Partner with Trees

Shadow on trees     In addition to envisioning the return of the natural forest to the property, I am compelled to take a hand in the process. But it is an interesting balance between deciding what I want to have grow where, and listening to what the land wants its two-legged, nimble-fingered partner to do.
Yesterday I transplanted three small pine trees. I took them from the area beyond the wire fence which marks the yard of the cabin. Here a small gathering of trees and manzanita create a semi-circular curve out away from the fence. It looks like this space has been created by someone running a very strong mower over the area on an annual basis.

I found ten young pines, each one standing about 6 inches above ground level, with bushy branches in all directions. Numerous smaller volunteers surround them in small clusters. Since they can not all comfortably mature where they are, I decided to transplant one grouping of them out to the far corner of the field. My hope is that they will do better together as a young generation of siblings.
Grandmother Pine corner      Out at the northeast corner of the land, near Grandmother Pine, I discovered a similarly stunted pine. It sits out toward the open field between a large manzanita and twin mid-aged pines.  I asked their permission, and received their assurance that they will make underground connections with the new arrivals to help them join this family group.

All of that was the easy part. Equipped with water jugs, shovel, work gloves, towel, and wheel barrow, I headed out to dig my holes. I was excited when the first hole I made contained part of an old tree stump. Digging out those remains gave me a spacious place for a young tree, and left some good decaying nourishment for it.
When I returned to their present home, I found that this was going to require a lot more than shoveling up a sprout and its surrounding soil. These were established trees, stunted in size by being regularly cut down. They’d grown back stronger each time.

Tranplant Pine 1
Water and the large shovel got the general outline cut, to allow me to move a whole ecosystem of tree, grasses, smaller tree sprouts and hefty root systems. I lifted the bulk of the soil system away in blocks, since it was held together by grass roots. Soon, I found myself with my forearms braced on the ground; the fingers of both hands teasing soil from around the taproot.  Eight inches down, when the root was the circumference of my finger, I began trying to pull the tree out. That was an interesting wrestling match, which the tree easily won. My only choice was to get the large cutters and sever the taproot. I knew that there were plenty of ancillary roots, and a good length of taproot to help the tree survive, but I still didn’t like cutting it.
Once the tree was out, we made the trip across the land to the new site. I began with a tonic of water with a touch of molasses, to help develop the mycorrhizal network around the transplant. Lowering the tree’s root system into the hole, I was able to add a bit of the local soil back in.  Then the block of rich dark soil, roots and grasses from the tree’s original area went back on top to fill the hole. The tree and it’s usual neighbors remain together to make new friends.

    Transplant Pine 2I was already quite tired, and decided that one more grouping was all I could do in the day. Being an adoption agent for older trees is much more difficult than sitting on the bench envisioning the return of the forest. The second round went more smoothly, but again there was the minor trauma of clipping the taproot.
It is no wonder that I dreamed about it last night. In the dream I was in a rare plant exhibit at a museum with high security restrictions. I accidentally broke off the top of a small cactus plant. In a panic, I broke the top apart and hid it. I kept trying to avoid being discovered, and trying all kinds of things to disguise the damage. I woke with a laugh, knowing that I will need to go out and talk with the tree today.

Last fall, we walked the boundaries of this land and made the promise to take care of it and all the living beings within this space. The relationships that are growing from that vow are amazing.

New growth on Cedar youth

 

(New growth on the small cedar transplanted last fall).

 

 

 

 

Connections

DNA and Earth

Your body is the stuff of stars and of the minerals of the Earth. Your blood runs briny with the seas. The essence of the oceans spills through your veins and arteries. The sediments of Earth make up your cells.
Your genes are universes in themselves, coded with enough information to recreate the world. And perhaps these elements of earth and sky, of nature and the cosmos that actually compose your physical being are the mirror of the great nature which has pushed us to the choice points that we now face.
                  Dr. Jean Houston, Salon Lecture at Pacifica Graduate Institute 3/16/17

I have been listening to recordings of Jean Houston’s lectures this past couple of weeks and have been amazed at how they are shifting my relationships with both people and the cosmos. It is as though the images of my cells being a hologram of my body and my body being a hologram of the earth … have led me to much deeper levels of connection.

I have always been a little bit aloof in my life. I’m not sure if it was my training as an elementary school teacher or my work as a United Methodist clergywoman. It was present in my leadership at The Still Point Zen center, and even in the images of my relationship with the web of light in shamanic journeys. I have aways held myself back a just a bit – one step remote, for instance envisioning myself sending love to the web of life rather than being within it.

It has always been difficult for me to ask for help, and to feel gratitude when I receive it. It is a bad mental habit that I learned very early.  To need someone else’s support was not appropriate. Intelligent, resourceful, spiritually grounded people are not supposed to hit bottom in life. We are supposed to be better than that. We are here to be the ones who give, not the ones who receive.

Somehow there was also the message that help had to be justified, deserved, earned. If not, there was a silent wag of the head in disappointment and disapproval. Even when the money, materials, resources were given, there was always the feeling that to ask was to prove that I was foolish, childish and “needy.”

This old mindset was part of what Bill and I had to combat this past week. We have chosen a very simple lifestyle, paring down our expenses and moving through the bankruptcy process with our debts. I am anticipating part-time work as a caregiver for a fascinating elderly woman starting in March. Even so we have been spending down through our savings month after month, trying to hold on until my pension becomes available in the fall. The other day we were forced to admit that we could not pay the power bill on time and have money for groceries. It literally took hours for us to come to grips with “This is how it happens. This is how people end up with nothing in the bank and bills to pay.”

Finally, we found the courage to each pick one friend who we felt we could ask for a loan. The response from both was immediate understanding and loving support for us flowing in along with the money. We now have enough to cushion each month’s expenses and a small amount in savings for unexpected challenges. The trust it took to ask has also deepened and enriched those friendships. We look forward to the day that we can give in this same generous way to others.

I have long envisioned myself as one standing slightly on the outside, finding ways to add light, love, joy, service … to the lives of others. A couple of weeks ago this shifted to seeing myself woven into the fabric of life will all other living beings. I became a strand among millions of others, feeling the balance of supporting and being supported within the web of life.

This week, even that seems too individual. I am beginning to sense myself as one cell within this amazing organism that is the Earth. It means that as I care for my inward needs, filling my own heart and life with blessing and love, I nourish all the rest of this living system. Conversely, I am not separate from all of the resources, elements, energies of the Earth. Whatever is needed for me to thrive is also right here available to me.

I love the correlation between the sharing of love, insights, financial resources among friends and the continuous circulation of nourishment among all of the cells of an organism as complex as the world. I find myself sinking into the marvelous, briny earth soup of life. Here I am part of the pulse and flow of human beings, plants and animal, creation and all that is sacred. It is a wonderful feeling.

(Our deep gratitude to those of you who support us through Patreon. Your monthly support both aids the sustaining flow of financial resources into our lives and gives us deep encouragement that what we offer is valuable.)

Preparing for a Winter Flow

Cabin and BregoAs the season moves from autumn and fall toward winter we are making a number of adjustments to help reduce fuel consumption while keeping ourselves warm. We have decided that since both the cabin and Brego (our motor home) need to be kept warm enough to protect pipes and possessions from too great a temperature dip, we will use both. Bill sleeps in the cabin; going to bed early and rising early to do Qi Gong and write before the sun rises. I sleep in the motor home, sometimes waking in the middle of the night to do a shamanic journey.

When I get up, he already has the cabin warmed into the low 60’s and I give Brego a ten-minute burst from the central propane heater to warm things from 47 to around 50. This also gives me a chance to use the small space of the bathroom as a warming closet for my clothes. I layer my “lounging clothes” over my night clothes, greet the morning, and then head to the warmth of the cabin and the coffee that awaits me. On mornings when it is below 30* on the porch, Bill starts a fire in the small iron fireplace to take the chill off the small living room.

IMG_5991When the sun is up over Black Butte, I remove the three layers of insulation from Brego’s south-facing windows. I drape the felt over the couch to protect it,  raise the Venetian blinds and reposition the reflective silver insulation sheet to catch as much sunlight as possible. By mid-day, the temperature will be 65 – 70. Friends have recommended the large diameter bubble wrap attached directly to the window to let in light, so I am trying to gather that for both dwellings from stores who are trying to recycle their packaging.

Many of our days are still spent out on the land or hiking the nearby trails. Yesterday, we went up the mountain to collect fire wood along a forest service road. Bill will spend part of the next few days sawing it into pieces that fit the fireplace. He is also working on a spiral path to Grandfather Tree. I am tending the young transplanted trees, keeping a small pond available, and using pine needles to lightly mulch some dry spots in the meadow.

Other days we are both at our computers, sometimes using the afternoon warmth to do Qi Gong or do home care and maintenance. Our ritual of sitting out at the bench in our meadow has moved earlier, now that the sunset is nearing 4:15. After some time to share about our day, I go in and put the insulation back up in Brego and we share dinner and the evening in the cabin, which the space heater easily keeps at 60 – 65.

When snow comes and temperatures drive us indoors, there are books to read and others to write. It will be soon be time to create rich soups and drink spice tea. The creative energies will find new expressions. But there will still be walks in the woods and shoveling snow it keep us connected with nature.

IMG_5990A month or so ago, I asked some of my family and friends if they had any yarn to share. I have received about 20 skeins and leftover balls of earth-tone yarn. I’m 2/3 of the way through knitting a warm afghan for the bed, and plan several other projects to keep my hands busy and my lap warm this winter. Today, I will unpack my sewing machine to begin making curtains for three of the windows in the cabin, hoping to add another layer of warmth.

We have decided to drain the motor home’s fresh water tank, in order to protect it.  The hot water heater in the cabin is wonderfully efficient, so showers and dish washing are easy to do there. With a new dryer off the bedroom, the cabin also provides the luxury of warming our clothes while we shower. I think this will be one of my favorite treats when colder weather comes.

At about 7:30, I change into nighttime clothes with lounging clothes over them before I return to Brego. There is another brief burst of propane powered heat to make the transition to bed. Here I do journey work, read and settle down for the night. A small electric space heater in the aisle is set to come on to help keep things above 47* through the night. I climb in under a delicious pile of blankets, draw my scarf over my head and nestle in the a good night of sleep.

I wanted to share these practical matters with you, because it is all part of the fabric of living an appropriate life as a human couple seeking balance with the natural world. We are trying to keep our foot print small even as our living space is now closer to 600 square feet. We are also welcome the bundling up, eating warming foods, and cuddling which make us look forward to the winter.

 

Relationship with Land: Mary Reynolds

gardenawakeningA few weeks ago I shared about Fiona and her invitation to live in a more intimate relationship with the land. Today, I want to share about a second big influence: Mary Reynolds. You may have heard of her through the film “Dare to be Wild,” about her wild, native garden entry in the Chelsea Garden Show, or from her book The Garden Awakening. I discovered her through an NPR interview, shared by a friend, and have since been reading her book and her website We Are the Ark

Mary weaves together a love for land as a living being, the honoring of native plants and creatures, and the importance of growing our own food. She began her career designing gardens that had multi-levels of trees, plants and shrubs which provided both habitat for wild life and fresh food for humans. She is now calling for those of us who are caring for some piece of land to allow half of it to return to its wild state to provide an Ark to help retain diversity of both plants and animals. Growing our own food allows our land to nourish us. It frees us from mass produced food which poisons our bodies, the land, and all living beings through its use of GMO crops and the pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers they require.

Bill with CedarWhile many of our friends are having to take out the shrubs and trees near their homes to reduce fire risks, we are fortunate to live in small dwellings on about 2.8 acres of open grassland with trees, manzanita and other scrub. Beyond the “defensible space,” for human habitat, there are a number of different areas within this land. There is maze-like area of manzanita bushes and pine trees settled near the road, and extending north to Grandfather Tree. There is a gathering of pines, manzanita and other bushes at the back corner, with Grandmother tree in its center. There are a dozen 30-year-old pine trees (The Sisters), which follow the contours of the land in a way that implies a stream leading to a small pond. There is another small cluster of bushes and the small pond I have set out at the other rear corner. Then there is open grassland which has been mowed on a yearly basis, but is basically natural.

During this past week, we have followed Mary’s advice in several ways. She recommends that each year, you walk the boundaries of your property and tap stones together to let it know that within this place you will be caring for the land. Part of this is to honor it as a living being and to learn to listen to what it wants to be, as well as to communicate your wishes for it. We used our drumming to set this boundary of care and to share our intentions that this be a place where people can discover deep, healing connection with nature and that all the living beings here thrive in harmony with one another.

Nancy and FirYesterday, we brought two small trees from the edge of the road into the stream-like pattern in the field. Again, Mary’s words inspired this experience. Mycorrhizal networks extending beyond the root systems of trees communicate both with the soil to seek needed nutrients and with other trees to provide information and mutual support. We started by finding a few small trees that were willing to be moved from their current network out into the field, and trees among The Sisters to be foster family connections for these young ones. We dug up the small fir and cedar as carefully as we could, using our fingers to untangle their roots from the stony soil and then carried their roots, surrounded by some of their own soil in a damp towel out to where they were planted. I cradled them in my arms and sang to them, and spoke of the sunshine and love they were being moved into. Bill helped plant them at just the right depth and gathered pine needles to mulch around them.

We returned to the places where we had taken the trees, and made offerings, restored the soil as much as possible and offered gratitude to the surrounding vegetation.

Later in the day, I made a mixture of water, a handful of rich soil we had gathered from a hillside that has never been cleared, and a bit of sugar. I sang to it and again placed intentions into it for it to bring light, love and vibrant life to all it touches. At the close of the day, we poured good amounts of this water onto the two new trees and then gave a bit to each of the Sister Trees in gratitude to them.

I am deeply grateful to Mary Reynolds for these and many other suggestions she makes for creating strong relationships with the land on which we live. She helped me bridge a sense of environmental responsibility to nurture this property and the symbolic ritual that has become familiar in my shamanic practice.

I will continue to share with you as the seasons unfold, and I learn more as I listen to the land.

Places to Begin if you have a small yard, or if you have voice in the landscaping near your home or work pace:

  • Visit Mary Reynolds’ website wearetheark.org. We Are the Ark 
  • Read the opening chapters of her The Garden Awakening, to nurture your sense of relationship with land as a living bring.
  • NSPR Interview – Best of Cultivating Places: Dare to Be Wild, Aired Oct. 10, 2019, by North State Public Radio in Chico, CA.
  • Do not use any chemicals on your land – not fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides … they poison land, water and all living beings.
  • Let go of lawns — they gobble up space, usually require chemical support and excessive watering, and cause us to categorize many native grasses as “weeds.”
  • If you can not grow your own food, buy organically grown to reduce our dependence of agribusiness farming practices.
  • Allow nature to bring forth what it knows is fitting for the soil and the climate of your area.  Sometimes leaving it alone will allow it to reintroduce a balance of plants and grasses which can thrive in current conditions, and support living creatures of many sizes and forms.

New Relationship with Land – Fiona

Horse Camp 8/4/19
As Bill and I have settled onto this 2.8 acres of family land in Mount Shasta, we have begun to sense that this land called us here to bring us healing and so we can bring it healing. This week, that understanding deepened through the example of two women. Each of them live in harmony with all living beings in a way I have not experienced before. To honor each, I will make this a two-part series.

The first is Fiona, who is a tangible expression of my archetype of “Woman of the Mountain.” She invited me to her home and to walk the 5 acres she cares for. It was a transforming experience. What had been ideas and concepts of honoring the other living beings of an area were brought into a vivid, solid expression.

Her home is small, and contains a few simple possessions. It has modern electricity and plumbing, but does not support internet, television, cellphone or other electronic devices. Instead, there are rooms with large windows to let in the light. There are lovely items which reflect the integration of her spiritual practice and love of music into the heart of her life. There are also a number of features to support her cat and honor its need for quiet, safety, and nourishment. This animal is her friend, companion and housemate.

Beyond her doorway, there is a natural mountain hillside, with minimally cleared pathways winding through it. These paths feel more borrowed from the hillside, with large roots and lower manzanita branches continuing their growth across it. This small maze of trails and sub-pathways is part of the human and cat domain, shared with fox and bobcat, deer, squirrel and bear, and dozens of other winged, four-legged, creepers and slithering ones.

One place where my theory was confronted with a more potent practice was in her care for the mice who visit the outbuildings. These little ones are treated with deep kindness and affection. They are trapped in a spacious cage, with a built-in water supply. The next morning, this is moved to the protection of the shed, and they are given breakfast and left there to rest for an hour so they can calm down and eat. Next, they are transported several miles away to a spot with a small stream of water, so they can settle into a new habitat with all they need to survive. I had thought I understood “humane trapping of mice,” until I saw this true relationship with the creatures.

Fliona has asked that I house and cat sit early next summer. I will visit her and her cat often, to learn the land and let my relationship with her cat develop. I will also continue my inward transformation so that when I am there, I will honor the heart and spirit of the place as well as provide basic care.

I have long journeyed to “Woman on the Mountain,” in my shamanic practice. It is an important image of my future-self who has learned to live in harmony with Mount Shasta and Black Butte and this whole region – and with all the living beings of this area. This future me is calm and confident because she has deep relationships with land, rock, tree,animals, birds, moon, sunshine and stars.

As you can see, the Seen tangible expressions of life weave together with the Unseen mysteries of the oneness of all living beings. As a result, I am discovering that “all living beings,” includes all that shares the elements of the Earth with me — all of soil, water, air, fire, vapor — in their amazing variety of expressions. There is life in us all, as well as spirit and wisdom and the desire for harmony.

I will continue to describe the new depths of these relationships and connections in my next article.

(For this article I have used a pseudonym for my friend to honor her privacy.)

Photo of Nancy on her 61st birthday at Horse Camp trail head.

Extraordinary Challenge

gretathunberg_2018x-1350x675-1The outcry of the young is reaching me here in my mountain home. A young woman who has been speaking out for the planet, and trying to get people to listen to what science has told us for most of my adult life, has burst into the public eye. Greta Thunberg’s message tells me that while my inner work is vital, the use of my voice is also essential to being dedicated to the healing of the Earth and all her children.

It was her call for a “state of emergency” response to climate change that caught my attention. If she is right, there is no time to go through endless arguments. If she is wrong, there is no harm done in placing the survival of the planet above the accumulation of money and material goods. One goal she mentioned in a TED talk was the reduction of CO2 emissions by rich nations by 15% per year with a goal of 0 emissions in 6 – 12 years. This is an incredible goal. It will be a miraculous achievement when obtained. It is a nearly impossible challenge which is perfect for this time in our evolution as human beings, and for the work of grandmothers and grandfathers.

We who are seeking to live earth-centered lives in our 60’s and beyond are perfectly placed to lead the way. We have experienced massive changes in our world over the course of our lives. Many of us have let go of “earning a living,” and are settling into a more simple lifestyle. We are aware of the ultimate transition of this lifetime awaiting us on the near horizon. We have worked through many of our illusions, confusions and imagined needs. We have learned that living in harmony with the Earth is a spiritual as well as a practical path.

What are we willing and able to do to slow the rate of carbon emissions? How do we hold to our commitment in the backlash of our conditioned mind telling us that it will not be enough? How do we create an outward space that supports all living beings, while continuing to work on our inner being to allow more of the flow of light, love and creativity of the Sacred Source to flow through us as healing energy for the planet?

These are questions I want to explore on this page. They are at the heart of “Earth-Centered Living after 60,” as we weave our inner/spiritual energy with the outward/practical expressions of deep connection with All That Is. We will each look to our own wisdom and spiritual guidance to see what is ours to do. We needn’t become overwhelmed, since we are each a single cell in the amazing organism of Life.

I think of our parents’ and grandparents’ wisdom. They lived in a less technology-based world and developed ways of living with very few material comforts. They faced rationing in times of war; endured the poverty of depression era living and were often part of immigrant populations forced to migrate far from their homelands. What are the stories you remember of “Victory Gardens,” “Mend and make do,” riding a bicycle to work rather than having a car? Are there images and practices waiting to be rediscovered? Can we honor our personal and collective ancestors by looking to them for the wisdom we need now to help us survive as a species?

From my youth, I remember President Jimmy Carter responding to an energy crisis by inviting us all to turn down the thermostat in our homes and wear sweaters. He cut the highway speed limit to use gasoline in a more efficient way. Can we adapt and adjust these recommendations to help us now?

I am making a renewed commitment to writing in this blog one a weekly basis. I hope this will nurture a forum not for debate about whether extraordinary measures are needed, but how we might take them in our daily lives, in service to this beautiful planet. Please share this with others who may be interested in this community. To face this challenge, we are going to need all of the creative ideas and open hearts we can gather.

Some other background links for Greta and the IPCC report:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018:      IPCC Report

Greta before the US Congress included in: Several speeches in US in September

Life is Not All Petting Bunnies

bunnyThis was what I was told in a recent journey to one of my teachers in the Unseen world. I’m finding it to be very true.

We have nearly come full circle from the time we made the decision to release our 3-bedroom rental house and it’s lifestyle. In a month, we will pass the one year point since the end of my work as a bookbinder. So many changes, and not all of them “petting bunnies.”

This life calls for a great deal of honesty with myself and about myself. I can not sink into the relationship with nature; with all living beings; with my deepest sense of calling, if I am hiding out from myself and others. One of the impacts of paring things back in my life is that when I find something I am unwilling to let go of, there is something important hiding behind it.

My bookbinding equipment still sits in a storage area, which is costing us a monthly rental fee that our budget can no longer support. Yet, I have limited my attempts to sell it to people connected with the bookbinding schools in this region. I was talking with Bill this morning and finally found the courage to explore why.

My bookbinding business failed. I had given myself fully to learning the skills to both create hand bound books and journals, and to do complex book repairs. I had gathered more and more materials, papers and equipment. I tried new craft fair settings, and extending the hours I spent in this work. But the business failed. In fact it failed to the point that we are now going through bankruptcy because of the debts it accumulated. That sense of failure and the accompanying shame keep that equipment and materials locked up in the dark.

I had designed a scenario in my mind of finding the right young bookbinding student, and having my equipment go to helping them set up their studio. I wanted to have a story of generosity. I wanted to pretend that leaving bookbinding was part of the natural flow of moving toward motor home living. What I am learning is that all of this is hard to admit, but vital to my story. If I am going to stay honest about the challenges of this life (and its promises), I need to share deeply.

This is made easier by a TED talk Bill found yesterday. Brene Brown spoke for 20 minutes about Vulnerability , it is liberating. She points out that while vulnerability is at the base of many of our fears and much of our shame, it is also the fundamental basis for creativity, joy and whole-hearted living. Failure is part of life as we give ourselves to commitments, relationships, or projects with all of who we are. We have to launch ourselves into that flight of creative possibility, without reservation or fear. It is not that we are being unreasonable, it is just that we are letting our heart propel our life.

I would never trade the life I have now for a return to a successful bookbinding business. I would not trade my hours of walking the trails, journeying for wisdom to ancestors, and singing for the healing of the Earth, for endless hours in a bookbinding studio creating the most incredible books.

This land and this mountain have claimed me. We have been asked to remain here on this 3 acres of land, to care for it and for an aged cabin for Bill’s sister. Our home on wheels is a strong shelter providing all we need. We have food and some of the cleanest water on the planet. We have just enough in the bank to make the monthly bills, while the generosity of the Universe continues to flow to us in amazing ways.

Our small home keeps me growing in my intimate relationship with rain and wind, phases of the moon and song of morning birds. It is a strong reliable shelter for our living. My devotion to living for the healing of the Earth and All Her Children deepens every day. It is not all petting bunnies, but the transforming flow of life keeps showing me flowers.

P.S. – The bookbinding equipment is now up on Craig’s List.