“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree… a tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.” The opening lines of the poem,“Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer. Indigenous peoples through the ages have talked of tree spirits and trees as wise ones. Trees are striking as they permanently lift their arms to the Heavens in seeming prayer, day and night in communication with the Creator, their outstretched arms reaching for the stars.
Reaching for the stars. The image calls to mind a dance of the Kalahari Bushmen who were featured in the movie “The Gods They Must be Crazy.” The Kalahari, the last men born of the Stone Age culture according to Laurens Van Der Post, have no sense of individuality and so share all they have. They have a dance of gratitude which Van Der Post describes in his book entitled “A Mantis Carol”: “I never see their dancing without feeling deeply moved and utterly irreverent and blasphemous because of our own incapacity for acknowledging what life will give if only we will let it in.” And then there is their dance of the “great hunger,” a dance that says we do not live by bread alone, a dance at life’s end fraught with longing, with arms outstretched taughtly towards the Heavens as they reach for the stars.
My grandfather reached for the stars. He came here, a 16-year-old peasant stonecutter from the mountains of Sicily, knowing no English. He wound up carving the Lincoln Gettysburg address at the Lincoln Memorial in DC. While working on the Gettysburg Address he studied English at night school. I remember him telling me how he was the laughing stock of his fellow stone cutters because, inspired by Lincoln’s words, he carved his initials at the top of the monument, “A.L.” for Anthony LaManna (and, of course, for Abraham Lincoln), followed by: “Attorney at Law.” Working his way through school, he actually did eventually become a VA lawyer. He reached for the stars and touched them without ever forgetting where he came from. And he was childlike as he took care of me, as we danced to records on the victrola or as he played the mandolin and sang to me. I always think of him with a tinge of sadness, for more than anyone, he taught me to reach for the stars.
Reach for the creator– that is what the trees say. At this time of year I yearn for the days of childhood in which God seemed close. This yearning fully ripens each year at Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah when the people brighten their houses with festive lights. It is a time of year in which we light up our hearts and look to the heavens and sing songs of love to a babe born not so very long ago, or in which we give thanks for the oil to light the lights of the temple for eight days. We are all really seeking the love that motivated the Kalahari Bushmen to do their dance. We are seeking a savior, and yearning for the Light in this overlit, commercialized, complicated world in which the inspiring simplicity of the Bushmen, the peasant, is rapidly disappearing. And the trees touch my heart in their upward reach for the Heavens. For at this time so many millions of them are sacrificed as they become our Christmas trees and Hanukkah bushes, to be discarded after the holidays are over.
May we enter this holy season with a simpler yearning, not for presents and parties and hoopla, but with our hearts full of gratitude, taking lessons from the trees, from the Kalahari Bushmen, from our ancestors, and seek Love, in whatever form it takes in our souls.
On the day those in the U.S. set aside for giving thanks, I thank God for the animals who have led me on a higher path in my life. Animals have been among my best teachers.
HAPPY DAY OF GRATITUDE TO ALL!
(Dedicated to Duchie and to Ko-Ko)
Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate the holiday!
Happy Autumn to those who don’t!
Spare the turkeys!
A chill wind blows the yellowing leaves off the trees. They drift down to the ground like giant snowflakes. The air is pregnant with the feel of the coming holidays. Fall has truly come, with the sudden drop in temperatures, a full 10-20 degrees cooler than a few weeks ago. This is the real Fall, no faltering Fall, but a Fall that will guide us appropriately into winter. November appears as a mirror image of March with its vibrant color of decay, while March is the decaying color of about-to-burst-forth Spring.
The birds are at the bird feeder all the time now. They are not stopped by our presence when we come to fill the feeder or blow leaves under it. Nothing stops them. They swoop around the feeder and the surrounding trees like Kamikaze pilots, darting here and there recklessly. The squirrels are in a frenzy as well, stock piling acorns and walnuts which they will retrieve without fail in a month or so in a snow-covered land.
To me, the trees are most beautiful at this time of year, when many of them are bare and a scattering of leaves remain on dark brown branches. The leaves that remain quiver daintily in their precarious positions on the tree limbs. Yet these are the survivors. The other leaves have fallen and gone the way all living things eventually go. Most trees have lost all their leaves and they stand in stark contrast against the blue sky, the stormy sky, the grey sky. But I find them most beautiful against the night sky, with arms reaching up to the darkness, trying to touch the stars twinkling between the branches, as moonlight dances on their limbs.
November holds the last glimmer of color. A carpet of yellow lines the woods now– and one can see inside the woods that are so dark and impenetrable in summer. Some forests have carpets of oak leaves– dark brown tan in color. Others are paved with variegated colors– vibrant crimsons against yellows and faded greens and tawny tans. The un-mown lawns are now taken over by the spiders covering the fields. At precious moments, one can see a world of webs that only appears in a certain slant of sunlight and reveal a silent take-over by the spiders in webs that sparkle secretly, mirroring the infinite web of creation.
The yellow, brown, and crimson leaves are complemented by the ubiquitous yellow, brown and crimson mums that appear on the roadside near mail boxes, on porches or along driveways. These tough little flowers withstand frosty chills and stand tall throughout most of November– hearty, generous souls, so giving in their colorful, velvety splendor.
Halloween pumpkins begin to sag a bit or shine with wetness as if encased in glass. They will soon be tossed– pine combs, wreaths and fir swags to take their places, and the season of lights will begin. Anticipation hangs in the air. Autumn seems the fastest season to come and go. I try treasuring each moment, but the minute/hours/days just sift through my fingers like so many grains of sand. Then Christmas/Hanukkah comes and fades in a flash and we are into the Nor’Easter blizzards of January. Another year is gone and a new one has come. Would that we could be in forever in the season of love, but it is also a season of loneliness and loss and darkness. It is good we are defenseless against time.
Now, at Thanksgiving, it is our time to give thanks. Inspired by the Native Americans, let us thank the earth. Let us give thanks to the trees for their constantly changing beauty, to the stars for their piercing presence in the night sky, to the leaves for their inspiring colors, to the sun for its life-giving power. Let us thank the Spring for its awakening hope, the Summer for its warm, thriving growth, the Fall for its beauteous bounty, to the Winter for a time of renewal. Let us thank the soon-to-come snow for its hushed, white silence that transforms our world, to all the animals for their pure souls, to our families and friends for their precious love, and, lastly, but mostly, to the Higher Power of our belief for the macrocosm of creation.
Happy Thanksgiving and may you each be blessed with the all-embracing, pervasive, pulsating Love in Nature.
He wasn’t the only one who spoke of these things. I spent much time in grammar school at the house of my Polish friend whose mother was an artist. She told us about trees talking and, she used to say, talking to them made her feel happy. At the time I did not think much of it. But now, many years later, on walks, occasionally a tree will say something. Utter a benevolent greeting. And now, I find myself so in love with trees, I shoot portraits of them constantly, singly or in groups, with their “friends and relations.”
Any doubts I had about trees communicating were put to rest when I read in this paper, in J.Gordon Douglas’s column in the now defunct Dutchess CountyRegister Herald, about how trees in an area communicate with one another in planning their reproduction strategies for the season or warning each other chemically about caterpillar infestations. Scientists are not sure how. Maybe through the roots.
Not only do plants have feelings, they can also generate energy. See the website by artist, Caleb Charland. He used apple trees to generate light. Perhaps one day we will use plants for alternative energy– just another amazing aspect to nature’s ways:
Of course, hearing them “talk” is a little different. However, Valerie Wormwood, one of the world’s leading aromatherapists, in her book entitled The Fragrant Heavens, tells us not only does the earth hum but it emits a low frequency radio signal known as the ‘Shumann resonance” and this signal can be detected coming off trees. She relays that researchers in America wanted to know if this signal could be altered by human thoughts or feelings. They had a group of people circle a tree and say Native American prayers, sending the tree love. They attached electrodes like those measuring human brain waves to the tree. A response not only registered but the sensors went off the scale. Clearly some form of communication went on, confirming my Polish friend’s mother’s belief and many others as well. When trees are cut down we are not only destroying the tree we are cutting down and giving it a terminal sentence as firewood or worse, but we are also upsetting all the trees around the “victim.” The surrounding trees must witness their friend and neighbor being chopped down. Do they feel outrage, fear, sadness?
We do know now that they feel something. Wormwood tell us that in 1966 Cleve Backster, a lie detector expert in New York, had a group of students go into a room with 2 plants next to each other on a table. One of the 6 students was chosen to “murder” one of the plants, hacking it to bits and then they all left the room. After the attack Backster attached the lie detector to the “survivor” and had the students enter the room again one by one. The sensors were quiet as the “innocent” students entered but when the “attacker” entered they started jumping “wildly.” I think of this as I weed the gardens in the summer. Sometimes we are forced to cut down a tree and we must pick vegetables to eat. And we have to weed the gardens. But perhaps it is in how we do it. If we can express gratitude and appreciation and maybe an apology. Or if we could ask permission perhaps, as the Native Americans do. When they take from the earth they give an offering as well.
The Native Americans had the real idea for giving thanks, for thanksgiving. It was not about stuffing oneself with sweet potatoes and gorging on gravy and turkey. They gave Thanksgiving to Spirit in the earth, in the trees, in the animals, for whatever they took. Flowers “giggle” and trees “talk”. If only we would be attuned enough to listen. Sentient beings surround us and we must follow the lead of the Native Americans at Thanksgiving and give thanks for what we take from the earth, and, of course, from the animal kingdom, and give back something in return. Even if it is only words, but words with heart behind them, words that understand the sacrifice made by sentient beings for us, words that capture the true spirit of Thanksgiving.