Essay: The Language of Wisdom

My final paper for the class, Listening to Earth, CIIS, Summer 2021

Hearing Tree

A deep ecology mind-set of thinking like a mountain has brought me peace. I have been reminded of things I know, deep truths that are often clouded by the temporality of this life. I am already whole. The African concept of Ubuntu—I am because we are—collides gently with thinking like a mountain, and they are like brothers, forming a peaceful union, a way to be, and act, and move through the world.

Then this morning, I woke up to find the tree in our backyard had been chopped into by our neighbors with whom we share the fence. The tree is on our side, but a section of the bough extends onto theirs. The tree is always shedding something—leaves, flowers, berries, depending on the season; there is always sweeping up to do. It is an annoyance, to be sure. And yet, the tree did not deserve this! Such an inelegant execution. Not the carefully pruned attention and forethought of a professional tree trimmer, which this tree has been used to during the seven years we have been caretakers of this little spot of land. No, this was a poor and unfortunate hack job; like a home haircut gone tragically wrong. Walking out through the back door, I am rudely greeted by a giant hole, where there was once branch and leaf and shade. There was privacy! Now this slicing and dicing act has left a swath of exposed area along the top of the fence; and there is a clear line-of-sight to an apartment building one street over, and several rooftops that do nothing for me.

Aside from my personal irritation, I am saddened for this Tree. Such lack of style, such disregard! I begin to feel a different respect for this Tree being, one which I admit has been absent till now. Tree stands proudly in the face of rain and heat, in the face of humans cursing his mess, and even when he has been made to look his worst, Tree still stands as though nothing of this world commands him.

I am undecided as to whether I will confront the neighbors. In the meantime, I question, what would Mountain do?

Breathing To Listen

The wind murmurs outside, flitting about, humming through the leaves of Tree across the street. She tells stories all but few pause to hear. Tonight I listen, watching her chatter from just inside our garden. She is lively, wired, nervous; then calm, placated; then wired again. She speaks a language I used to know, a tongue of old wisdom and mystery; she recalls a time of strength. But what of the destruction on the horizon, I ask. She reminds me to breathe, that even in the midst of chaos, of flitting about, calm, tenured tones always arrive in between the notes. Take them when they appear, inhale, exhale. The steady solid ground is at my command. Tree is here to remind me that nothing is set in stone. Remain flexible. Move with the wind. Even destruction has a purpose and there is a gift in all things that happen. Let the wind whip with wild, searing, wonderous love. Tree and me, we are believers, light bearers. Tree is strong; I know now I can lean on Tree. She dances and flits about, the wind playing in her tangled hair, telling ancient stories of future memories. Nothing is set in stone. Surrender, be here now; inhale, exhale.

Dreaming to Remember

Today is a day of kindness and care; and love, to be sure. I woke in some tears, upset by my terrible haircut. As I lay there and probed deeper: yes it is just hair, yes my hair grows quickly, and all is OK. But the experience hurt my heart. Sitting there, my hairstylist doing so many things all at the same time; doing nothing well. Totally not present with me, washing her car and running after her son, while I sat under the dryer. Her little son, playing in the water, wasting water, so much water! I spoke up finally when it came to the water! Yet, I did not advocate for myself.

This morning I lay crying because I did not speak up, I forgot to protect my inner child, my little Libra, the part of me that gets frozen in the most random of situations…the ones that conjure up my mother, strung out. Naturally, I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my hairstylist, whom I trusted, or at least I had in the past; but also betrayed by myself, for not protesting as she kept cutting.

If wish I had said, hey, you’re cutting too much! I had booked highlights, not a haircut, but she was on a roll. I only wanted her to clean up any unevenness in my cut. It is a fact that I do my own hair shaping quite often and I do it well; much to the surprise to all my hairdressers over the years, yet they all concur. Yet because doing this myself has its limitations, I tend to require a “cleaner-uper”, someone with technical knowledge who can clean up any stray bits and strands.

I gather my bearings and go make some tea, searching for the exact moment that I forsake myself. I had been sitting there in her chair, post-color, post-washing, just watching her snip and snip, and I sat frozen and scared to speak up. But, why? Because I trusted her and now suddenly, I no longer did? Because the signs of her chaotic energy had been there from the start? Yes, and yes. So, indeed I share some of this responsibility and this admittance hurts more than the haircut.

As I stir the honey in my tea, the notion of Ho’oponopono comes into mind. This is the Hawaiian healing prayer that is about balance and making things right; it is ultimately about forgiveness…especially for oneself. And I took my tea and my journal and went out to my special place, to sit and speak my mantra prayer in the morning light.

I’m sorry, Libra, please forgive me, Libra, thank you Libra, I love you Libra.

I whispered these words in several rounds, and then I wrote down my dreams from the night before.

I am driving on Laurel Canyon, a well-known, well traversed road in Los Angeles, a road I have driven on many times. Up the hill, down the hill. I was driving a very sturdy car like an Oldsmobile; no I think it was an old Caddy; it was steel blue. It was not fast nor was it slow, but perfect for the terrain. The steering wheel had a square attachment of some sort, basically an edge that allowed me to cruise, not having to grip hardly at all, just easy to drive. The brakes were good, and I was in the flow. Driving was downright pleasant.

This comes as a lovely reflection, especially given the distressing car dreams I have had in the past. Oh, how those car dreams have vexed me! Always so difficult to shift gears, to brake or steer, always a car from my past, tedious, and at times even physically painful.

It is wonderful to observe that it takes just one good dream to have a new memory, a new baseline for which to imprint a new way of thinking.

Oh yes almost forgot! In the dream, I saw myself in a mirror and my hair was cute; longer and shaggier, just enough to have a pair of pigtails. I had a big smile on my face.

The ironic connection to Tree in our yard, and the synchronicity of both of our unfortunate hacked-off haircuts, this is not lost on me. Perhaps I can adopt the royal stance of Tree in all of this? I am more than my hair. My worth is not determined by exterior forces. I am beautiful because of my insides. Thank you, Tree. You are growing on me.

The Mystic Redwoods

Last year at this time, before I had enrolled in CIIS, we rented an Airstream and camped in Del Norte Redwood State Forest, at Mill Creek Campground. My love affair had just begun. While reading Obi Kaufman’s The California Field Atlas this semester, I made it a point to look out for his mentions of Del Norte Campgrounds, or Jedidiah Smith which is just north of Del Norte. We are headed there again, this Saturday in fact, for six glorious nights. Perhaps we will see some of the Perseids meteor showers?

This region in the upper northwest of the state is a dense collaboration of mostly state Redwoods parks and two forest reserves of the national level. On one of Kaufman’s maps, this area is painted densely black; it is a carbon sink. Yet the forest is wise, and while it produces all this carbon, it also has a means to remove it, a process called carbon sequestration. Because of the density and the forest’s high functionality, this upper northwest Redwoods region (as well other areas, including Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges) are considered working carbon sinks. Talk about bio-efficiency in action!

Del Norte County is home to the tallest trees in world, according to Kaufman (and I have no reason to doubt him). Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park has 4 square miles of old-growth coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), which is cousin to the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum); and Jedidiah Smith State Park has 14 square miles of old-growth. The coast Redwoods is a species that has been living for 2,000 years. There is something so celestial and magnetic about the wisdom contained in these trees. It is a language that I can feel in my body and words do not seem to capture the magnitude of manna I feel when I am in the forest with these gentle giants. They are striking, ancient beings that have much to share and offer; we only need to pause and listen.

            As a child my mom said I was very moody; she was not wrong. While it took me a while to find my footing, today at 46 (almost 47) I feel like I am just hitting my stride. What was once moody, has become balanced and I have found acceptance in the truth of it: that I am an empath. This word has become somewhat trendy, so I tend not to use it. I just say I’m sensitive and leave it at that. But in the scope of this paper, it feels right to claim this. What was once a heavy burden—I felt everything! —has now, with training and diligence, become something of a superpower. Through the tender and powerful coursework of this class, Listening to Earth, I was able to touch once again the little spritely part of me, the one who can communicate with the elementals, and sense into the beingness of a tree or flower. I already marveled at the butterflies, pausing to watch their flight; or a hummingbird in mid-air, who seemed to be watching me, watching her. Yet, I credit this class with giving me a much-needed confirmation that in my sensitive nature, I am not alone. There are many like me. Even if we don’t always speak of it. In the thinking like a Mountain, I found my strength. In the role model of Tree, I found the grace to be me. Bad haircut and all.