Friday, November 15, 2013

How it falls

ON THE DAY OF THE BEAVER, a day when the winds were calm, I tried paying attention. Maybe for the first time, I saw how maple leaves fall stem-first, spinning around their own axes like golden goblets then landing upright for a moment where grasses are thick.

I paid attention to the course of oak leaves. Burnished and glossy, heavier than maple leaves, they drift through the air on their backs...swinging to and fro like small pendulums marking time.

Deeper into autumn, on a day when the Lords of the Winds gusted mightily, I paid attention as the leaves flew sideways like fleeing birds, driven far from their trees instead of heaped at their roots.

As I lay on my back on a leaf blanket, paying attention, my eye was drawn again and again to this particular oak tree. It was so beautiful, with its speaking contours, the contrast between its bold branchings and bronzed leaves, which flashed like spangles against the sky. Reminding me of the woods through which the Twelve Dancing Princesses progressed on their way to their mysterious nightly revels: a forest with leaves of silver, a second with leaves of gold and finally, closest to the enchanted castle, a wood whose leaves sparkled with diamond dew drops.

The authors whose works I have been reading suggest that that particular tree was speaking to me, which is how it drew my attention; communicating with me in the way of a tree person to a human person. Color is a kind of speech. Sound and movement, as well. They can inform us about weather, season, health of the tree. But is there more to interpret? What else was being communicated?

While I am used to sending feelings (and words) of praise and gratitude to trees, is that is as far as the reciprocity extends? Perhaps the images and associations they spark are more than just my own mind at work...maybe it is more mutual, a kind of conversation between my mind, my intuition and the other beings around me? Co-creating the world?

I am not entirely certain how to receive that which a tree may want to tell. But it likely begins with cultivating a state of openness, and...paying attention.

Priscilla Stuckey in Kissed by a Fox writes, that though the typical American knows how to work or make use of the land, "Far less often do we stop to merely gaze at the land, open-eyed--to watch it, as students, over time....Knowing where we are takes attention. Sustained looking. Seeing. Becoming rooted in the place we live, whether bright desert or blustery mountain, dark woodland or windy shore."

She also writes: "Though many modern people express a longing for lost wildness, what I think we are really missing is personality--the integrity of place. A relationship with the unique piece of Earth where we dwell, an ability to see its deep character."

And: "Among my people, children are taught to read books; among some other peoples, children are taught to read trees."

My musings: For a person who has not been taught to read trees, watching a leaf fall to the ground and noticing the way in which it falls is one small way of paying attention. It is part of learning to be literate about the personality and ways of an oak or a maple, the winds, this particular land, and its non-human inhabitants.

The immediate rewards to paying attention to this other-language: a sense of peacefulness, calm and well-being. A few moments of restfulness from the brain chatter. Slowly I am shifting a small part of my way of being, from interior, ruminative, dichotomous and feeling apart to one more observant, receptive and "part of."

This keeps me feeling young...young, as in, the world fascinates and surprises me. As in, there is more to the world, Horatio, than is dreamt of in my philosophy.

Maybe it is as Mary Oliver wrote, and I did not have ears to hear it until now:

"Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,  
the world offers itself to your imagination,  
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- 
over and over announcing your place  in the family of things." 


  1. Yes!!! Wonderful post and stunning images, thanks :)

  2. Hi Carmine. I am very glad for you that you are able to observe these things you describe, & what they mean to you. It is a rare gift these days to be able to attempt to See & comprehend the connectivity betwixt everything else & us; & how we are not separate from other things, but all part of the same thing. This concept Plato called Anima Mundi—there's a man who was on the right path—a logician who knew a fundemental truth.
    I'm so glad you were able to connect with the trees like that. For me I feel a deep connection to them too—when I was terribly injured, I had to stay completely stil for months on end. When I was able to at least get up & sit outside I sat next to some different trees & really learned from them the ability to be Still & Patient & Present. I "observed time" as Lord Dunsany would say. I had a good deal of conversations with those trees too—I still talk to everything I meet anyway. People think I'm nuts—but I think staying in buildings & in front of screens all day is nuts, so we had that feeling in common anyway.
    I met Priscilla Stuckey when she was on tour for that book. I conversed with her and sat at her signing table, and had a realistic fox-puppet on my hand while she was giving her talk, which barked from time to time. I was encouraged by the fact she wrote that; although the concepts are far from new, they are new to most people in the modern-day world, and so I was glad that she made a sort of bridge between the two.
    You like to read. Check this book out: Tree Wisdom by Jacqueline Memory Paterson. -Reifyn

    1. Thank you, Reifyn, I talk to things all the time, too and agree about the oddness of screen worship (which I am sadly not immune to). There are some great insights in that book as well as a gathering of wisdoms--I bought my own copy and need to reread and mark my favorites. And thanks so much for the book suggestion, it sounds right up my alley! Blessings.

  3. oh, I need to get this book asap now!!! am going to order today.
    the magic of reading trees... in an American Indian class with a professor who would soon be my shamanic mentor, he took us through a walk in the woods an talked about how the Native Americans would read trees, the trees would tell them what to expect for weather. I was so taken with this, I wrote about it endlessly afterward, and to this day I look at the trees and wonder, what am I not hearing, not reading, not sensing, that you are saying right now? Your practice sounds beautiful. I am going to do this, too, this fall-watching. Sending blessings and thank you.

    1. That's the thing--something not only difficult but unfitting to learn from books. It's like learning the names of native wildflowers from a field guide, when it would be easier and more satisfying to have a naturalist-mentor-guide to explain it to you in context of lore, story, ritual, connections with other beings, and so on. Here's hoping that teacher appears because the students are ready. :)


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