa believe that participating in these dances, even as a spectator helped the rain come and the corn to grow, probably the only reason the Tewa allow outsiders to attend the celebrations. These people are fiercely independent and do not share their traditions with strangers beyond allowing visitors to attend the dance. By maintaining this kind of vigilance they have managed to keep ancient traditions intact. One is left to interpret what one sees and experiences…

 

The striking aspect of this particular dance for me was the lack of corn imagery. Instead, everywhere I looked I saw men wearing wreaths of cottonwood, something I had never witnessed before. In addition, the women and children each carried sprigs of cottonwood branches. Fascinated by this change I called the pueblo the next day to find out if I had seen a corn dance. Yes, I was told. I knew enough not to ask impertinent questions about cottonwood branches. Instead I reflected upon the possible meaning of what I had seen, and what it might mean. That night I fell asleep listening to muted cottonwood conversation…

 

I am presently living in an adobe house that is situated under a giant stand of cottonwood trees, trees whose leaves flutter and rustle beguiling me to listen to their songs. Sometimes at night I imagine I hear rain falling…it takes me a minute to recognize that what I am hearing is the sound of cottonwood leaves communing above my head.

 

A day or so later it dawned on me that using the cottonwood boughs, a sacred tree to the Tewa and other tribes because it is associated with water, might have been incorporated into the dance as an additional form of prayer to call down the rains.

 

In Northern New Mexico we are experiencing an unprecedented drought. We had no snow or rain this winter, and thus no spring run off. Fires are burning out of control throughout the region and the National parks have been closed to camping and other forms of recreation. How this is going to affect the corn and other crops that these people depend upon for sustenance is unknown. The Rio Grande is low, and no longer reaches Mexico. A Mexican friend, and builder friend of mine finds this state of affairs confusing because as he asks “Doesn’t the water belong to all the people?” Apparently not, our Government decrees.

 

Meanwhile, I listen to the cottonwood trees with rapt attention adding my prayers to those of the people.

 

May the rains come.

Postscript: Curiously we had our first real rainstorm just a couple of days after the ‘Cottonwood Dance’ and who can know if the trees were listening and helped bring down the rain.

Cottonwoods, by the way have enormous taproots that seek the water table and must reach it in order to survive. Today, young cottonwoods are struggling because the water table has dropped. It is heartbreaking to see how few young trees are actually growing.

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The Not So Lowly Maine Alder

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Unlike most people I have always loved Alders, perhaps because I am a person who loves the deep woods with her brooks, like the one on my property. During the warmest summer months I love to wander down to the edges of my ever diminishing stream to bask in the lower temperatures, and the lush sphagnum moss that still grows around the base of these thick shrubs and along the banks of the brook, at least until the drought shrinks it. I also like to peer into the dense foliage searching for nesting birds. Alders are often one of the first trees to shed their leaves in the fall and when the leaves begin to wither I know the season is changing. Sometimes during the winter deer browse on the slender trunks of my young alders, which is often a surprise because I have so many fruit trees on the property.

Alders (Common Name: Speckled Alder, Gray Alder, Hoary Alder etc. Botanical Name: Alnus incana) are often perceived to be trees of little value but nothing could be further from the truth. These large shrubs thrive in areas that are seasonally flooded or near brooks streams and rivers. They are also found in abandoned beaver meadows. Additionally they are frequently the first tree to colonize any wetland or stream area that has been recently clear cut. Clear cutting literally heats up the earth eventually creating a desert in geological time. With the devastating effects of global warming upon us and clear cutting at an all time high we would do well to take a second look at these dense shrubs that provide critical cover for animals and birds and retain precious moisture for what’s left of our woodlands.

These shrubs, especially when they occur in close proximity to open water may, provide habitat for common bird species such as common yellowthroat, alder flycatcher, Wilson’s warbler, and Lincoln’s sparrow. Alders also support vernal pools, which are important breeding habitat for a variety of amphibians including wood frogs, spotted salamanders, and blue-spotted salamanders. I have a number of these vernal pools on my land, and each one seems to support different species, with some overlap. . Rare turtles like the Wood turtle, Blanding’s and the Spotted turtles in southern Maine, may feed on amphibian egg masses present in such pools. Two rare species of plants are often found in alder thickets. One is Bog bedstraw ad the other is Northern bog sedge.

Alders are related to birches and are often found in close proximity to them as well as to maple and poplar trees. On ‘my land’ they grow side by side with white pine, spruce, ash and cedar.

Alders grow in nutrient rich soil and can afford the luxury of producing new chlorophyll every year. Fungi and bacteria at the base of the trees re cycle discarded leaves to produce the raw material the alders need to build chlorophyll by absorbing nutrients through their roots. Alders don’t have to recycle nitrogen because they have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria that constantly provide them with all the nitrogen they need. These bacteria nodules can extract up to 87 tons of nitrogen from the air (!) and make it available to the roots of their tree friends like birches and poplars. As far as I am concerned this ability of theirs is astonishing and is a reflection of the complexity that makes up our eco-system. The most recent research on forest ecology suggests that each organism contributes to the whole in ways that are only now becoming apparent.

Native peoples had a very different attitude towards the alder shrub than we do. To a Native Indian nation, the Alder tree was just as important as the birch.

The Mendocino Indians used dry bark as a decoction to stop diarrhea, as an anti hemorrhagic, as a blood purifier, as a burn dressing, and as an emetic. The bark was also used for stomach aches, and to facilitate child birth. The fresh bark was used as dye for baskets and deerskins. Young shoots were used for arrows.

The Karok used alder to smoke salmon, eels and deer meat. The roots of the Alder were used to make baskets.

The Pomo made a decoction of the bark and used it as a wash for skin diseases; sores, diaper rash, peeling or itching

The Salish ate the nourishing inner bark (cambium layer), early in the spring, mixing it with various oils.

The above are only a few examples of the way the Alder was used by Indigenous peoples who understood a truth that westerners have forgotten. The natural world provides people with everything we need for survival. Recall that most of our present day medicines have their origins in Nature’s pharmacy.

So, the next time you’re meandering through the lowlands give thanks for the Alders and remember, the very trees you may be walking under do a lot more than just provide shade and moisture.

The Terrifying Power of Denial and Commentary

 

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(my photo)

The Wings of a Butterfly

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Denial is a silent violence that aims to make invisible a trauma maybe evident or not, to make it acceptable as normal and allow the victims of this trauma to be exploited from a system of oppression or people in power. Denial is that voice sugarcoated with correctness that asks us to shut up and sit down on our own pain so as to not disturb anyone. Is a silence that yells loudly, because sooner or later it will speak through the different ways we hurt ourselves and others.

It is not a mystery that women all over the world are subjected to a variety of violence and oppression. Women and girls are hijacked, raped, assaulted, murdered, their experiences mocked or banalized and their bodies thrown around like trash. People get outraged asking how this is possible? Well, this is possible because when a girl is born, she is “bestowed” the foundational denial that will allow the normalization of this violence and belittling during all her life: The denial that she is a human being.

Women in patriarchal societies are not people: we are bodies, objects, “pussies” but not individuals. The society not only allows this, endorses it and benefits from, by keeping women in the denial of our personhood and humanity making sure we accept this situation through the process of socialization. Women have been taught to live in denial to support a narrative that oppresses us. We learn to accept the denial of our humanity and to sustain the denial of the humanity of other women. A woman who doesn’t embrace herself and other women with empathy can’t be free and the system is everyday at work to prevent women from loving ourselves and each other. We are the result of centuries of pedagogy that creates mistrust between women, and the validation and reproduction of our oppression and conditioning towards mutual competition.

All the violence a female will live along her life, both in the personal and public sphere are expressions of the denial of her humanhood as a political mechanism of control on her, because all oppressed bodies, as women bodies are oppressed, are social spaces. The denial of human-hood for women and how this expresses through our bodies get a broader dimension for the trauma inflicted by denial if we consider that nothing we experience is foreigner to the body: All happens in our bodies: ideas, tastes, sensations, laugh and sorrow, reproduction, pleasure, feelings and spirituality…. Who controls women´s bodies, controls society. The violence that terrorizes us today is the projection of an accumulative process that can be tracked centuries ago. The system we live in is designed to produce this violence against women, but it’s in denial of its own participation as enabler and this makes it very difficult to achieve the very needed changes to stop it, because denial can only perpetuate abuse.

Talking about intergenerational trauma I had to link that phenomena to women’s lives as oppressed group. Women are receptors and transmitters of trauma and denial. Assuming that my history is similar to the history of other women, both at existential and biological level, I wonder: What of the traumas that my body expresses belong to my life story and which ones mirror other women’s pain – my mom´s pain, my grand mother´s pain and my female ancestors? Which of my sufferings will my daughter express? How much of what has been written on my body and what of what has been denied will people read in the eyes of my granddaughter, if I have one, someday?

I have a tattoo on my right shoulder. It’s the simple drawing of a butterfly with open wings. It makes me remember everyday that no matter how hard and ugly experiences you might live through, you always can become something beautiful and shiny by yourself. 10 years ago I was raped by a man I was dating. What happened to me from the day after was a journey through denial: The denial of the police that what I had lived was rape. The denial of justice, since my perpetrator was never prosecuted. The denial of people around me who didn’t give me space to talk about. The denial of my humanity from other women who said that, in a way, I deserved it.

Dismantling a system of oppression starts from doing it within each of us from what we have all been shaped at its convenience and resemblance. For women this means to break the glass wall of denial, to demand our and other women’s human-hood, to develop empathy among women in the context of oppression, which allows us to see ourselves as people and see ourselves in other women, to build a sense of community to resist the violence that means to survive in misogynist societies. Any idea of social equality that aims to be serious must be based in the radical notion that women are people. This notion, deliberately absent or suppressed so far, has power to transform our lives, our relationship with other women and society from the very basis.

My butterfly, ready to fly is a reminder that I have survived sexual violence and the violence of denial, to claim my fundamental act of justice every day: Stand up every new morning, face up before the world with my story, with a voice that clearly speaks up its truth, embracing my personhood to walk wrapped in authenticity on my way through, leaving a trace of courage, resilience, and love.

Here is to women who challenge denial to rise from the ashes of trauma and gather their courage to survive, to release, to heal, to thrive, to break free; who won’t be silenced, rather awake and loudly thriving.

Those women deserve what they dream.

Wings and Power to you.

 

(All bold italics highlight sentences or paragraphs that struck me as most meaningful)

My Commentary:

Every now and then I read a piece of writing that simply screams to be noticed. Vanessa’s writing is a perfect example.

Denial is one of the most destructive and effective strategies used by humans to destroy one another. It is also the most invisible, and in my opinion because of this characteristic, the most frightening….

Having been socialized into denial as a way of life as a child I have struggled mightily to throw off this deadly cloak throughout my life and have succeeded… Pain incites the fires of transformation.

I encounter denial on a daily basis with people I know well, family members included. Both women and men use this strategy and think they get away with it, but of course they don’t because eventually everyone loses.

There is no way through. Denial is a wall made of cement. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out.

It is because of denial that we find ourselves on the edge facing human extinction.

No small thing, that.

I chose the Luna Moth as an image because these moths have eyes in their bodies that see through delusion, and they take flight at night.

Following in his Father’s Footsteps

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(photo taken directly from Rupert Sheldrake’s website)

 

A Tribute to a Father and his Son.

 

Part 1: The Father

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 2

The Son

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Postscript:

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

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

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

Please Give Feminists a Break

I remember so vividly entering graduate school in my early forties and being told I was an “eco – feminist” by my professors. What does that phrase mean I asked having no relationship that I knew of to feminism. Feminists, I thought vaguely, naively, burned bras and hated men…

 

I was asked to read “Woman and Nature; The Roaring Inside Her” by Susan Griffin to help me see who I was, and after finishing this one book I submerged myself feminist writings like a starved woman – child. My teachers were right. I was a feminist – an eco –feminist because I had already made the connection between what was happening to the Earth and what had happened to me. Every tree that was chopped down was a part of me, every stream that was polluted was a part of me every animal that was slaughtered was a part of me because I was a part of Nature. I owed my life to Nature, the only mother I had ever had. I loved Her, honored her, became her fierce advocate and in the process She eventually taught me to love myself.

I had come to feminism through the back door. I was a naturalist, an animal lover, a plant woman whose love for the Earth had sustained her through childhood trauma, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse, my brother’s tragic suicide (after which I totally lost myself entering the ‘dead years’), and finally a through a grotesque experience with physical abuse in my late 30’s during which I was repeatedly battered by a male partner.

I believed I was crazy until I began to have my ideas validated by other feminists some of whom were my teachers. Submerging myself first in eco – feminism and then in feminist scholarship I began to see the world through a very different lens – a lens that included women as part of “his – story” even though most of us remained invisible, and remain so today.

For the first time in my life I allowed my anger to surface and to find home in a lost self that had denied the damage that had left her with PTSD and an anxiety disorder. For a while, my fury/outrage/grief at being treated so horrifically by my family, schools, community, religious institutions, and culture consumed me. Up until that point I had been forced to use denial in order to survive and had turned my anger inward paralyzing myself with self – hatred.

Now I could express that anger appropriately and began to hold members of my family, the men in my life, (eventually including my adult children) and the culture accountable for their despicable actions… Ever so slowly, I began to heal from self – hatred as my fury and outrage peaked and then dissipated.

For about five years I struggled with my rage towards the men in my life who had sexually and emotionally abused me as a child and as a woman who didn’t know how to protect herself (my fifty percent – this is an example of the importance of being accountable – there are always two sides).

Then I left tunnel vision behind and came to the realization that men were not the problem – the culture I had been raised in was flawed, privileging men over women in every way that I could think of. Men were socialized into this privilege by virtue of birth, some, of course, more than others. White middle class men “ruled” the world (and continue to do so today). The “man against nature paradigm” that was so contrary to my lived experience – turning me into an eco – feminist without my knowing it – now became a platform for me to begin telling a different story, a practice I continue to this day.

Patriarchy is an incredibly destructive ideological structure that privileges men over women, men over children, men over Nature. This system oppresses women, children and men who are not part of the dominant material culture albeit in different ways, and this system is what has brought us to the edge of the global political and ecological breakdown we are facing today.

The point of all this story telling is to help women understand that feminism is a perspective worthy of our attention – so worthy in fact that without incorporating a feminist perspective – one that values compassion, cooperation, and equality for all peoples and non human species – we will all be facing extinction.

Recently I read an angry feminists response – probably that of a young woman – that blamed men for women’s oppression. Annoyed by this attitude I remarked somewhat heatedly that hating men was not the answer, forgetting a truth I learned from personal experience, that when women discover feminism it is normal and part of their process to become angry with and blame their personal oppressors. In time this attitude will pass, just as my own anger did.

Blaming is a natural response to being harmed and part of the human condition. It is also an opportunity to begin to grow up and take responsibility for our personal actions, as we pull back our projections and work with our own shortcomings. Most older feminists like me reached that point after a few angry years.

Today we see feminism as a flickering beacon of hope for men, women, children, and the Earth. If we can work together women and men can restore the feminist values of respect, compassion, cooperation. Patriarchy has only been around for about 4000 years. Seeking a matrifocal way of being in the world might save people and the planet from dying an unnatural death.

SO PLEASE, PLEASE, GIVE FEMINISTS A BREAK.

 

What follows is an excerpt from a poem by feminist activist author Robin Morgan written at the time as a result of a visit to South Africa in the 1980’s. I think that Robin can be forgiven for her binary splitting of men and women when she encountered such inequality between the two, and was no doubt struggling to deal with her own anger. As I said, righteous anger is part of every feminist’s growth and that anger needs to be forgiven and understood as part of an ongoing process of female development. We remain as a culture in desperate need. Blaming feminists is NOT the answer.

I think that every woman who reads these excerpts can identify with what it’s like to be a woman. So many “ make do,” and most women remain anonymous to this day..

Robin brings Winnie – Mandikizela Mandela to life. She was named South Africa’s “Mother of the Nation” by the poorest people, the ones who suffered the most. I had never heard of her until Robin wrote this tribute.

“Arbitrary Bread” (excerpts)

…Men make impressions, arbitrary decisions, names
for themselves, wars, profits, laws, reputations,
deals, fortunes, threats, enemies, promises, tracks.

Women make do, ends meet, babies, way, clothing,
breakfast and dinner and supper, quilts, homes,
apologies, baskets, beds, light of it, room….

Beginning again, unlearning how
to make jokes, compromises and bargains,the best of it. Relearning how
to make trouble, a living, a practice of politics.
Cracking wheat, crushing millet, dissolving
salt crystals, pounding the dough. Waiting
the first rise. Reshaping the dough. Waiting
the second. Heating the oven of metal or clay.

Winnie Mandela stands outside
the smoking timbers of what yesterday
was her home. She stares. She does not enter.
Lost articles—inanimate speechless things—flare
to mind, each vivid, crisped, with grief.
The books. The diaries. The humble gifts
from ordinary people. The wedding pictures.
The letters, thirty years of them, from him
in prison. While she raised the children,
carried messages, was banned, was under house arrest,
in jail and out again, while she made visits
to him, made speeches, made an example
of herself, was made his symbol, was made
a metaphor for freedom.

Men manage to make
their revolutions from abstraction. But no slogans
can be made from the thoughts of a woman
sifting the ashes of her life.
The last bed in which they ever slept together,
gone now. The baby pictures. The headscarf her mother
left her, the recipes. The saved invitations
to far countries where she could not go.
The mirror she aged in.

Over and over, practicing how
to make a fresh start, making the most of knowing
the worst of it—not what’s assumed:
that they can torture, degrade, kill, erase you,
but this—that they can just tire you out….

Again and again learning how
to make peace:
cracking open the whole grain of anger,
crushing the fear, dissolving the sense
of futility, deliberately making
believe,
pounding, shaping, reshaping the act—
arbitrary but this time our own….

Clay is the wild crystal
making itself through eons of weathering
by the pounding, cracking, crushing of rocks,
the dissolving of rocks, the absorption
of water in minuscule pores, developing “defects”
in crystalline lattices which collect energy, store it,
transmit it. This is one definition
of a life form.

A regular crystal is perfect, blank until
it receives an imposed pattern of charges.
But clay replicates, layering
pattern on pattern of ions coded in flaws.
Disorder, the woman scientist whispers,
is precisely the thing which can hold information.
Strike an ordinary lump of clay with a hammer:
it blows ultraviolet energy for a month….

I want to make
this so plain
that every woman can feed herself with it,
make it her own, make it
mean what she chooses, make
demands of it, make
it available, make
mischief, a difference, a miracle, ready.

I want to say this in the quietest voice possible:
Give us this day
our arbitrary bread.
Do I make myself
clear?

Copyright 1990 by Robin Morgan. All Rights Reserved.
From: Robin Morgan. “Upstairs in the Garden”

Querying in the Context of Religion and Science

 

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How do we respect science – the myth of our time – when it continues to use non – human sentient beings for it’s own gain?

How do we respect religions for the harm or damage that these beliefs may cause for animals, plants and people who live on the Earth?

These are important questions, and for me the two are intimately related. Science and religion are two lenses used by humans to perceive the world.

The other night I watched a brief video on mushrooms and how they could be grown to serve as a substitute for leather hides stripped from the backs of animals… how wonderful for animals I thought instantly – privileging animals over plants and temporarily – and forgetting that Fungi/mushrooms are fantastic and ancient life forms that appeared on this planet somewhere between plant and animals between 450 – 350 million years ago. They may be some of our most ancient teachers. Fungi have characteristics of both plants and animals and even have a kind of external skin made of chitlin that is insect-like. (They are also phenomenal communicators in the plant world, another fact I forgot in my enthusiasm during this video). I allowed myself to be seduced by science until my friend Iren made a comment that startled me.

She queried, “I wonder how the mushrooms feel about it.” This question caught me unawares in my own snare, because once again I had strayed into the mind of science without my feeling body attached.

How do these beings feel about being stuffed into plastic bags and grown under artificial conditions? They are probably deeply distressed I concluded ruefully, sadden by my own insensitivity and grateful to my friend for “Earthing” me in such a respectful way.

Recently I had a dream that told me “there is no religious way through, there are just people’s opinions.” In the dream I was somewhat startled when the dream maker finished “the way is not choosing a way.” Puzzling over this apparent ambivalence I came to the realization that staying open to possibilities was the position I now hold with respect to both science and religion. It is clear that I still get caught by my western conditioning, a position that privileges “the god of science” without appropriate questioning, as so many people do with organized religion.

And yet with this much said, I believe my relationship with Nature has opened a door to Universality in a way that science, religion, philosophy scholarship etc. could never do on its own. Nature just is, and at 73 I give the Earth and non – human sentient species full credit for teaching me how to become a loving and compassionate human being.

Is animism a religion? I don’t believe so. There are no rules, no practices, no injunctions… there is only what is… I may be in love with the wilderness, each stone and sunrise each dove coo and loving look from my dearest canine companions, each bear, owl, deer, and elk, and yet I fall into the same traps that other humans do. Sadly, as already stated, none of us are immune to privilege of one kind or another.

I accord Nature my deepest respect acknowledging that most of the world does not see/feel what I do. In Nature I find countless mirrors for what I see and feel and like the trees that are now heavy with spring buds but present to the threat of frost, I stay as much in the present as I can.

Both science and religion are limited by the belief systems that people develop within these disciplines and traditions. I find that I can respect people who are genuine seekers that attempt to question and work within their respective worlds although I do not agree, support or accept those practices that harm others or continue to support a patriarchal system that is hell bent on destroying us or the planet when I see what is happening. Human visioning is so limited.

Today I do hold other people accountable for the harm they do/have done to themselves/others/the planet, just as I hold myself accountable; we are all participants.

What helps me the most is returning to my Naturalist self, the part of me that keeps me grounded in a present that allows me to find peace in the present moment. Perhaps this “no way” is some way after all.

Horus takes to the Sky in the Spring

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Every April I look to the skies for the red tailed hawks and think of the Egyptian God Horus a solar deity who in almost every mythological tradition takes on the hawk -like quality of messenger and protector. Often the bird is depicted as an actual god/goddess. Tewa speaking Pueblo dancers adorn their headdresses with the feathers of the red tailed hawks. The stylized Eye of Horus/Isis/Maat/Hathor (note the androgynous quality suggesting the “both and” quality associated with divinity) is a relatively well-known symbol for this bird that in the natural world has unbelievably keen eyesight…

 

April is also the month I buried my brother’s ashes by my brook on Earth day. For a week afterwards the branches of the trees around the rich woodland earth and stone that sheltered some of his bone fragments were continuously occupied by red tailed hawks that scared away all my other birds during the day. I believed, then as now, that the spirit of my brother had incarnated through the visitation of these hawks (that normally avoid crowded woodland areas) to let me know how important it was that I had completed the circle of his life in linear time. My mother also died in April… no wonder this is such a charged month for me.

 

Just yesterday down by the river I witnessed three red –tailed hawks initially soaring in circles dazzling me with an amazing aerial display. Eventually one of the two smaller males disappeared ( these birds are sexually di –morphic with females being about a third larger than the males), his red tail shimmering russet and gold in the steel blue morning sun leaving the other two to rise and plummet in broad -tailed splendor over my head.

 

Identifying these hawks is relatively easy because of their size (they weigh up to 4 pounds and have a wingspread of 56 inches or more) Slow syncopated wing beats are also characteristic of red tails. Their actual plumage is variable in color although speckled cinnamon seems to be a dominant color at least when the light is right. Their bellies are buff and look white against the sky. Immature red tails lack a rust colored tail. All have a haunted rasping cry or scream.

 

Mating dances like the one I witnessed are a common sight at the end of March and April because it is time to nest and lay eggs. Red tails reach sexual maturity at about three years, take a single mate (probably for life), build a shallow nest in tall trees which they may reuse, and raise one brood of two (usually) a year. They are equally at home in field or desert. After the female incubates for a month, the downy hatchlings stay with the parents for 6 – 7 more weeks. The voracious chicks require much food and grow slowly keeping both parents busy with hunting. By the time they fledge they are as big as their parents.

 

The red tail hawk ranges throughout North America into Canada and northern Alaska reaching as far south as Panama. These birds are not migratory except in Northern latitudes. When I first moved to the mountains of Maine thirty years ago all red tails fled south during the winter months, but more recently can be seen scrying the skies all year long. Farther south like here in Abiquiu, they are year round residents.

 

Carnivores by nature these raptors have strong hooked beaks; their feet have three toes pointing forward and one pointing backward. Their diet primarily consists of small rodents including rabbits, hares, moles, gophers, snakes, and lizards. They will also kill quail, grouse, and pheasants.

 

Since the beginning of recorded history birds of prey have been both despised and revered. The sport of falconry – using raptors as hunting aids – has been practiced in Asia and Egypt since 3000 BCE. There is a movie called “The Eagle Huntress” well worth seeing that allows the viewer to get a bird’s eye view of what it is like to fly and hunt like a hawk or eagle.

 

Yet these birds continue to be ruthlessly destroyed because of real or imagined competition with humans for game and domesticated animals. This disgusting behavior highlights the outdated and destructive “man against nature” paradigm that puts human rights above those of all animals. We are learning the hard way that being at the top of the food chain is now killing us too with ground water, polluted air, plastics, salt, clothing and other aspects related to a ruthless industry that privileges humans over other species.

 

Although in some states raptors are protected, they are also indiscriminately shot by people who believe they are pests because they occasionally kill chickens.

 

No matter how frequently I see these hawks I remain in awe of them, in part perhaps because of my personal story but also because in their aerial majesty they highlight the wonder of all birds that inhabit the skies marking the changing of seasons.