I know. Men probably read signs in the woods too.
I know. Men probably read signs in the woods too.
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
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“So you left me hanging,” my friend wrote.
“Was there ever a replacement for Apollo?”
“Unite and heal? I don’t wanna!” the rebels cry.
If you pay attention, the natural world can inspire some very deep thinking.
“From the very beginning, I felt more horse than human.”
Lynda Evans, Artist
“I could neigh before I could talk,” says Lynda Evans. And she ran and neighed on a green of the golf course near her home in an affluent, country club community in Knoxville, Tennessee. She also drew horses at every opportunity, having been born, as she put it, with a crayon in her hand screaming “Why?”
Today she is still settling into her studio/home in Santa Fe after moving here this spring. At age 70, her life to date has been complex enough for a book, but it has some luminous highlights that seem helpful in understanding the reason for this stalled moment in history.
THE FIRST TWO DECADES
Lynda’s talent is obvious in the charcoal drawing above, and beginning as a child, she wanted to develop it. However, her high school art teacher said, “Don’t come back to class until you can stop drawing horses.” She hoped to major in art at the University of Tennessee, but her father said, “You’re not going to college to be bright. You’re going to get the right husband.” And her drawing professor said, “I hate that you’re a woman. Study your art history. Women don’t make it in the arts.”
Lynda deliberately flunked out of college after her freshman year and went to Washington, D.C., to intern in Congress. After six months, she returned to Knoxville with an idea. She enlisted department heads in fine arts, art education, and human services in helping her develop a curriculum for a triple major. It took five years to complete the degree.
While she was doing a course practicum in a psychoeducational center in Memphis, she also worked as a minister of education for St. John’s Methodist Church. It had been failing, and she became a part of a pastoral team that developed a home study Bible education program and a Sunday “Celebration of Life” that included the arts. Attendance rose to standing room only, but the regional bishop fired Lynda due to “inadequate credentials.”
Lynda enjoyed her ministry with the church, but while studying in Knoxville, she had a mystical experience that totally altered her life and religious perspective. She and her friends were dancing and singing around a bonfire in a field of daisies–no drugs or alcohol involved–when suddenly everything went into slow motion for Lynda. She stood still in a state of rapture, everyone and everything sparkling with energy, her heart full of love, joy, and peace. It was an experience of oneness, love without judgment, very different from the tone of the Word of God in church.
Lynda turned to Campus Crusade to understand the experience, which she described as an inner knowing of reality that surpassed reason. She was told that she had been “reborn.” She proceeded to become a “raging fundamentalist,” she said humorously, and when she completed her undergraduate degree, she moved to Boston to pursue a master’s degree in theology at the evangelical Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
However, cracks formed in the foundation of her ministerial commitment. As a result of her personal experience with what is referred to as “the Divine within,” she continued to question the right of men to rule through “the sanctity of reason.” Her mystical experience in the field of daisies suggested that feminine spirituality had more to do with the simple knowing of the heart. As a result, upon graduation, Lynda declined to be ordained and returned to Knoxville.
THE INNER DRUMMER
From that point on, Lynda followed her inner drummer. She began to pursue a career in art, first working in a gallery and then establishing her own business as an art consultant building private, corporate, and contract art collections and supporting artists in various ways. In fact, she would continue to work in the arts in a variety of ways in Georgia, Connecticut, and North Carolina as well as Tennessee until she was 64.
However, a turning point had come with a “committed partnership” in 1995 when she was 45, and her passion for horses and for creating her own art reignited. She acquired two horses, one a beautiful brown Arabian named Baskos Khostar, and a year later, she had a life-changing moment in the studio of an artist friend, Kathleen Morris of New Mexico.
Kathleen offered Lynda a canvas and materials to play around with for a while. When Kathleen looked at the results, she exclaimed, “Oh, my God! You’re a painter!” Kathleen thus became the “birth mother” of Lynda’s artist. She proceeded to study with a number of internationally renowned teachers, including Robert Sherer and Hugh O’Donnell. Over the years since, she has specialized in charcoal drawings of horses, as in the image of Baskos Khostar, who became her “muse.”
In her 40s, many of Lynda’s dreams were coming true, and she also had another mystical experience. Having developed partial paralysis and chronic pain from a number of riding accidents, she finally sought relief from a Cherokee shaman named Rocking Bear near Asheville, North Carolina. During a healing ceremony, she suddenly had a vision of a white horse charging directly at her. As it struck, merging into her body, every chakra opened, and she was healed. “Your power has returned,” said Rocking Bear. Her vision below of Epona, the Celtic mother goddess, certainly evokes Lynda’s healing moment.
By the time Lynda turned 50, the experience of dreams coming true had come to an end. Her relationship failed, and she couldn’t provide for her two horses and had to find them new homes. Baskos Khostar mysteriously died six months after getting resettled, and it would be two years before she returned in spirit to revitalize Linda’s art. It wasn’t until 2014 when Lynda was 64 that she was finally able to focus on her art full-time, and then she packed up and moved to Santa Fe in 2020 as the city was on the threshold of a pandemic-imposed shutdown.
AND NOW THE PRESENT
What lies before Lynda now, with waning tourism as well as a weakened economy shrinking the huge art market here, is unknown. In this difficult moment, though, I imagine a special significance in her arrival.
We are experiencing a steady awakening to an imbalance in civilization whose cultivation began over a thousand years ago. It has emerged in part from the establishment of masculine dominion through the pursuit of wealth and power and in league with organized religion. This has been established as “normal,” and many want to go back to it in spite of all the injustices becoming daily more apparent. However, the day I began working on this post, an essay appeared suggesting an opportunity for humanity to advance beyond this juncture.
It was written by Dr. Sharon Blackie, a renowned British writer, psychologist, and teacher of Celtic mythology, and the title is “Becoming Who We Are.” She poses a question: What if we chose in a soul state to be born to bring “a unique gift that only we can express in this world, in this place, at this time.” She sees this as an alchemical moment, and our gifts could enable us to participate with the cosmos “in its journey of becoming.”
Lynda faced many obstacles in trying to bring her gift as an artist into full expression. Many of these were created by the masculine enforcing the cultural and religious mandates that have stood in the way of full development of feminine potential. However, the masculine has also been disadvantaged by the perpetual role of provider and the conflict-invoked role of warrior. If we are to “lift” as a species, the experience of becoming our true selves must be shared by both sexes.
As she said, Lynda Evans had a plan in coming to Santa Fe; now she doesn’t. Nevertheless, she believes that she was drawn here for a reason, and as she proceeds to establish the Lynda Evans Studio here, she does not stand in judgment of this disruption or express impatience with it.
If, as Sharon Blackie suggests, we may each have been born into this time to share a gift that will help with a new “becoming,” Lynda’s art seems a powerful example of the like. I will not be surprised if it invokes some kind of response that could become the topic of another post.