I hope that my voice will provide you with a gateway into the forest.
Your response is welcomed.
“Writing in landscapes, landscapes write in you.”
– Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness
Some Years ago, while visiting Nepal, I had the good fortune to listen to the words of a Nepalese Archeologist. We were standing in front of an excavation in Lumbini, said to be the birthplace of Buddha. There the mother of Buddha was said to have given birth while holding onto the Sal tree. As he continued to speak, he referenced several other trees in the story of Buddha, and then paused to make an aside:
“It makes you wonder, really, if this is not actually all about the trees.”
He laughed and continued his discourse, but the words stayed with me as softly spoken ideas sometimes do. I remembered the impact of trees in my life and the subtle flavor of places, of landscapes that have moved me. Today, I have given a certain credence to this sensation and have concluded that whether it is a lower brain response to a safe and healthy landscape, or a higher brain desire for beauty, trees do hold a significant place in my relation to earth.
The expression of such things is understandably elusive. All aspects of our interconectedness can seem a challenge, at times, to express. We recognize them in flashes in our consciousness and then turn away to resume what we believe to be the important work of our lives. I have often felt helpless to express such thoughts on the world I have witnessed, in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Sometimes the human pain I saw, due to economic imbalances, or the compassionate sorrow that twisted my gut, when disrupted landscapes destroyed or displaced plants and animals, became unbearable.
I would try to speak of my experiences with friends and acquaintances, but such topics seem to slide away from peoples interest focus. Their eyes typically glaze and they make a perfunctory remark, returning to the issues they know, relegating your experience to some other world beyond their ken.
This apparent disinterest was a tipping point for me, one day. I identified with a world much larger than the one my associates knew. I also felt compassion, hope, and fear for that world. I began to wake in the night, while living in Africa, and tell myself fictional stories of people who saw and solved the worlds issues. I set aside two decades of filtered ramblings in a journal and opened up into poetry, fantasy, and science fiction. It was personal and it was private. It was also a healing place. This is what I hope to share in these pages.
Fallen Leaves, Fallen Trees
Words fall away from my mind in orange and yellow They litter the ground, leaving me silent The flavor of it sits in my mouth Bitter or sweet A nameless perfume rife with memory
I am at last Finally, That Tree Tall, still, I brace the landscape My leaves fallen about me as past glories to dissolve Food for saplings
I am that tree Shading the heads of pilgrims I stand as safe roost for eons of flocks Soundless, I shrug a shoulder Or fan my hands
I am post and lintel Cup, bowl, canoe I am fire hardened spear and arrow; slit for the stone Cradle, coffin, crucifix I take the hangman’s name in silence
I am that tree. Support for Maya in her birth throws Canopy for her son as he awoke Gathering place for the elders The sentinel in silence forgotten
Standing within the cycle eternal Fully aware and in silence I am falling, falling My essence dreams And wakes again
Have you ever tried to slide into the heaven of sensation and met
You know not what resistance but it held you back? have you ever turned on your shoulder
helplessly, facing the white moon, crying let me in? have you dared to count the months as they pass and the years
while you imagined pleasure, shining like honey, locked in some secret tree? have you dared to feel the isolation gathering
intolerably and recognized what kinds of explosions can follow from an intolerable condition? have you walked out in the mornings
wherever you are in the world to consider all those gleaming and reasonless lives that flow outward, and outward, easily, to the last moment the bulbs of their lungs
their bones and their appetites can carry them? oh, have you looked wistfully into the flushed bodies of the flowers? have you stood
staring out over the swamps, the swelling rivers where the birds, like tossing fires flash through the trees, their bodies exchanging a certain happiness
in the sleek, amazing humdrum of natures design- blood's heaven, spirit's haven to which you can not belong?
Some recent springtime ago, I was camping on the edge of a desert, where the remnants of a different ecosystem had survived due to a valiant spring, forming a pool.
Here, the Night Hawk preformed his display of arching spins and dives which caused his feathers to whistle. It was mesmerizing. It was joyful to watch as twilight fell.
Words are so useless in conveying experiences. I can only supply you with a suggestion, which your own experience will dictate in the end.
In the same way, Mary Oliver has chosen words that may or may not remind you of sometime in your life. Maybe it is a time you will wish to turn from anyway, to forget rather than gouge up the unfiltered emotion for.
We human-kind prefer to feel pleasure, that is how we are made. We seek life, pleasure, and continuance over it’s opposite. So here is the possible purpose of poetry, of fairy tales, and even science fiction; it provides the shield from what is here and disturbing, while allowing us to still see.
For the last few weeks I have been reading:
“The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman.
I can only read it in small segments, as I have a very active imagination, which I try to protect for the sake of sleep. His premise, revealed in an interview some years ago, was that he could discuss very difficult environmental issues, and not lose the attention of his audience, by placing his discussion in a world where mankind no longer lives. We have been erased, no reason given. Why are we more comfortable with this than, say, the many dystopian stories where we struggle to survive, or the very useful factual, scientific articles? Hmmm.
He begins the book with a quote, (in german and in english) from the Chinese poet Li Tai Po, “The Chinese Flute: Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth”.
Das Firmament blaut ewig, und die Erde Wird longe fest steh'n und aufblüh'n im Lenz. Du aber, Mensch, wie lange lebst denn du?
The firmament is blue forever, and the Earth Will long stand firm and bloom in spring. But, man, how long will you live?
This begins his book with the reminder, that in earth’s own history, many have come and many departed. For some reason, the concept goes down easier with a poem.
Chapter one is located in the Polish primeval forest (Bialowieza Puszcza). A place of huge and nearly unsullied trees. For now. Mr. Weisman describes the changing laws that will eventually destroy this last wilderness, like all the rest.
Throughout the remainder of the book, we get to see what will happen to all our productions, our creations, the bones and poisons of our civilization. Given enough time, the world recovers from us, and given enough distance we can all discuss it.
Have you ever walked in a forest and known that your very foot steps heralded its end?
Could you hear it listening to you, to your foot strike, your breath, and knew it would embrace you with love to the bitter end?
Have you ever wandered a forest and felt the beat of only the one heart? Let's go for a walk, shall we?
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet Traveling through casual space Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns To a destination where all signs tell us It is possible and imperative that we learn A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it To the day of peacemaking When we release our fingers From fists of hostility And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean When battlefields and coliseum No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters Up with the bruised and bloody grass To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
When the rapacious storming of the churches The screaming racket in the temples have ceased When the pennants are waving gaily When the banners of the world tremble Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
When we come to it When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders And children dress their dolls in flags of truce When land mines of death have been removed And the aged can walk into evenings of peace When religious ritual is not perfumed By the incense of burning flesh And childhood dreams are not kicked awake By nightmares of abuse
When we come to it Then we will confess that not the Pyramids With their stones set in mysterious perfection Nor the Gardens of Babylon Hanging as eternal beauty In our collective memory Not the Grand Canyon Kindled into delicious color By Western sunsets
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji Stretching to the Rising Sun Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor, Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores These are not the only wonders of the world
When we come to it We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace We, this people on this mote of matter In whose mouths abide cankerous words Which challenge our very existence Yet out of those same mouths Come songs of such exquisite sweetness That the heart falters in its labor And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet Whose hands can strike with such abandon That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness That the haughty neck is happy to bow And the proud back is glad to bend Out of such chaos, of such contradiction We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it We, this people, on this wayward, floating body Created on this earth, of this earth Have the power to fashion for this earth A climate where every man and every woman Can live freely without sanctimonious piety Without crippling fear
When we come to it We must confess that we are the possible We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world That is when, and only when We come to it.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist.
We are delighted to announce the 40 fantastic finalists from the 2019 competition, which has been an absolute treat for the judges with possibly the best entries we have ever had. The Overall Winner and Category Winners will be announced on …. 13th November 2019.
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The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, ingeniously titled to avoid any confusion, was the result of two factors: Firstly, a need for a photography competition that was light hearted, upbeat, possibly unpretentious and mainly about wildlife doing funny things. 4years on and these objectives seem to have been met. Secondly, and way more importantly, this competition is about conservation.
We tend to see Nature in a lovely pastoral landscape: pretty flowers, verdant meadows, things we might like to eat. There is the dark, the alien, the deeply frightening aspect of Nature though, and this is ours to love as well. Why do we like to shock ourselves with the dark, the surreal images? Perhaps it is the contrast which reminds us we are still alive, or more to the point, we are not yet dead.
One of the images of the Darkness is in the changing of the seasons. I see the tanning of grass, the shedding of layers of leaves, and the flocks of birds as they migrate. I remain, beneath clouds, considering the stillness and silence that has overtaken my world. Persephone has gone in to somewhere more warm, but I remain. Should I feel sorry for her?
My forest is simply waiting for snow and ice to cover its lost mantle. In this stillness I am content only for a while, but it is enough. When the cold finally drives me in, or away, I find that I have brought the silence with me.
“…one aspect of silence is emptiness, and yes, it is often lonely. In the presence of silence, the conditioned self rattles and scratches. It begins to crumble like old leaves or worn rock. If we have courage, we take silence as medicine to cure us from our social ills, the suffering of self-centered alienation. In silence, sacred silence, we stand naked like trees in winter, all our secrets visible under our skin. And like winter’s tree, we appear dead but are yet alive.”
The Fruitful Darkness, Joan Halifax
Come. Scrabble with me into this darkened place. I will keep you warm. I will keep you safe. I am not hungry at the moment, but perhaps you would like some soup?
“These Things are One. They are Unity. They are Ourselves.”
These are the words of Ramon Medina Silva: The Mara’akame of the Huichol people of Mexico. He describes seeing the world reflected in ourselves. Seeing ourselves in all things; the collective dream.
The landscapes of dream are often where my clearest images erupt; transforming, healing, and integrating what has lain on the surface of my conscious mind, too thinly scraped to call attention. This realm is a place of understanding that is so very difficult to form into words. Sometimes I wonder if the Earth may be dreaming us in her attempt to understand. May she understand.
In Joan Halifax’s book ‘The Fruitful Darkness’, she shares her own understanding of the Huichol people:
“The myth of the journey to Wirikuta is at once a sacred journey and a collective dream. The history recounts how the Ancient Ones, the gods of the Huichols, fell ill through forgetting, yet, returning to the traditional ways, were healed. The myth is also a collective dream reminding the people of the value of the continuity of traditions, particularly as they apply to place, to sacred and real locales.”
So far removed am I from my traditions in the waking world, that when they call my name in the dairy isle of the market, I hear only the blare of music and read those mythic labels with dulled uncomprehending eyes.
The wonder and the mystery are so easily lost.
So for the moment I will try to share that wonder, beneath the tree. I may be stricken, I may be wounded, but I still do dream. Small impoverished dreams perhaps, but even the smallest thing has its place in the grandeur.
Part Six: What May Enter Here
Culley sat waiting for his grandmother’s attention, cross-legged before the fire in her private rooms. He did not mind. Time between both worlds moved for Culley in a way that neither world seemed to notice. He would have been hard pressed to put it into words, had anyone asked. No one did.
He had noticed a shift in his mother after the thing that had happened to her. It was as if she were more still, rather than different. Her tone and her manor had not changed much, but the time between her words seemed to rest within a plane of its own. She now seemed, to Culley, to be nearer kin to the trees than to their surrounding human neighbors. He did not find this to be a bad thing, having been friends with the trees for a very long time, but any change in ones own mother seems to be a cause for deeper attention if only to reassess that all is still well.
Todd had become, if anything, a more vigilant and now insistent caretaker since that happening. He was soft spoken and humorous as always, but his word brooked no gainsaying when it came to the issues of safety. This had forced Todd to travel more openly in the world of man, since he would not leave Culley’s Mama to travel alone. At first Culley had been stunned to see such an unflinchingly courageous fellow change color and twitch when riding in the auto to the market, but Todd quickly adapted and even attempted to operate the hulking ancient Citroën his mother had kept from her fathers estate, long before Culley was even born. Considering the normal self-adjustment that takes place when a Citroën is ignited: a rising and shifting due to the hydro-pneumatic forces, which gives the impression of sentience, this was an act of true bravery.
Todd was only allowed to cruise the small road that bordered the fence of their property in the end. Culley’s Mama had to explain licensing requirements, and identification issues, to Todd in great detail, again and again, and how they prevented him from traveling farther afield. Todd seemed to think that there must be some sort of loophole that would allow an unremarkable fey fellow to trundle down the roads of man-kind. She eventually came close to losing her temper.
“You are not The Doctor waving psychic paper!”
“Sorry, what Ella? Not Who?”
Culley knew exactly what she meant and smiled ear to ear to hear Todd step unerringly into the ‘who’ joke. Season’s 1 and 2 of ‘Doctor Who’ were the only DVD’s that his mother had ever owned. The tiny flat screen TV, and the DVD player, along with the two best seasons, were a gift from a college friend from long ago; before she had met Culley’s father. The entire device lived beneath a colorful Costa Rican tapestry and Todd had thought it was an art installation; so much of the house was scattered with such things. Culley took him by the hand, sat him down, pulled the cover off with a magicians flair, and then pluged the device into an electrical socket. Todd was delighted.
“You have never seen a movie?”
“I had heard rumors, but who would believe such a thing existed.” Todd leaned into the picture so as to catch every word, while Culley watched him with a smile. Ella was talking softly to the groceries in the kitchen. Since she always had done this, neither of them paid much attention.
“Most of the neighbors have something like this. I think it is too noisy though.” Culley informed him.
Todd cast him a worried glance. “Where does this man live? Is such magic common place, if so many have seen these things?”
“Only the magic of the machine. This is merely a Bard’s tale, captured by the machine. Such magic is long gone from man’s world, if it ever were here at all.”
“But the machine itself is magic, so why not the magic it portrays?”
Culley paused, feeling an unusual sense of frustration. “Todd?” He tried at last. “When you encounter a sense a magic in yourself, can you say where it grew from?”
“No, not truly. I can remember the things that led to my knowing, but not the true path itself.” Todd was intensely curious about this and had pushed the system’s ‘off’ button on the block that Culley had shown him would control the device. “In other words, it seems unexplainable: true now, but hidden before,” he added.
Culley nodded, still unsure of what he could explain. “When a human understands something in mans ‘science’ or ‘magic’, and sees how it works, he might feel the same way as you; shifting from not-knowing to knowing. However, he captures each part of the process, so that he can hand it to another human, sharing it with them as a practice of opening. He understands the physical properties of this world so well that he can teach their use, by repeating the process in tiny events, each entirely under his control.
“So, there is no mystery?”
“There is always a mystery. In Fey the mystery is held differently. Most men fail to hear it, or smell it, because the other ways they ‘know’ are not only very loud, but considered proper. To use the methods normal to Fey is considered either weak or perhaps mad.”
Todd seemed to consider this deeply, silence resting with him for some moments, then he slide the remote over to Culley with a sheepish smile. “I believe I will help your mother prepare the dinner.”
That had been last night. Culley still felt some sense of guilt. He had destroyed Todd’s wonder with simple unadorned facts. Even now he was not completely sure that he understood the whole of it. After all, his own knowledge of science came only from books, not experience. Behind him, he heard his grandmother rustle her papers and cork her inkwell. She now cleared her throat; a long standing sign between them that he would be given attention now. Culley smiled to the fire and stood, turning to face his Queen and kin.
“Good evening Grandmother, are you well?”
“Yes, child. As well as might be at my age.” She winked at him and he smiled back, meeting her eyes for a moment. “What is it you wish to speak to me about?”
“I wonder if I might stay here in your home for some time to come?”
She crinkled her brow and spread her hands in inquiry, but held her peace.
“I have work to do of a nature that must be constantly attended to.” Culley looked down to gather his thoughts. “I believe it will benefit from the air of Fey.”
His grandmother nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “I will inform the household. Will your mother be pleased with your choice?”
Culley barely moved a shoulder in answer. “I will speak with her soon. She has always been my support.” Then he paused in a way that held his very heart in check for a moment before going on. “May you and I speak with ease in this room?”
She watched him with the same still care. “Yes.” she answered softly, none the less, and then turned to close the door. She indicated the chairs by the fire and lifted a cordial in its cut crystal decanter from the table set between, filling one glass, then after a pause, filling the other by half as well.
Culley smiled and tilted his head as he watched her. She returned the gesture as she handed him the full glass and seated herself to listen, taking a small sip. Culley also took a sip and set the glass aside as he curled his legs up onto the chair beneath him.
“Who are they Grandmother? I need to know.”
She looked seriously at him for a few moments, with a thoughtful frown. “I suppose you are planning to tell the trees?”
Culley lifted a shoulder a fraction, in answer, as his grandfather was wont to do now and then.
Mary Oliver (the 1984 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry) wrote a poem about Stanley Kunitz (named United States Poet Laureate in 2000).
I would like to share it with you.
by Mary Oliver
I used to imagine him coming from his house, like Merlin strolling with important gestures through the garden where everything grows so thickly, where birds sing, little snakes lie on the boughs, thinking of nothing but their own good lives, where petals float upward, their colors exploding, and trees open their moist pages of thunder – it has happened every summer for years.
But now I know more about the great wheel of growth, and decay, and rebirth, and know my vision for a falsehood. Now I see him coming from the house – I see him on his knees, cutting away the diseased, the superfluous, coaxing the new, knowing that the hour of fulfillment is buried in years of patience – yet willing to labor like that on the mortal wheel.
Oh, what good it does the heart to know it isn’t magic! Like the human child I am I rush to imitate – I watch him as he bends among the leaves and vines to hook some weed or other; I think of him there raking and trimming, stirring up those sheets of fire between the smothering weights of earth, the wild and shapeless air.
Of his own work, Kunitz said:
“The poem comes in the form of a blessing—like rapture breaking on the mind.”
Kunitz was also remarkable for his courageous stance as a conscientious objector.
I read Mary Oliver’s take on him:
“Knowing that the hour of fulfillment is buried in years of patience – yet willing to labor like that on the mortal wheel.”
And I knew in that moment, that my own uncertain struggles:
attempting to understand the whole of life, and my childish practice of wishing it well,
may in time have its own fruition.
Without excuse I fell down Alice’s rabbit hole. Neither she nor her friends were there.
I was frightened.
I am not entirely sure where this all began last week, but I have a feeling that the words of Goethe were a trigger. In the title page of the book I was reading, (Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by Mary C. Richards), were his words:
“Then only are we really thinking
when the subject on which we are thinking
can not be thought out.” Goethe
This is a wonderful description of the Zen Koan: a tool intended to bring the mind to its knees, and crack it open, changing its position of perception, its perspective. According to the Zen based teacher, Adyashanti, enlightenment is only that: a change in perspective. He explains that nothing else changes, only how you perceive the world.
I was pleased with dear Goethe, but set him aside for later.
Then I chanced to read about the author Alyc Helms, while shamelessly wandering through the Internet as I looked for possible literary agents. She caught me with a fox (and I do love the fox), by listing her literary interests as: (not in this order)
Liminality – the transitional period or phase of a rite of passage, during which the participant lacks social status or rank, remains anonymous, shows obedience and humility, and follows prescribed forms.
Critical theory fanfic – ?
Fanfic (Fan fiction) is the fractal spreading of a story as it erupts from its fans. In other words, the fans cannot get enough, so they write it themselves.
Critical Theory is “a philosophical approach to culture, and especially to literature, that seeks to confront the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain it. The term is applied particularly to the work of the Frankfurt School.”
The Frankfurt School is at Goethe University.
(Ah, there is his dear name, who was he, this Goethe-name of inner sanctums, of stone foundations, and library walls?) I haphazardly went to look at the Frankfurt School and found there many names (Kant, Freud, Marx, and other well known European fathers, all vetted and true).
I was already in the rabbit hole, too far down to see the sky, as this slurry of dense information spilled down on me, slick and sweet as honey.
“I need to understand all of this!” This thought arose, even while I was convinced, at the same moment, that I would soon be overwhelmed and buried. I was so overwhelmed with the extent of my flagrant ignorance of the truth, that I turned the page and began to read immediately about Kant and Transcendental Idealism:
“The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.”
Ah! Time and space! I am simply quantumly entangled with Schrodinger’s cat, right?
(Oh god, don’t let me drown.) (Remember to not ever open the box. Remember Pandora!)
This is where it ends. I am not playing cats cradle with Indra’s Net. I am a child with a kaleidoscope who thinks she can un-fracture the world with it.
The world remains fractured.
Whatever emphatic grain has caught in my teeth, I cannot shift it, I cannot spit it out. I must soften it. I move to images made of ink, film, clay and canvas. I rest in them. I must rest.
The child’s brush is blunt; its bristles are splayed from contact with dry paint cakes.
Yellow, blue, green find the paper randomly.
More often face and arms are marked with the shaman’s magic.
The pan of water tips and shaman swims.
Swimming through the trees: great kelp forests.
Feeding on swaying kelp, sweet, salty: shaman knows an umami delight in life.