A Blue Ribbon Moment in History

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A “soap opera” of a life creates a winner.

“Expect the unexpected. That’s life, and sometimes you may need a life preserver, a life jacket, a net or a raft. You can’t hold your breath forever. Breathe in, breathe out, and enjoy this wild ride.”

Charla Hester

 

THE SOURCE OF WISDOM

That sounds like great advice, particularly at this time in history when the ride is often rocky. Charla’s photograph clearly reveals a lady in the wisdom zone of life, but why have I chosen to write about her? What’s that blue ribbon about?

It’s about a poem actually, a poem that immediately sent me into a moment of pause. Before I share it, however, I will add some information about Charla’s history that may affect its impact on you as well.

A TIME LONG AGO

Charla and I were high school classmates back in El Paso. I did not know her well, and our paths parted at graduation. After our 50th reunion, leadership within our ranks caused a cohort to coagulate online over the issues raised by the 2016 election and then the pandemic. With regard to Charla, she has recently begun to share creative writing that has served as a new binding agent.

This material emerged from a stressful time in her life when she sought help from a therapist. He taught her that we don’t have control over our lives, just over our actions and reactions. He wanted her to begin keeping a journal, but she began writing creatively instead, and that resulted in the poem that inspired this post. It won a blue ribbon this June, one of three in addition to a Best in Division award at the Burnet County Fair north of Marble Falls, Texas, where Charla now lives.

The theme of the fair was “Blue Jeans and Country Dreams!” As you will see, the color blue became important in Charla’s life for a number of reasons.

THE BEGINNING

Charla was born in 1945, the year World War II would come to an end–not, however, before Charla’s much older brother had perished in it. Her mother’s pregnancy, well into her 40s, was envisioned as creating a replacement for the lost son. The birth of a baby girl was a bitter and enduring disappointment. Charla’s mother had planned to name the replacement son Charles and insisted that the baby be called “Charlie.” She also always dressed her little girl in blue and told her this was her favorite color–which was never to be true–and over time, the name Charlie evolved into Charla.

She had two older sisters, one 21 and the other 18 when she was born, but she was isolated by the age difference and was essentially raised as an only child. Her early years were spent in an Arizona country home where her mother was “real good at wringing chicken necks and letting them flap around on the ground until good and dead.”

An essay amplified her mother’s troubling image:  “Her skin was yellow and hung from her bones. Her hair was gray and smelled of nicotine. She chain smoked, choked, cackled and cursed. She had false teeth, wore blood red fingernail polish and ‘Evening in Paris’ perfume. She drank every day,” Charla went on, “hated herself and everybody else . . . . So I learned to become invisible. I hid in the shadows, and under the table, never directly asked for anything and stuttered when I dared to speak.”

A FANTASY EMERGING IN BLUE DENIM

Fortunately, Charla’s father, a railroad man and engineer for Southern Pacific, was kind and attentive as opposed to her scary mother. And as a child in Arizona, she was introduced to the appealing, tough but polite cowboy type, as in her babysitter Sugar Bill. It would endure in Charla’s psyche for a lifetime and inspire her award-winning poem.

Now to summarize the years after her family moved to El Paso. After graduation from high school, Charla went to college at UTEP (the University of Texas at El Paso) to prepare for a 25-year career as an elementary school teacher. She soon married and bore two sons. (Learning this made me smile because I saw it as double-compensating for emerging from her mother’s womb as a female.)

Charla had multiple marriages and was employed as a bank teller and bartender (briefly) as well as a teacher. Her last marriage came to an end in 1989, and after she retired in 1998, she began to work on turning a lifelong interest in buying “junque,” as she put it, into becoming a dealer with sales in multiple venues. In 2000, she moved to Marble Falls.

Her last divorce set Charla free to cultivate her spirited 5’1″ true self and her longtime attraction to the classic cowboy type. Her ensuing writing conveys the bold, humorous, and fun-loving personality that the cowboys enjoyed in return.

POEM MATERIAL

During Charla’s early years in Wilcox, Arizona, the cowboys would come off the range every year for a rodeo. She wrote that “They sat up on the wooden fences surrounding the cattle yard chewing tobacco, talking with grunts and nodding their heads and shoulders while whittling with their pocket knives. I always felt safe and protected by them boys.” After her last divorce, she was free to pursue this interest, as illustrated in the composition “Wanted: One Cowboy Type.” It begins with a conversation among friends:

“I want a cowboy,” I told them.

“Why? What are you going to do with a cowboy?” they asked.

“Isn’t that going to be between me and the cowboy?” I answered.

A discussion ensues about the difference between wanting and needing a cowboy and also the difference between being alone and being lonely, which don’t always go together. During the conversation, Charla concludes that “needing” a cowboy doesn’t sound good. So she decides to post an ad:

Wanted: One Cowboy Type

Big, strong, solid, and caring,

Willing to spend time with a strong-minded,

Self-sufficient, independent woman,

To call her “Darlin'” and take her dancin’.

Before leaving El Paso to move to Marble Falls, Charla had actually begun reading ads searching for “dates” in the newspaper and decided that what all the men wanted was “a mother, maid, nurse, and cook.” So she did finally post a search for a man who must be an orphan, widowed, childless, with no responsibilities to anyone, willing to spend time and money on an “independent, self-sufficient, strong-minded woman.”

She got some replies, and when they responded laughing, she knew the men had gotten the message.

Charla did ultimately fulfill her desire for time with the classic cowboy, a number of them, in fact. Her life had long been on hold, she felt, and now she began to live the kind of experiences central to the romance novels she had loved. She had read them, she wrote, anticipating turning her own life into a paperback novel, “and I did,” she added.

CONCLUSION

Sewing Blue Ribbon

 

In June, Charla turned some of those life experiences into the awards at the Burnet County Fair. Three of the honors were for her writing. One blue ribbon was for a table runner with embroidery on a blue denim background, the blue theme up again.

The “runner” term reminds me of Charla’s life path–that of a “survivor” as she puts it–but also of the universal feminine currently on the move toward unprecedented freedom.

Charla’s flowered runner, which would lie lengthwise on a table, invokes the image of a tall man at rest, the last of Charla’s cowboys, for whom she still grieves. When he died, he was found lying in his boots among the cattle on his huge ranch.

Charla’s relationships with these cowboys in the second half of her life seem to have been tempered by latitude that comes with maturity. And one hears in her poem an emerging quality of parity between male and female that may prove promising for our long-term future. Just a thought. I hope some readers will share their own impressions of Charla’s award-winning poem below.

I LIKE YOU

Say those words.

Say them aloud.

Listen to what they mean.

They are powerful words.

Much more powerful than “I love you.”

I like you.

Who you are; what you stand for.

I like the essence of the personal you.

I like you here and now.

Right now—the way you are with me.

I like you.

I like me with you.

You provide a comfort level

For me to be me.

I like you.

I miss you.

I think I’m missing me!

 

The 80-Mile Route to the Truth

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“Bare ground is public enemy #1.”

Ann Adams

 

A LONG DRIVE

For about 16 years now, I’ve been regularly making the 80-mile drive south from Santa Fe to visit sister Kate in her country place. Only recently did I begin to register a warning in the vast and rugged landscape. And Ann Adams, a long-time friend and neighbor of Kate’s, confirmed the warning with the quote above.

Ann is the Education Director for Holistic Management International where she has worked for 25 years. Inspired by Zimbabwean ecologist Allan Savory, the organization is dedicated to promoting regenerative agriculture worldwide. What a great way to help restore land defaced by our human footprint.

THE CHALLENGE

And that footprint was in part what I was seeing on my long drive through largely deserted open land. Like all of the Southwest, New Mexico is in deep drought, no relief in sight. The gradual onset several years ago is now moving into the severe mode. There are very few cattle on the range, and plants are steadily vanishing. Here and there are large expanses that have been grazed down to the dirt.

But there are breaks in the brown, so to speak, in acreage of hay and corn that is a vivid green from irrigating. That seemed unnatural to me, untenable long-range like the few cattle surviving on provided hay and water. So I asked to meet with Ann. “What’s going on?” was the fundamental question. But the one she deals with daily is broader than that: “How do we get an eco-literate culture?”

A NEW PERSPECTIVE

We met in the morning in a shaded seated area outside the off-the-grid home she had built. And she taught me in part by pointing moment after moment at the ground with its weeds, flowers, and bare spots but also at the hidden world beneath. It is a very dynamic world, of roots going down to twelve feet and of microbes fed by the carbon pulled from the sky by the plants.

Ann explained that the carbon serves as a sponge that will absorb and store any rain that falls. In fact, she said that if there are living plants or plant litter to cool the soil, the carbon in it can store 20,000 gallons of water in an acre of land blessed by 1″ of rain. And then there are the leaves of the plants that serve like solar panels so that they can cycle energy in the ground as well as minerals.

Of course, if cattle overgraze, the bare ground interferes with this dynamic. Cattle do help by giving the earth a “deep massage” as Ann put it. They till the soil in a beneficial way, as long as they travel. Ann pointed to the way the great buffalo herds created a rich landscape, but this was due in part to predatory animals and Native Americans who kept them moving.

THE BIG PICTURE

Ann made it very clear how soil, plants, and animals need each other, and so do we. However, I had no idea how important the soil is relative to carbon capture, nor did I realize the degree to which carbon dioxide has increased on the planet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that levels are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years. This clearly relates to climate change, and the fact that 2/3 of the world is covered by grasslands makes their maintenance especially important.

The farmers and ranchers following the guidelines provided by Holistic Management International have discovered multiple benefits. For example, they have achieved an increase of:

  • 100% in soil carbon
  • 900% in root depth
  • 300% in plant species
  • 500% in riparian life
  • 300% in profitability

Further, on the Holistic Management International site, the 15-minute slide show (Ann’s voice) provides some before-and-after images like the one below that vividly illustrate the value of their regenerative approach to agriculture.

Beaver Creek in Lander, Wyoming

However, there is the status quo to deal with. Large landholding corporations and individuals are known to do a minimal amount of agriculture to qualify for a property tax that is only 1/10th of the usual. And then there are subsidies to promote the raising of corn to feed beef rather than let them graze on open land, and the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides applied damage the soil. At the same time, thousands of acres of open land are being lost every year to development.

CONCLUSION

I’m not involved in regenerative agriculture, but I hope the approach will travel ever more widely. And as I drove home after interviewing Ann for this post, I was sure we would be dealing with “not soon enough.” As the desolate landscape flew by, I realized how inadequate some nice rain would be to bring the huge acreage back to health. A very old ruin of a frame home on the way seemed to confirm that bleak outlook.

Long ago, I was told that the house was a Craftsman model, something you could buy from Sears and ship by train. I’ve long wondered why the owners don’t just tear it down, clean up the property, and maybe build something new.

Every time I make that trip, I expect to see the old barn next to the house flattened. For a time there was a young elm tree that helped hold it up, but then it snapped. I’ve had a fantasy about getting a big sledge hammer and going there some night and knocking down the one visible beam sustaining the roof. To get things moving, you know.

Ann has said that our troubled agricultural sector can endure for only 30 more harvests without radical change. It’s time to level the barn of old thinking and start over. One wonders how far down the road it will be before we all see that truth.

So what do we do In the meantime? Ann says we can help by eating organic, grass-fed/pasture meats and dairy products and buying local agricultural products grown with a focus on healthy soil. I’m on it.

 

Does Another Leap Loom?

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“The universe wants us to wake up and will happily guide us toward wakefulness.”

Steve Taylor, PhD

 

This statement seems to invoke guidance in the form of synchronicity, the topic of my last post. So who is Steve Taylor? And where is this post going?

NEW BEARINGS

First of all, I discovered Steve Taylor’s writing while doing research on the subject of consciousness. He is British, which endows him with a certain perspective. However, it has been broadened first by his PhD in psychology and then further by his special interest in transpersonal psychology, “which investigates higher states of consciousness and ‘awakening’ experiences.” (Wikipedia) He has written 11 books in this area, including The Leap, published in 2017, which is the focus of this post. He continues as a professor in psychology and has for years been known in Great Britain as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people. I haven’t been indoctrinated in his views but certainly find them thought-provoking and worth sharing.

The subtitle of The Leap is “The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening.” And as he discusses the nature of awakening here, it becomes clear that Taylor sees it as the prelude to another evolutionary leap, which may be inevitable. After all, he says “[We] tend to forget that the human race as it presently is can’t be the end point of the evolutionary process.”

Great. I was kind of thinking maybe we are near the end, our species at risk for extinction like so many others. However, perhaps all the emerging ways in which our world seems to be in peril will be catalytic. As Eckhart Tolle, a German-born spiritual teacher and best-selling author, says in the foreword to Taylor’s book “Challenges are the lifeblood of all evolution.” Of course rising above them is key. It will be good to remember that individually and collectively going forward.

However, Taylor sees humanity’s first evolutionary leap a little differently.

THE FALL

Taylor’s perspective spins to the past. He believes that early humans and indigenous people were naturally awake. He relates this to their sense of connection with the earth itself and all the life on it, plus an awareness of “the sentience and sacredness of natural phenomena.” Their communities were small and much less diversified than ours are today, and perhaps they enjoyed a sense of oneness without knowing what that meant or being able to see themselves as individuals.

After a while, however, there must have been among them those who did have a sense of self nurtured by ego. And as brains developed, some had latent potential that demanded development. Their numbers multiplied, and humanity advanced mightily, all the while distancing from the wakefulness of our earth-conscious ancestors and today’s indigenous people. Taylor compares that distancing to falling asleep, terming it “The Fall,” also the title of a book he wrote on the subject.

During The Fall, the world became inanimate to us. Taylor writes that “We no longer sensed the aliveness of rivers, rocks, and the earth itself.  We no longer sensed the sentience of trees and other plants, nor the consciousness of insects and other animals.” We felt free to use or abuse all the world’s resources, but our mobilized intellects created advances that are an ongoing, great source of pride. The Fall, a term we associate with decline, ironically resulted in an evolutionary leap. However, that leap began to be compromised by the rise of group identity.

THE THREAT OF GROUP IDENTITY

As humanity advanced, so did a sense of separation from the whole resulting in a degree of loneliness. According to Taylor, we developed a need for identity and belonging through membership in groups. These include nationality, religion, ethnicity, and political parties, but countless other groups also formed all the way from labor unions to college sororities. A sense of group identity seems to become increasingly important in America’s media-fractured culture where many may feel isolated and dis empowered in some way.

Steve Taylor

In an article in Psychology Today, Taylor says that being a member of a group “assuages the sense of separation.” He goes on to make the unsettling point that the sense of group identity “is strengthening by perceiving ourselves in opposition to other groups. To have rivals and enemies helps us to define ourselves more clearly and strongly.” This is a disturbing perspective, perhaps because we see in the moment that our nation is much more fragmented by group identity than united. If this is happening in many other countries, it certainly seems to defy the possibility of ever creating the sense of “oneness” idealized in my previous post.

THE LEAP

And so we seem to have arrived at a moment in history when humanity is so fragmented that nothing can unite us. However Taylor would disagree. He believes, to the contrary, that we stand on the threshold of an evolutionary leap in wakefulness, and he has seen evidence of this not only in his research but as a consultant in psychology.

He says that it manifests first of all, in people in whom wakefulness has already expressed. These are individuals who find superficial or meaningless the distinctions imposed by group identity. They see themselves and others simply as human beings and treat all people equally. Next are individuals who have temporary awakening experiences while in a very inactive or relaxed state. In the next group are people who “seem to sense intuitively that something is wrong with their normal state of being, that it is limited and delusory.” They seek to transcend their normal state by following spiritual practices. In the last case, an individual may experience an awakening that occurs spontaneously as the result of psychological turmoil. Taylor says this last example has always been more common than we realized and is becoming still more so.

One cannot help but conclude that there is a fifth category of people who are ready to awaken out of curiosity and goodwill and will pursue ways of doing so. After all, Taylor says “it’s important that our own individual psyche is connected to–and influences–our species as a whole.”

CONCLUSION

Now let’s go back to the quote at the beginning about the universe being eager to see us awaken. The leap from earth consciousness to universe consciousness is huge. However, near the end of the book, Steve Taylor says that some contemporary philosophers have suggested that “the purpose of the brain may not be to generate consciousness but to act as a receiver and a channel for it.”

This brings to mind that Psychology Today article I mentioned earlier. In it Taylor quoted astronaut Rusty Schweikhart floating 160 miles above the earth in 1969. It was a transformational moment–an awakening–as he watched earth circling below. Schweikhart said “You look down there and you can’t imagine how many borders and boundaries you cross, again and again and again, and you don’t even see them. . . [F]rom where you see it, the thing is a whole, the earth is a whole, and it’s so beautiful. You wish you could take a person in each hand, one from each side in the various conflicts, and say, ‘Look. Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What’s important?'”

Perhaps the astronaut had suddenly become a channel for the consciousness of the universe. Perhaps that moment was a glimpse of the next evolutionary leap–into a state of oneness with the universe.

 

Synchronicity Leads

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“Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.”

Carl Jung

 

It was the great analytical psychologist Carl Jung who introduced the term synchronicity. It is basically a meaningful coincidence, and my history with it does suggest a link with a subconscious ready to experience something new, to learn from it, and to grow. This post was inspired by a recent synchronicity related to my two previous posts. But first, some background.

THE BLESSING OF STRESS

Back in 1997 in Nashville, I had kind of lost my way. I was home-bound in a new life in which I would serve primarily as the hearth where my husband and I could spend as much time as possible with three wonderful but distant stepchildren. Challenged by adaptation and a fall that had created chronic pain, I welcomed a friend’s recommendation that I make an appointment with a “wonderful” massage therapist.

Kathryn was indeed skillful, and we quickly bonded. Intrigued by all the Native American art and relics from the Southwest in her office, I soon learned that she was also a shamanic practitioner. She gave me articles about shamanism and recommended the book, The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner, anthropologist and founder of the Foundation of Shamanic studies. I pored over all of it.

I was suffering from kind of a depleted state at the time, and I learned that this could indicate soul loss and the departure of one’s “power animal,” a guardian spirit. I was told that all could be reclaimed, and the conscious cultivation of a relationship with my power animal could greatly enhance my own personal power in the world of ordinary reality. Through a session in “non-ordinary reality,” Kathryn found out why three soul parts had distanced and how I might restore them. She also identified my power animal, Lizard.

THE TIME WITH LIZARD

I can imagine the protest. “Lizard? You said ‘animal.’ A lizard is a reptile! A little bitty reptile! Why not a cheetah or an elk power animal? Why not a power bird, like an eagle or a falcon?”

Kathryn was afraid I would respond in the same way, but I was delighted. It brought up the pleasant memory of lizard sightings in El Paso, Texas, where I had grown up. Startled, they would freeze and stare–at who knows what–ready to sacrifice that long tail to run free. I was immediately ready to roll with Lizard and quickly learned how to journey with him into non-ordinary reality to find guidance.

Lizard remained a resource for over 20 years, an amazing development when I think about it. However, this experience with shamanism launched an intellectual as well as spiritual adventure. I read many books on shamanism, indigenous wisdom, and the language of nature. All that I learned contributed mightily to the earth consciousness that developed on my long walks in the woods with my Samoyed, Cassie.

My guardian spirit Lizard was quite a character, and the paces he put me through were priceless. I even published a memoir about it, Lizard Diary. I learned along the way that mystic and naturalist Ted Andrews saw in the lizard a quality of heightened sensitivity, the ability to hear and see things others don’t. The indigenous people associate it with dreaming, including dreaming/creating a future.

About 10 years after my introduction to shamanism, I moved to Santa Fe to start a new life. I didn’t know at the time that The Power Path School of Shamanism, founded by José Luis Stevens and his wife Lena was here, another synchronicity. And just as I was about to launch this series of posts on our imperiled planet, I learned about the impending publication of José’s book on shamanic prayer. As we go forward, the ability to pray may become an ever more important resource. And since we got into our current mess while praying in ways established by organized religion, perhaps it is time to consider a more ancient way–the shaman’s way.

THE JOURNEY TO THE ANCIENT

If you detected the vibration of humor in that last sentence, you are very discerning. I realize what a leap this topic would be for many people. I have just long been in a seeking mode, exploring many avenues of inquiry about how this world works. And although I eventually moved beyond Lizard’s guidance, the synchronicity of publication of How to Pray the Shaman’s Way suggested that I turn back and take another look. If more detail piques your interest, perhaps the timing of publication will prove a synchronicity for you also.

Let me begin with an introduction to José Luis Stevens, Ph.D., and shaman. His doctoral degree is in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. He completed a 10-year apprenticeship in shamanism with a high-degree Huichol shaman living in the Sierras of Mexico. He also has specific training with Shipibo shamans in the Amazon and the Andes regions of Peru. In addition, he has connected with shamans in Central Australia, Nepal, Finland, and the American Southwest.

José Luis Stevens, Ph.D., Shaman

José describes shamanism as “the world’s most ancient nature-based and cross-cultural spiritual path.” He lists 26 individuals all over the world and through history with different spiritual grounding who have taught him something about prayer. Examples include Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus of Nazareth, Teresa of Avila, Rumi, Dalai Lama, and Paul Selig who currently channels The Guides.

José says that the term shaman originated with the Evenki tribe in Siberia and means “he or she who sees in the dark or sees what is hidden.” This must pertain to a shamanic perspective emanating through altered states but in José’s case, also to the knowledge acquired through his doctorate in psychology and the wisdom generated from decades of counseling clients.

I have read the book only once so far, and the thing that really caught my eye was the focus on moving toward oneness through prayer. As news and information flow in moment by moment about how we humans have “desecrated” the planet, as one critic put it, the challenge of course-correcting is overwhelming. Clearly we need to unite as a species to address this matter, but we are fragmented in countless ways, including by organized religion.

The opportunity provided from shamanic perspective is to align with the idea that we humans are all of the same Source (God, Spirit, Creator, the Divine) as is everything on this planet. And we are encouraged to believe that through the techniques of prayer provided, we may begin truly to see that. If we then act on it in alliance with Source, we will be empowered to change the world for the better.

CONCLUSION

No small thing. A very timely idea, and I think How to Pray the Shaman’s Way could prove a real gift for some in the moment. I’m very aware of how different we all are from each other and in the spiritual resources we can access. This is just one approach among countless opportunities. However, the need to lift individual consciousness seems to be increasing, so perhaps this will speak to some readers who are of the seeking order.

José has included many prayers in his book that work toward aligning the reader with Divine mind, and he is all right with abbreviating or revising them as needed. Here are the last lines of one that especially spoke to me in the moment. Titled “Prayer for Partnership,” it addresses Great Spirit as follows:

“Let us work together

To increase kindness and compassion,

To increase generosity and gratitude,

To fill the world with beauty, hope, and light,

And let us together join others in partnership in your name,

Until we have all remembered that we are one.”

 

A huge challenge, and perhaps especially for Americans. History will tell, I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guidance from an Animated Natural World

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It was during my woodland walks with Cassie the Samoyed that I discovered an ally in nature.

 

 

 

 

THE TRAIL OF TREES

We are all so occupied with the daily detail of getting along in a materialistic culture that we may be unaware that spiritual support and guidance are always available–especially in nature. With Cassie in the lead, I discovered it on forest trails.

Walking with Cassie was very different from walking alone. Things seemed to appear for me to see. But as I proceed to share some of the images I collected on camera, I have to clarify that I was walking in a state of inquiry. I wasn’t sure what I should be doing with my life, beyond being a good wife to a very fine man and a supportive stepmother to his exceptional children. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing something more?

That private question intensified as the years went by, and I began to see commentary in the woods around McLean, Virginia, where we had moved from Nashville. Some examples follow.

THE VIRGINIA VOICE

“Really. Everything’s going to be all right.”

These scanned images aren’t as clear as I would like. However, I wasn’t clear-headed when I took the photos.

I was in a state of wondering, alone except on weekends, keeping the hearth for husband and visiting children. I felt as frazzled as this tree Cassie and I passed on a trail one morning.

And as we continued to wander, it was as though a dialog on the nature of partnership was manifesting. For example, the partnership below seemed to be working, but it doesn’t look equal, does it?

“Just breathe deeply, Honey.”

 

“Help! Help!”

Then another tree appeared that was more blunt. Can’t you hear those funny lips on the pale bark screaming “Help! Help!” But it was winter, so things seemed more desperate then anyway.

On another day, I saw evidence of what seemed like a very unnatural partnership. In the example below, what had been the choking agent? Had someone come to the rescue? Or maybe a fire or disease? And regarding what endured, well, did one admire it? Or did it seem an eyesore, something to be cut down and allowed to serve by turning into compost?

“What happened, for Heaven’s sake?”

To speak more gently, there was a certain sense of companionship with the trees during my time in the woods–no pressure in any way, just all the time in the world to think.

An Image of Confusion

Nevertheless, cautionary images continued to manifest. I felt compassion for the dead tree to the right whose branches seemed confused. Maybe it had died because it couldn’t decide which way to grow.

But finally reassurance manifested. There had clearly been a severe storm that snapped the young tree below in the middle. However, it had flourished below the break.

“See. It’s possible,” says the new growth.

THE END TIME IN BIRMINGHAM

Eight more years of marriage ensued with homes in Santa Fe, another in Nashville, and finally in Birmingham, Alabama. My husband’s career advanced rapidly, the children attended college, and I took a run at establishing that healing center in Santa Fe. It was like we were all scattering in a way, a much wider spread inevitable.

In Birmingham, my husband ultimately fulfilled his enormous potential in the role of CEO of a huge national network of inpatient rehabilitation hospitals. Cassie and I kept on walking in the woods, but it was different. We were now exploring Oak Mountain State Park about 18 miles south of the city, and I soon realized that the forest was not healthy, and with good reason.

It existed in a bowl of pollution with frequent warning signs overhead on the highway announcing dangerous levels of ozone. Even before auto emissions became such a problem, Birmingham air had been afflicted by belching steel and iron mills beginning in the late 1800s, and the effect was visible in the park.

Cassie and I climbed high into the hills, attending to a voice in nature that seemed tired and jaded in the relative absence of birdsong and leaves rustling under critter feet. Every now and then we would encounter a creek with fresh water running, but always there was the sense of a forest struggling with decades of pollution that had been absorbed by soil, bark, and leaf in a world that seemed to be failing. And discussion had begun about the same in my marriage. During the months before Cassie and I hit the road for Santa Fe, a series of images on our morning walks foretold closure–images of a bird, a bat, and a knife.

THE FINAL SAY

Chimney Swift

The first image was the body of a chimney swift that I discovered in my office window on returning from a lengthy trip. Chimney swifts don’t perch but cling to walls with long claws. They often nest inside chimneys, and it must have entered there.

The house has three levels, and my office was on the top floor with windows overlooking the lawn and the street beyond. The little bird may have flown all over the house trying to escape.

It had died between a shutter and glass, the pane scarred by beak and claw as it frantically tried to access the freedom in full view. I always think of birds folding their wings when they die, but these wings were open and rigid, and it lay on its back. I buried the little creature in the back yard next to a stone for “Luke,” who must have been the pet of the previous owner. As I put some seeds in the grave and covered it with soil and pine needles, I remembered a novel I loved by Taylor Caldwell. Titled Dear and Glorious Physician, it was about St. Luke. It was a comforting memory.

Dead Bat (bad photo)

Then a few months later, I had the encounter with the bat. Cassie and I were rambling around a lake when I heard a soft thud nearby. After a few more yards, curiosity got the best of me, so I secured Cassie and turned back to look. There lying among the leaves was a small brown bat, perhaps a juvenile. It lay on its back, bright red blood emerging between lips and sharp teeth. Aren’t bats nocturnal? Why was it out that morning?

And its death in front of my eyes seemed to symbolize “bat reversed” in Ted Andrew’s handbook, The Animal Wise Tarot. In that case, the message is that “We need to take a new perspective; we need to let go of the past. We need to release or change some aspect of our life for rebirth to occur. We must remember that change is only upsetting to the degree we remain emotionally attached to what is no longer beneficial.”

OK, got it. And the next image that manifested was even more pointed, let’s say. I found a big knife on the trail, and I picked it up and took it home.  It looks real business-like, military maybe. It says a “Steigerwalt” design on the blade and “Benchmade” on the other side. I can’t figure out how to open or close it; I’ll have to get a man to show me someday.

Steigerwalt Knife

But I looked up the symbolism of the knife and learned that it is normally “a sign of division,” as in cutting ties, etc. Got that too.

CONCLUSION

And so it came to pass that on Thanksgiving Day 2005, all the rest of the family convening elsewhere, Cassie and I hit the road  for Santa Fe. At the end of this post, you will see an earlier photograph of a dying tree in Oak Mountain State Park, broken branch lifting in farewell.

“See ya,” it seemed to say, but I don’t think so.

And although my departure seemed inexplicable in conventional terms, I never looked back. After all, I had devoted 18 years to a wonderful family and analyzed my presence in their lives to the depths. I think I had also benefited from guidance and support in a spiritual domain that I continue to explore. And in preparing to write this blog, I found an anonymous quote that seems finally to explain my ultimate departure:

“Spirituality is an individual journey. There are many paths. Follow your soul. It knows the way.”

“See Ya”