~Standing Bear ~
Our minds, as well as our bodies, have a need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and wind and rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfume of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among trees.
Edwin Way Teale
Have you ever stopped to look at the trees? I mean really look? My sister-in-law was totally enthralled with the bark of the sycamore when we were out in Arizona. How many can describe the texture of the bark of the pine, the oak, the maple? Can you identify a tree by its leaves? How about the night sky? If you live in an area that you are fortunate enough not to have street lights, have you ever gone out and just looked up in the sky? Can you pick out Ursa Major(Big Dipper), Ursa Minor(Little Dipper), or even Orion? Okay, quick, no peaking, what is the phase of the moon? Have you ever smelled the musty, piny smell of pine needs in an old growth forest? Have you ever smelled the scent from a sassafras leave?
Many of us are so disconnected from all of creation that we actually feel uncomfortable out in the woods. There are some who would not venture out of the city if they didn’t have to. Many of them wouldn’t even bat an eyelash if they were told that someone wanted to tear down over five hundred acres to put up the world’s largest casino. Heck, they might just ask when it was expected to be done. Not a thought to all of those relations that would be destroyed in order to give them a place to go and lose their money. Not a thought to the hundreds, if not thousands, of animals that are displaced or outright killed so they can have a place to lose their money.
To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature….The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I grew up in the woods. I had Fort Barton and the Holt conservation trails as my backyard. The Smiths down the road also kept hundreds of acres of woods as a conservancy. Unfortunately, the Smiths passed and their son sold out to a developer who immediately put up no trespassing signs and forbade anyone to go to the waterfalls anymore. Soon a road was cleared and houses went up in the woods that the Smiths cherished. I loved those woods. There was a glade up near the waterfalls where I would go and just lay in the grass with the filtered sun coming through the trees. The rabbits and squirrels would come by and I would talk to them. I don’t know if they understood a word I said, but it was therapeutic for me. I tried to bring that to my kids and took them often to the reservation down in Fall River. We even went out one Earth Day weekend and cleaned up the side of Bell Rock Road from Copicut down to the entrance to the reservation. I remember after we moved out to North Attleboro, I found High Rock in Wrentham and would take the kids there. We were out walking one day and my daughter yells, “Hey Dad, look at this.” I thought she might have found a rabbit, a flower, nope, a can and a candy wrapper. She picked it up and we took it back to the entrance to throw in the can. Man’s disconnection from nature was evident in the uncaring throwing of their trash.
Of course litter isn’t just confined to the woods. Have you ever stopped for a light with an island between the lanes? Collected against the curb are mounds of cigarette butts. Aren’t cars equipped with ash trays? Why do they have to throw them out the window? Have you ever just tossed something out the window when driving or on the ground when walking? Maybe it’s time to reverse the trend? What are you doing this Earth Day. It is the 40th anniversary this year.
Can you get friends together and maybe clean the local park? Get your neighbors together and do a clean sweep of the street?
To me, nature is sacred; trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals. – Mikhail Gorbachev
The woods have always been sacred to me. Some of my most powerful prayers have been in the woods. There is nothing like going and sitting on a ledge and talking to God, then the most important part, being silent. Many of us forget that important part of prayer, being silent. I remember a few years back, I had gone to the woods to pray for direction. I was going to stay out in the woods for a few days alone. Let me tell you, that first night, as the last biker left the woods, the last family hiked out, and the woods fell silent and the sun was setting, shivers go down your spine. At first you are sitting there asking yourself, what am I doing here? You start to hear the nocturnal animals starting to rustle. Fear starts to take hold. You want to run while you still had enough light and get the heck out of there. You were sitting there with no campfire and the woods getting darker and darker. Then I started to pray. I asked for the courage to make it through the night. I asked to have the fear removed so I would not lose sight of why I was there. Then I allowed myself to become quiet. All of a sudden, I felt a lightness come over me and the fear just drained out of me. I became amazed at how much I could see in the woods at night even though it was the night of a new moon. Oh, yeah, did I leave that out? The rest of the night was fairly decent, though by morning, the cool dampness of the woods had gotten into my arthritis and it was becoming inflamed and causing some numbness. Yet, though I had to leave the woods the next morning, I felt I had come to know a close friend and also learned the power of prayer.
which leads to an unkown, secret place.
The old people came literally to love the soil,
and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of
being close to a mothering power.
Their teepees were built upon the earth
and their altars were made of earth.
The soul was soothing, strengthening, cleansing and healing.
That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of
propping himself up and away from its life giving forces.
For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply
and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of
life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.
~ Chief Luther Standing Bear ~
In my series on reconnecting I had talked about the many ways we can reconnect. I talked about sitting with the earthworm for a bit. Sitting under a tree. Laying with the stone people. Many would think this nuts, but we have become so disconnected, it may just be the best way. I love sitting on a ledge overlooking all of creation, watching the hawks dance, seeing the deer stopping to take a drink in the pond below. Part of the reason for our imbalance in our lives, is our disconnection. So I offer a challenge. Go out and sit in the woods, just be quiet and observe all that is around you. Go out and identify four different trees. Feel their bark, what is the texture, smooth, rough? What do the leaves look like? Does it have a scent like the pine, cedar or sassafras? What do you really know about these trees? Look up something about them online and learn a little about them. Take a look at some of the rocks around. What is their texture? Are they smooth? Round? Pockmarked? Are they grey? Black? White? Mottled? What do you think its story is? Yes, it has one. Here in Massachusetts we have some boulders that are almost as large as a house. They appear to be comprised of smaller rocks. How did they get there? Yes, we have been told that the huge sheets of ice from the ice age deposited them there, but where did they come from? Lastly, what kind of animals are in your area? What do they live on? Where do they live? Is their habitat threatened? If so, what can we do to help?
The point is that we need to reengage ourselves with our surroundings. We need to start seeing the trees and animals, not as objects whose existence is subject to our whims, but as relations that we must care for. So go out there and sit on the ground. Feel the tree, ask the stone where it came from.
My heart to your heart, one heart, one spirit.