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Sacred Soil

I take my little bucket of uneaten organic vegetable odds and ends out to the small compost pile behind our garage, and when I inhale the sweet, earthy aroma that is filled with molecules of transformation, my eyes close in gratitude, in a visceral sense of connection to the blessed earth. These are the bits of food I didn’t ingest through my mouth and yet I ingest them through their process of decomposition, their journey from one form into another, and it’s exquisite.

The steep, treacherous slope a few feet away tumbles and tangles itself down into a ravine, all the loose detritus from above dancing wildly if often slowly until they rest in the dark hollow and unfold into myriad forms of new life. Some of the bare slopes that surround me have been stripped of their deep rootedness until gravel is a hard, unstable topping where earthworm-enriched soil once lived and breathed beneath nurturing trees in community.

How can I give some new life to the hills? Being in this moment of sacred experiencing, I find I can return some bits of nourishment into the land, into the space where Spirit dwells. I can become part of the turning, the process of transformation into sacred soil, into the vibrant life and vitality of our Earth Mother.

Pausing, I feel TildTe, Goddess of this place we call home, watching … I feel her smile and nod from the swaying tree branches overhead and hear: every little bit is welcome.

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Upon Hill, Within Forest

TildTe is the Crone Goddess of this fragment of the Ozarks. She strides out of the caves  or pushes up from the soil when the moon is dark, although she can wander for many days and nights above ground. Her bones are sharp chert and smooth stalagmite, and they are wrapped in the strong roots of oak and hickory. Her womb holds the waters of innumerable springs. She is the Spirit of the hills and so is ever leaning forward or backward, and she avoids the bottoms which are the domain of her sister. Her hair is a tangled nest of wild grape vines woven together with daisies and clove currant. Her cloak is verdant moss stitched together by pine needles and her skirt is a patchwork of various leaves dependent upon the season. She smells of stardust and hummus, feels like grandmother’s embrace, and has a voice that sounds like deer prints upon fall leaves at dawn. Sometimes TildTe is small enough to ride the backs of silver squirrels as they leap from the highest branches; other times she is the giant with a full grown black bear tagging at her heels like an unweaned puppy. She could be standing outside your doorway right now. There she is! Blessed Be!

Tending Tilted Woods

Tilted North Woods

Our woods grow on a steep hillside in The Ozarks. This north-of-the-house view of the hill is far less sharp than the south side where the angle is precipitous. I adore that the landscape is tilted rather than level, a curious mirror of my own off-kilter nature. Spirit is tangible here; the Divine is present.

Only a professional forester or extremely knowledgable lay person could determine how much of our woods are of original diversity though the likelihood is doubtful considering the thousands of years of habitation by indigenous humans (many of whom, we now know, did clear and burn forests to allow for greater ease in hunting and limited agriculture) and later by European colonizers.

For us, as new stewards to this special place, we hope to continue encouraging natural growth without imposing a manicured specter. After all, as Eliot Cowan says: “The most striking thing about this relationship [to plants and trees] is that we need them, but they don’t need us. We humans are utterly dependent on plants … In contrast, plant communities do just fine without people.” Where’s our gratitude?!

We have only to look at what humans have done to other landscapes to realize the lunacy of our arrogance. For instance, Great Britain has no natural forests left, although the extensive peat bogs are a testimony to previous vastness of woods; after human destruction, people learned how to coppice and pollard, in order to use wood but also steward the fragile stands of trees that were left. Sara Maitland writes of her journeys into the forests of Great Britain in From the Forest. Many woodland places in Europe met the same fate. Many islands — like Crete, for instance — were deforested by humans and their recovery has been difficult.

Here, in our wooded sanctuary, I often feel euphoric when breathing in the oxygen from the trees and plants, when gazing upon the lush green foliage, when listening to the wind rushing through the swaying canopies. Many people have lost this connection with and appreciation for nature and especially its wildness.

In Plant Spirit Medicine, Cowan writes:

“All things enjoy ecstatic union with nature. Life without ecstasy is not true life and not worth living. Without ecstasy, the soul becomes shriveled and perverted, the mind becomes corrupt, and the body suffers pain. … And to think that plants are mere dumb creatures that do not know ecstasy is ignorance or tragic, arrogant folly.”

I want ecstasy! Don’t you?