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?

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Voices Call Me

Wildflower Ohio Spiderwort or Cornflower

Ohio Spiderwort

Sometimes I hear voices.

Sometimes these are

Earth voices crying

in pain, fear, grief.

Misunderstood,

the wild beings —

plants, animals,

minerals more —

scream in my head.

A few weeks ago, anger overwhelmed me when I heard the voices.

We had moved to the country, into the woods, so that we could encourage and, as necessary, cultivate a wild landscape around our home. For me it was about protecting and manifesting the gorgeous wildness of nature; for my husband it was to be significantly less maintenance (ultimately, we were planning for a landscape free from the need to use a lawnmower). For both of us, we desired quiet and solitude.

Then, my neighbor began “mowing the woods” across the road from our house (a swath a couple feet wide; the property was owned by a large farm, so neither mine or my neighbor’s), a place where wildflowers like Sweet William and Ohio Spiderwort and others show up unexpectedly … and delightfully. Not only was the mowing disruptive to the day, but I swear I could hear the voices of the wildflowers and other plants screaming their objections in death and dismemberment. I decided to protest his invasion of that particular space. He immediately became furious with me and the end of the conversation wasn’t pleasant.

This experience reminded me of a similar one in Maine where I was unable to protect the wild landscape. Our house there abutted a main roadway and, one summer, the county decided to widen the road. They cut down many large, old pine trees and destroyed a corner where we had lovingly planted a pretty Rhododendron, a gift from my father during an earlier visit. As they were cut down in their prime, I could hear in my head the pine trees shrieking.

I heard their voices, the lamenting and dying. But it wasn’t just this, I realize. After all, trees are cut for lumber and paper, plants are cut for food, etc.; the natural cycles of our world revolve around life, death, and rebirth. I give thanks each day for their gifts and honor their sacrifices. Here, it was the sheer lack of necessity, from my perspective, regarding what was being done that was so abhorrent. There was an added arrogant lack of respect for life and beauty within a wild landscape that I had chosen to protect and advocate for.

The mowing was simply because my neighbor didn’t like the looks of the wildness that edged our narrow, single-lane private road; it was partly this messy verdant landscape that had attracted us to this place. The widening of the road in Maine was simply to expand the shoulders; I’ve no idea why since it was a rural road used only by locals and in ten years never saw an accident.

In these two incidences, it was as if I felt the assault along with the trees, plants, and wildflowers. Maybe that’s why I heard the voices in my head. (I also acknowledge my own ego involvement, in that the mowing was an intrusion into what I considered my own personal space.)

Many botanical studies are confirming what indigenous populations have always known: that plants are sentient, they feel pain and pleasure, they consciously share resources. Plants may move and live in slow time, in deep time, but they are aware of life and death.

At times like these, I keep simple ceremonies.

May the spirits of the wildflowers and the other wild plants know that their seeds are welcome to settle in our yard. If I should ever need or desire to cull them, respect and gratitude will be extended to them.

Mother Nature

Mother’s Day weekend was spent enjoying Mother Nature.

Seeds for wildflowers were scattered, Black-eyed Susan seeds were planted.

A tiny garden laid out, with hopes pinned on cucumber and zucchini seeds.

Sacrifice waTurtle Tortoise in the Grass 051517s made in the form of a tall tree whose trunk was damaging our roof.

Birds sang and flew around inspiring bright delight.

Leaves and grasses danced in the wind, dappling ground and deck with light and shadow.

Gutters relieved of decaying debris, releasing runnels of brown water down the spouts.

And this morning, a box turtle greeted me as I made my way to my Grounding Tree.

 

Spiritual Essences

Since 1999, I’ve been grateful for the offerings of Spirit through flower and/or meditative essences. In 2010, I was blessed to be able to attend two workshops with the insightful Ian White: healer, teacher, and co-creator of the Australian Bush Flower Essences (primarily supporting the mental and emotional levels) and the White Light Essences (assisting the inner or soul levels).

This is today’s sweet story, connecting the above with my Celtic journey …

While reading about the Celts, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the need to check my seven White Light Essences and re-order any that I was out of. I hadn’t taken any doses from that line in years. As I made a note to order several of the essences, I decided to re-read the little descriptive book that came with them, the one that outlines where they were made and what their qualities are. I had forgotten that two of them were Celtic in their associations: part of Water Essence was made on the isle of Iona, off the Scottish coast; Devic Essence was made in the Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury!

Isn’t that a lovely synchronicity?

A Conscious Land

I go out in the morning and stand barefoot on the rocky earth, place my palms upon a massive tree trunk, close my eyes, and breathe in the essence of the land. In exchange, I feel the breath of the land touching my skin with molecules of leaves its passed through, whispering in my ears of its travels near and far, dancing into my nasal cavities the scents of distant memories. The rough bark of the aged tree is like an old farmer’s hands, having toiled and stood firm through the cycles of life, nearing the end of its own but yearning to share its wisdom if only someone would listen.

My family has lived in the Missouri Ozarks for over 150 years, not in this exact location where I am now, but an hour or so further north on flatter land. I’ve been gone from this landscape for more than 40 years, only recently returned. Most of my ancestors arrived from every early colony up and down the eastern seaboard, and traveled across a wide swath of the eastern United States; we also have drops of indigenous blood, married into along the way. So, while I have often felt strong links to various landscapes in my country, connections that go beyond “an aesthetic appreciation” (despite American Indian scholar Vine Deloria arguing against this ability in non-Indians to have a spiritual resonance with this land), I am enjoying the ease with which I am becoming reacquainted with the Ozarks and her unique landscape, and I have no doubt that my ancestors’ spirits are assisting me in this journey.IMG_0357

Some of these ancestors came from Ireland, Scotland, and even Wales; places where their own roots had become inseparable from those of the land and I can imagine the pain they must have felt in being “exiled” (as the Irish say about those who for economic or other reasons felt forced to leave their homeland in order to survive), their roots to the land cut after hundreds, even thousands of years. The writer Patricia Monaghan says, in her book The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit, that, there in the Ireland of her roots, “human consciousness has met the land’s consciousness,” and this is my own current path of American exploration. Not just to know the landscape as, for instance, this is a Black Oak, and this is a wild Grape Vine; or that some plants here are new arrivals and non-natives, while others are ancient offspring. Rather, how all sink their roots into the same soil to be nurtured. As do I, seeking to to know the land as part of my blood and bones and soul.

These “mystic encounters with the land” are difficult to describe; Monaghan says that she has “heard elusive inaudible music singing forth from land that is wild but nevertheless deeply known by humanity” and I know what she means. What might be our inaudible conversation with the conscious land? How might our healing be mutual?

To Die

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Maine Woods

I died in 2011. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what happened. My death wasn’t physical, however, but rather psychological. This wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. It was, however, one of the more tremendous transitions through which I journeyed, albeit somewhat unaware of its full context. I was often confused and overwhelmed, and, although I did realize that I was going through a change, and wrote about it at length through journaling and creative manuscripts, there remained pieces missing from my cognizance.

Initially upon reflection, I thought it was due entirely to the physicality of menopause, a threshold I reached relatively early. I attributed this to a decades old premonition; in my mid-twenties, I was convinced that I was to die at fifty years old. I thought through the years that this would be a physical death; this felt inexorable. As I began to approach that age, however, it seemed logical that the death I’d foreseen all those years ago was the bridge of moving through The Change. But it has been far more than that.

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Sonoran Desert, Tucson

In 2011, I had left the home I’d made (haven), the friends I’d bonded with (community), and the career I’d been slowly building from scratch (purpose) for nearly twenty years. My husband was desperate for a change in climate and job, so we moved from Maine to Tucson, Arizona. I naively thought I could simply pick up where I’d left off, re-create and re-discover what I’d left behind; it wouldn’t be easy, but I felt I could manage. That wasn’t to be and nothing seemed to be coming together. During my four years in the Sonoran Desert, I crashed and burned and tried to rise from the flames; I wrote two memoirs about those psychological traumas: Minoan Messages (about the pilgrimage I made to Crete) and Desert Fire (about my struggle to face the monster in my mind). Writing these books was very beneficial, but I still seemed to fall short in recovering peace and equilibrium.

I retreated further and further into myself, attempting to find outlets that would provide a sense of haven, community, and purpose, but my husband realized before I did that we needed to move; he recognized that while he couldn’t fix two parts of my loss, at least he could participate in finding us a place to live where we both might feel at ease. This led us to my birth-state of Missouri and a property and landscape that quickly felt like a haven, a true home. Roots and re-birth. One piece resolved.

Tree House Dream Sideways

Home in the Ozarks, Missouri

The other two pieces have been slower to emerge. Community is a slow, often awkward or even grueling process for someone like me who has a deeply introverted nature; it doesn’t manifest in the same way that it might for people who are extroverted. Another challenge is that I’m living in a part of the country where the majority of people have a completely different perspective on spirituality, politics, society, and culture than I do. I’ve been compelled to explore these antithetical views in depth, though that process nearly overwhelmed me at times. Nevertheless, I’m finally, after nearly two years, beginning to feel the presence and comfort of a loosely connected web of community.

The third piece is purpose. This aspect for me, historically, has broadly been about giving back, caregiving, and healing other beings (humans as well as animals). In the past, I took a direct route by working with friends in animal rescue, by creating a petsitting business, and by studying natural health care and transforming what I learned into a business that offered classes and consultations. I was writing books as well, another life-long interest of mine, but that was a sideline to my direct offerings. In Tucson, I was shown an indirect way to share healing and transformation: through writing.

Copperhead 042517 on front porch

Copperhead

This reflection upon direct and indirect offerings is what has shone the light upon the death of one manifestation of purpose and the rebirth of another. I am not the same person I was six years ago; that self is gone, died. Do I want to continue trying to wear that “dead and useless skin“? Not really. Like the snake, I’m ready to shed my old skin.

My mid-life purpose has now shifted into using the experiences of my past and reflections in the present to offer healing-through-writing into the future. I realize that death will come again in a new guise, but for now, I’ve been reborn.

Calan Mai

It’s probably no surprise that I delight in May Day, referred to as Calan Mai by the Celtic Welsh, or as Beltane by the Irish; after all, this holy day occurs during my personal solar birth sign of Taurus, providing much needed invigoration for my otherwise introverted and low-ebb way of being. This year, I celebrate from May 1st (solar date) to May 8th (lunar date; the first full moon in Taurus). Alas, the only flowers on my property right now are some tattered and rain-soaked pale yellow Irises, although the pink Peonies are getting close to blooming (and I’m grateful that they are waiting until after the past few days of pelting, severe rainfall.

Pole Leaning in Finley River Flood Zone 043017

Finley River Flooding

While full summer heat can quickly wilt me, this early entrance to summer time that I connect more with spring, when even the sleepy oaks in the Ozarks have finally awakened into verdant splendor, is one “awash with the vibrant intensity of all things green and growing as a fertile wave of vital energy crashes across the landscape.” (Telyndru, p. 130) This year, the crashing waves have been literal as this last weekend of April brought torrential rains that have produced formidable flooding that wash away roads and bridges, and cause power poles to tilt dangerously. The heavy rains also wash away winter and spring’s detritus. Now will come the time to plant and nurture.

It is said that “there is very little difference between burying and planting,” that we often “need to put dead things to rest, so that new life can grow,” and that “the thing put to rest … becomes the fertilizer for the life about to form.” I have indeed experienced an extended cycle of dying where I resisted putting the past to rest, and was suffering from “wearing a dead and useless skin.” I do tend to hold to what is familiar within myself; while I knew intellectually about my need to let go, my inner self was reluctant:

“One self carries us to the extent of its usefulness and dies. We are then forced to put that once beloved skin to rest, to join it with the ground of spirit from which it came, so it may fertilize the next skin of self that will carry us into tomorrow.” (Nepo, p. 145)

Am I ready to begin anew?

This time of the year corresponds to the Station of Emergence in the Avalonian Cycle of Healing; this cycle “is a symbolic distillation of the soul’s journey from roundedness to wholeness, from inauthenticity to sovereignty, and from disconnection to connection with the Divine.” (Telyndru, p. 13) This station in the cycle of healing–and Calan Mai in the annual agricultural cycle of life–is one significant for manifesting our dreams and potential. And, since manifestation or achieving goals has always been a challenge for me, this cycle has particular potency; I have lots and lots of “seeds” within, it’s growing them up, out, and into the world that is my challenge.

Missouri spring cave by Bill Duncan

Missouri Cave/Spring, (c) Bill Duncan

I have been intrigued by how this station is aligned with The White Spring in the Avalonian Landscape because the Ozarks topography (where I moved 18 months ago) is a haven for springs … and caves. The White Spring’s waters “rise from deep within the earth … percolating through the limestone caverns beneath the Tor” and our southern Missouri landscape is a veritable limestone “cave factory” (nearly 6,600 caves). I’ve always loved caves, and have been within many of them, but this is the first time that I’ve thought of them as part of an emergence process because of the waters and springs that create them.

I have no doubt that I am here in the Ozarks for a specific purpose, and that the Goddess will guide me through the journey.

___________

Telyndru, Jhenah. Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom.

Nepo, Mark. The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.