Mind in the Forest

Painting: Ellen Dittebrandt
Painting: Ellen Dittebrandt

THE SETTING OF THIS ESSAY by Scott Russell Sanders is the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, a 15,800-acre research area in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. Research conducted at the Andrews Forest has taught us much of what we know about old-growth in the Pacific Northwest; more than one hundred experiments are currently under way there, focusing on the role of forests in protecting water quality, controlling stream flow and sedimentation, cycling and storing carbon, and providing habitat for wildlife.

In 2003 the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University, in collaboration with the Andrews Forest Long-Term Ecological Research Group, began inviting writers to spend weeklong residencies at the Andrews Forest, in order to provide ways of observing the land that complement the ways of science. Their responses — poems, stories, essays, field notes, journals — have been added to the data, technical reports, scientific papers, aerial photographs, statistics, and maps that strive to present a comprehensive vision of the Andrews Forest.

Two earlier pieces of writing inspired by the Andrews Forest residencies have appeared in Orion: Robert Michael Pyle’s “The Long Haul” (September/October 2004) and Alison Hawthorne Deming’s “The Web” (March/April 2007).

I TOUCH TREES, as others might stroke the fenders of automobiles or finger silk fabrics or fondle cats. Trees do not purr, do not flatter, do not inspire a craving for ownership or power. They stand their ground, immune to merely human urges. Saplings yield under the weight of a hand and then spring back when the hand lifts away, but mature trees accept one’s touch without so much as a shiver. While I am drawn to all ages and kinds, from maple sprouts barely tall enough to hold their leaves off the ground to towering sequoias with their crowns wreathed in fog, I am especially drawn to the ancient, battered ones, the survivors.

Recently I spent a week in the company of ancient trees. The season was October and the site was the drainage basin of Lookout Creek, on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Back in my home ground of southern Indiana, the trees are hardwoods — maples and beeches and oaks, hickories and sycamores — and few are allowed to grow for as long as a century without being felled by ax or saw. Here, the ruling trees are Douglas firs, western hemlocks, western red cedars, and Pacific yews, the oldest of them ranging in age from five hundred to eight hundred years, veterans of countless fires, windstorms, landslides, insect infestations, and floods.

ON THE FIRST MORNING of my stay, I follow a trail through moist bottomland toward Lookout Creek, where I plan to spend half an hour or so in meditation. The morning fog is thick, so the treetops merge with gray sky. Condensation drips from every needle and leaf. My breath steams. Lime-green lichens, some as long as a horse’s tail, dangle from branches. Set off against the somber greens and browns of the conifers, the yellow and red leaves of vine maples, bigleaf maples, and dogwoods appear luminous in spite of the damp. Shelf fungi jut from the sides of old stumps like tiny balconies, and hemlock sprigs glisten atop nurse logs. The undergrowth is as dense as a winter pelt.

Along the way, I reach out to brush my fingers over dozens of big trees, but I keep moving, intent on my destination. Then I come upon a Douglas fir whose massive trunk, perhaps four feet in diameter at chest height, is surrounded by scaffolding, which provides a stage for rope-climbing by scientists and visiting schoolchildren. Something about this tree — its patience, its generosity, its dignity — stops me. I place my palms and forehead against the furrowed, moss-covered bark, and rest there for a spell. Gradually the agitation of travel seeps out of me and calm seeps in. Only after I stand back and open my eyes, and notice how the fog has begun to burn off, do I realize that my contact with this great tree must have lasted fifteen or twenty minutes.

I continue on to a gravel bar on Lookout Creek, a jumble of boulders, cobbles, pebbles, and grit scoured loose from the volcanic plateau that forms the base of the Cascade Mountains. Because these mountains are young, the slopes are steep and the water moves fast. Even the largest boulders have been tumbled and rounded. Choosing one close to a riffle, I sit cross-legged and half close my eyes, and I am enveloped in water sounds, a ruckus from upstream and a burbling from downstream. Now and again I hear the thump of a rock shifting in the flow, a reminder that the whole mountain range is sliding downhill, chunk by chunk, grain by grain.

Although I have tried meditating for shorter or longer stretches since my college days, forty years ago, I have never been systematic about the practice, nor have I ever been good at quieting what Buddhists call the “monkey mind.” Here beside Lookout Creek, however, far from my desk and duties, with no task ahead of me but that of opening myself to this place, I settle quickly. I begin by following my breath, the oldest rhythm of flesh, but soon I am following the murmur of the creek, and I am gazing at the bright leaves of maples and dogwoods that glow along the thread of the stream like jewels on a necklace, and I am watching light gleam on water shapes formed by current slithering over rocks, and for a spell I disappear, there is only this rapt awareness.

EACH MORNING at first light I repeat the journey to Lookout Creek, and each time I stop along the way to embrace the same giant Douglas fir, which smells faintly of moist earth. I wear no watch. I do not hurry. I stay with the tree until it lets me go.

When at length I lean away, I touch my forehead and feel the rough imprint of the bark. I stare up the trunk and spy dawn sky fretted by branches. Perspective makes the tops of the surrounding, smaller trees appear to lean toward this giant one, as if conferring. The cinnamon-colored bark is like a rugged landscape in miniature, with flat ridges separated by deep fissures. Here and there among the fissures, spider webs span the gaps. The plates are furred with moss. A skirt of sloughed bark and fallen needles encircles the base of the trunk. Even in the absence of wind, dry needles the color of old pennies rain steadily down, ticking against my jacket.

I don’t imagine that my visits mean anything to the Douglas fir. I realize it’s nonsensical to speak of a tree as patient or generous or dignified merely because it stands there while researchers and children clamber up ropes into its highest limbs. But how can I know a tree’s inwardness? Certainly there is intelligence here, and in the forest as a whole, if by that word we mean the capacity for exchanging information and responding appropriately to circumstances. How does a tree’s intelligence compare with ours? What can we learn from it? And why, out of the many giants thriving here, does this one repeatedly draw me to an embrace?

The only intelligence I can examine directly is my own and, indirectly, that of my species. We are a contradictory lot. Our indifference to other species, and even to our own long-term well-being, is demonstrated everywhere one looks, from the depleted oceans to the heating atmosphere, from poisoned wetlands to eroding farmlands and forests killed by acid rain. Who can bear in mind this worldwide devastation and the swelling catalogue of extinctions without grieving? And yet it’s equally clear that we are capable of feeling sympathy, curiosity, and even love toward other species and toward the Earth. Where does this impulse come from, this sense of affiliation with rivers and ravens, mountains and mosses? How might it be nurtured? What role might it play in moving us to behave more caringly on this beleaguered planet?

These are the questions I find myself brooding about as I sit in meditation beside Lookout Creek. One is not supposed to brood while meditating, of course, so again and again I let go of thoughts and return my awareness to the water sounds, the radiant autumn leaves, the wind on my cheek, the stony cold chilling my sitting bones. And each morning, for shorter or longer spells, the fretful I quiets down, turns transparent, vanishes.

Eventually I stir, roused by the haggle of ravens or the chatter of squirrels or the scurry of deer — other minds in the forest — and I make my way back along the trail to the zone of electricity and words. As I walk, it occurs to me that meditation is an effort to become for a spell more like a tree, open to whatever arises, without judging, without remembering the past or anticipating the future, fully present in the moment. The taste of that stillness refreshes me. And yet I do not aspire to dwell in such a condition always. For all its grandeur and beauty, for all its half-millennium longevity, the Douglas fir cannot ponder me, cannot reflect or remember or imagine — can only be. Insofar as meditation returns us to that state of pure, unreflective being, it is a respite from the burden of ceaseless thought. When we surface from meditation, however, we are not turning from reality to illusion, as some spiritual traditions would have us believe; we are reclaiming the full powers of mind, renewed by our immersion in the realm of mountains and rivers, wind and breath.

AT MIDDAY, sunlight floods the gravel bar on Lookout Creek, illuminating strands of spider filament that curve from one boulder to another over an expanse of rushing water. At first I can’t fathom how spiders managed this engineering feat. The wind might have blown them one direction but not back again, and yet at least a dozen gossamer threads zigzag between the massive stones. Then I guess that the spiders, after attaching the initial strand, must climb back and forth, adding filaments. The stones they stitch together are as knobby and creased as the haunches of elephants. Even in still air, butter-yellow maple leaves come sashaying down. A pewter sheen glints from the bark of young Douglas firs tilting out over the stream.

Unconsciously, I resort to human terms for describing what I see, thus betraying another quirk of our species. We envision bears and hunters and wandering sisters in the stars. We spy dragons in the shapes of clouds, hear mournfulness in the calls of owls. Reason tells us that such analogies are false. For all its delicious sounds, the creek does not speak, but merely slides downhill, taking the path of least resistance, rubbing against whatever it meets along the way. Boulders have nothing to do with elephants, lichens are not horsetails, moss is not fur, spiders are not engineers, ravens do not haggle, and trees do not confer. Scientists are schooled to avoid such anthropomorphism. Writers are warned against committing the “pathetic fallacy,” which is the error of projecting human emotions or meanings onto nature. The caution is worth heeding. Yet if we entirely forgo such analogies, if we withhold our metaphors and stories, we estrange ourselves from the universe. We become mere onlookers, the sole meaning-bearing witnesses of a meaningless show.

But who could sit here, on this gravel bar beside Lookout Creek, and imagine that we are the sole source of meaning? Against a halcyon blue sky, the spires of trees stand out with startling clarity, their fringe of lichens appearing incandescent. Moths and gnats flutter above the stream, chased by dragonflies. The creek is lined by drift logs in various states of decay, from bone-gray hulks to rotting red lumps. Wet boulders gleam as if lit from within. Cobbles jammed against one another look like the heads of a crowd easing downstream. The muscular current, twisting over rocks, catches and tosses the light. The banks on either side blaze with the salmon-pink leaves of dogwoods, those western relatives of the beloved understory tree of my Indiana forests. Everything in sight is exquisite — the stones of all sizes laid against one another just so, the perforated leaves of red alders, the fallen needles gathered in pockets along the shore, the bending grasses, the soaring trees.

Only cosmic arrogance tempts us to claim that all this reaching for sunlight, nutrients, and water means nothing except what we say it means. But if it bears a grander significance, what might that be, and what gives rise to such meaning? What power draws the elements together and binds them into a spider or a person, a fern or a forest? If we answer, “Life,” we give only a name, not an explanation.

THOSE WHO FANCY that humans are superior to the rest of nature often use “tree-hugger” as a term of ridicule, as if to feel the allure of trees were a perverted form of sensuality or a throwback to our simian ancestry. Of course, many who decry tree-hugging don’t believe we have a simian ancestry, and so perhaps what they fear is a reversion to paganism. And they may have a point. The religions that started in the Middle East — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — are all desert faiths, created by people who lived in the open. Theirs is a sky god, who would be eclipsed by a forest canopy. In every civilization influenced by these faiths, trees have been cut down not merely to secure wood for cooking and building or to clear ground for agriculture or to open vistas around settlements where predators might lurk, but to reveal the heavens.

Worship of a sky god has been costly to our planet. Religions that oppose the heavenly to the earthly, elevating the former and scorning the latter, are in effect denying that we emerge from and wholly depend on nature. If you think of the touchable, eatable, climbable, sexy, singing, material world as fallen, corrupt, and sinful, then you are likely to abuse it. You are likely to say that we might as well cut down the last old-growth forests, drain the last swamps, catch the last tuna and cod, burn the last drops of oil, since the end time is coming, when the elect few will be raptured away to the immortal realm, and everything earthly will be utterly erased.

But our language preserves a countervailing wisdom. In Latin, materia means stuff, anything substantial, and in particular it means wood. Materia in turn derives from mater, which means mother. In the collective imagination that gave rise to these meanings, trees were understood to epitomize matter, and matter was understood to be life-giving. Perhaps we could tap into this wisdom by recovering another word that derives from mater — matrix, which means womb. Instead of speaking about “nature” or “the environment,” terms which imply some realm apart from us, perhaps we should speak of Earth as our matrix, our mother, the source and sustainer of life.

It is easy to feel nurtured among these ancient trees. I breathe the forest. I drink its waters. I take in the forest through all my senses. In order to survive here for any length of time, I would need to wear the forest, its fur and skin and fiber; I would need to draw my food from what lives here alongside me; I would need to burn its fallen branches for cooking and for keeping warm; I would need to frame my shelter with its wood and clay and stone. Above all, I would need to learn to think like the forest, learn its patterns, obey its requirements, align myself with its flow.

There are no boundaries between the forest and the cosmos, or between myself and the forest, and so the intelligence on display here is continuous with the intelligence manifest throughout the universe and with the mind I use to apprehend and speak of it.

ONE MORNING beside Lookout Creek, enveloped as usual in watery music, I sit leaning against a young red alder that has sprouted in the gravel bar, its leaves nibbled into lace by insects. Everything here either starts as food or winds up as food. None of the alders growing on this ever-shifting bank is thicker than a baseball bat. The next big flood will scour them away. Beside me, the sinewy roots of an upturned stump seem to mimic the muscular current in the stream. The bar is littered with gray and ruddy stones pockmarked by holes that betray the volcanic origins of this rubble.

Where better than such a place to recognize that the essence of nature is flow — of lava, electrons, water, wind, breath. Materia, matter, the seemingly solid stuff we encounter — trees, stones, bears, bones — is actually fluid, constantly changing, like water shapes in the current. The Psalmist tells us, “The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs,” and Dōgen, a thirteenth-century Zen teacher, proclaims that mountains are always walking. Both speak truly. Mountains do move, arising and eroding away over geological time, just as organisms grow and decay, species evolve, tectonic plates shift, stars congeal and burn and expire, entire galaxies shine for a spell and then vanish. Nothing in nature is fixed.

Conservationists have often been accused of wishing to freeze the land in some favored condition — for example, the American continent as it was before European colonization. Back when maps described old-growth as large saw-timber, scientists spoke of forests reaching climax, as if at some point the flow would cease. But we now realize that no such stasis is possible, even if it were desirable. If flux is the nature of nature, however, we still must make distinctions among the kinds of change. We cannot speak against the damage caused by human behavior unless we distinguish between natural change — for example, the long history of extinctions — and anthropogenic change — for example, the recent acceleration in extinctions due to habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and other disturbances caused by humans. The capacity to make such a distinction, and to act on it, may be as unique to our species as the capacity to use symbolic language.

Thoughts flow, along with everything else, even in the depths of meditation. And yet the human mind seems compelled to imagine fixity — heaven, nirvana, Plato’s ideal realm, eternal God — and the human heart yearns for permanence. Why else do we treasure diamonds and gold? Why else do Creationists cling to the notion that all species were made in exactly their present form? Why else do we search for scientific “laws” underlying the constant flux of the universe?

Our yearning for the fixed, like our craving for dominion over nature, may be another expression of our fear of aging and death. This occurs to me as I sit, transfixed, beside the narrowest, noisiest passage in the riffles on Lookout Creek. A dozen dead snags tilt above my head, their bare limbs like the sparse whiskers on an old man’s chin. Upstream, a gigantic Douglas fir has fallen across the creek, its trunk still as straight as when it was alive. Downstream, another giant has fallen, this one snapped in the middle. I can’t help imagining one of the looming snags suddenly toppling onto me and snapping my thread of thought, scattering this congregation of elements and notions bearing my name.

HIGHER UP THE VALLEY of Lookout Creek, in a grove of five-hundred-year-old Douglas firs and western hemlocks, a hundred or so logs have been placed side by side on the ground, labeled with aluminum tags, and fitted with instruments to measure their rate and manner of decay. Designed to continue for two centuries, this research aims to document, among other things, the role of dead wood in forest ecology and in the sequestering of carbon.

On a visit to the site, I stroke the moss-covered logs, touch the rubbery fungi that sprout from every surface, peer into the boxy traps that catch flying insects and fallen debris, and lean close to the tubes that capture the logs’ exhalations. The only breathing I detect is my own. I’m intrigued that scientists are studying decomposition, for as an artist I usually think about composition — the making of something shapely and whole out of elements. A musician composes with notes, a painter with colors, a writer with letters and words, much as life orchestrates carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and other ingredients into organisms. These organisms — trees, fungi, ravens, humans — persist for a while, change over time, and eventually dissolve into their constituents, which will be gathered up again into living things.

Art and life both draw energy from sunlight, directly or indirectly, to counter entropy by increasing order. Right now, for example, I’m running on the sunshine bound up in pancakes and maple syrup. Organisms interact biophysically with everything in their ecosystem, and ultimately with the whole universe. By contrast, the symbolic structures that humans create — songs, stories, poems, paintings, photographs, films, diagrams, mathematical formulas, computer codes — convey influence only insofar as they are read, heard, or otherwise perceived by humans. What happens when we turn our interpretive powers on living organisms? Does raven, Douglas fir, spider, or lichen mean anything different, or anything more, when it is taken up into human consciousness?

What we think or imagine about other species clearly influences our behavior toward them — as notions about the wickedness of wolves led to their extermination throughout much of their historic range, and as new understanding about the role of predators has led to the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and elsewhere. But aside from this practical impact, does our peculiar sort of mind bear any greater significance in the scheme of things? Is it merely an accidental result of mechanical processes, an adaptive feature that has powered our — perhaps fleeting — evolutionary success? Would the universe lose anything vital if our species suddenly vanished?

We can’t know the answer to those questions, despite the arguments of prophets and philosophers. We can only form hunches, and, right or wrong, these will influence the spirit of our work and the tenor of our lives. For what it’s worth, my hunch is that what we call mind is not a mere side effect of material evolution, but is fundamental to reality. It is not separate from what we call matter, but is a revelation of the inwardness of things. I suspect that our symbol-wielding intelligence is a manifestation of the creative, shaping energy that drives the cosmos, from the dance of electrons to the growth of trees. If this is so, then our highest calling may be to composition — paying attention to some portion of the world, reflecting on what we have perceived, and fashioning a response in words or numbers or paint or song or some other expressive medium. Our paintings on cave walls, our photos of quasars, our graphs and sonnets and stories may be the gifts we return for the privilege of sojourning here on this marvelous globe.

IF INTELLIGENCE MEANS the ability to take in and respond to information, then all organisms possess it, whether animal or plant, for they exchange signals and materials with their surroundings constantly. If intelligence means the capacity for solving puzzles or using language, then surely the ravens that clamor above me or the wolves that roam the far side of the mountains possess it. But if we are concerned with the power not merely to reason or use language, but to discern and define meanings, to evaluate actions in light of ethical principles, to pass on knowledge across generations through symbolic forms — then we are speaking about a kind of intelligence that appears to be the exclusive power of humans, at least on this planet.

Some contemplative traditions maintain that this meaning-making capacity is a curse, that it divorces us from reality, enclosing us in a bubble of abstractions. It’s easy to sympathize with this view, when one considers our history of feuds and frauds. Cleverness alone does not make us wise. Yet here among these great trees and boisterous mountain streams, I sense that our peculiar sort of mind might also be a blessing, not only to us but to the forest, to other creatures, to life on Earth, and even to the universe.

I recognize the danger of hubris. It’s flattering to suppose, as many religions do, that humans occupy a unique place in the order of things. The appeal of an idea is not evidence for its falsity, however, but merely a reason for caution. Cautiously, therefore: Suppose that the universe is not a machine, as nineteenth-century science claimed, but rather a field of energy, as twentieth-century science imagined. Suppose that mind is not some private power that each of us contains, but rather a field of awareness that contains us — and likewise encompasses birds, bees, ferns, trees, salamanders, spiders, dragonflies, and all living things, permeates mountains and rivers and galaxies, each kind offering its own degree and variety of awareness, even stars, even stones.

What if our role in this all-embracing mind is to gaze back at the grand matrix that birthed us, and translate our responses into symbols? What if art, science, literature, and our many other modes of expression feed back into the encompassing mind, adding richness and subtlety? If that is our distinctive role, no wonder we feel this urge to write, to paint, to measure and count, to set strings vibrating, to tell stories, to dance and sing.

Scott Russell Sanders, novelist and essayist, is a contributing editor to Audubon magazine and won the John Burroughs Natural History Essay Award in 2000. His recent books include Crawdad Creek (1999), The Force of Spirit (2000), and A Private History of Awe (2007). Sanders is a distinguished professor of English at Indiana University, where he has taught since 1971. During his career, he has spent sabbatical years as a writer-in-residence at Phillips Exeter Academy and as a Visiting Professor at University of Oregon and MIT. He is married with two children, Eva and Jesse.

Comments

  1. I cannot imagine a more thought-provoking piece than this. It has come straight from the heart of the author(as we have somehow come to express such things).
    I wonder whether words like inanimate matter,living/nonliving, etc., do not inhibit our ability to ‘realise’ ourselves and our role in the cosmic ‘order’ of things.(even chaos is a state of order not understood by us).

  2. In this beautiful piece, you have expressed what has been inexpressible for me, and I plan to share it with my family and friends. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I recognize, deep in my gut, the strong life force that you were enveloped in here, in the forest of the Doug Fir. Thank you for this gift.

  3. The author steps as carefully thru the forest of ideas about nature (our place in it and our possible responses ) as he does over the land itself, bringing us close to the beating of the heart of the matter. This is the degree of care needed to envision sane action.
    Meditation as an experience of tree intelligence, carefully sidestepped anthropomorphism (walking mountains and muscular current are just descriptive, not anthropomorphic), the dangers of the sky god cults, the need to think like the forest, flow, above all how our thoughts and concepts lead to creation or destruction.
    Our experience of mind is a local manifestation of something immense that surely is manifesting differently in other localities. I personally hesitate to give that other immensity the name of mind. Just my own brand of sidestepping.

  4. beautifull thoughts scot,
    i am blessed also to live amoung beautifull forests that feed the body and nourish all that i am.
    you articulate beautifully much
    of what i feel about this treasure,
    thank you for your inspiration..
    niall.

  5. Since I am a citizen of Oregon who can readily take in the lofty majesty of Mount Hood from windows near where I am writing, from our house near the east bank of the Willamette River here in Portland, I commend Mr.Russell for sharing his ripe, lyrical articulation of what we Oregonians and our visitors can access with relatively little effort. Some of the trees long ago set aside in a generously long strip which extends miles along the crest of what we know as “The West Hills” host thick, curly moss, some species of lichen and other native plants — even some species of terrestrial orchids! Headed west for an hour to the almost gothic Pacific coastline — again much of it still intact — anyone can stop to draw in the deep fragrance of “old growth” Douglas fir and other vegetation, e.g. Foxglove flower spikes both lavender and white in bloom for weeks. Your author’s perceptions and reflections merite comparison to Thoreau and other Americans since who found green tranquility and mindful nutrition while others, crazed by gold finds and free land, left only dust and sickened native peoples in their wake. This past week, delighted to greet yet another knock on our door by a young person representing an “eco-friendly” organization called “BARK,” I contributed to their costs in battling some outfit bent on running a pipeline through the Mt. Hood National Forest.Other Portlanders do more than gossip about celebs while scooping up trash or “invasive species” of plants on beaches and trails, etc. I quietly celebrate the flow of natural phenomena that runs in so many directions and at such sweet depths here, and I feel like a tributary as yet another rain front tonight will leave the Yew and the Blue Spruce drenched as I gaze over my fresh coffee after a night of bright dreams and perhaps a fresh metaphor for my current journal. Pax vobiscum!

  6. Scott–
    Thank you for this thoughtful and moving essay. There was much I appreciated.

    A recurring word here is “spell,” whose origins converge on incantation, saying and play, and make the word a good one to characterize “Mind of the Forest.” In places the essay is spell-binding, but in a freeing way.

    The essay turns on a weave of thinking and metaphor. Crowd of pebbles, fungi like balconies, muscular current—these and other metaphors not only help us cross the bridge of Lookout Creek; they reveal that thinking of this kind has its roots in our experience of the earth as a living, phenomenal being, a correlative of our symbolic understanding, including language.

    Surely it’s a narrow form of reason that would claim such analogies are false, the same kind of reason, routine since the scientific revolution, that claims the only valid truth is empirical,the measuring of(mere)matter.

    I too, though rarely, have experienced in meditation contact with what I’d call a larger mind, if only by emptying my own smaller mind of clutter. It’s clear, after such emptying, that something is there, perhaps what the Buddhists call no-mind. Maybe meditation will oneday make it possible to experience other forms of intelligence than our own. I’ve worked on lichens at times, though they’re stubborn and crusty and taste like moldy sawdust. Still, they seem to want to tell me something.

    I agree that in composing we must honor the matrix. It is surely the power that is forever composing us, in the very acts of perceiving and thinking. As Campbell says, “we are the consciousness of the earth.” Whether or not a fir tree can understand us will remain moot as long as a residue of unconscious positivism (Barfield’s phrase)colors our thinking–I know it does mine.

    The challenge is huge. Honoring the matrix–actually re-composing it–on a daily basis,is virtually a requirement if we are to sustain the life of the planet. It demands a systematic use of imagination of the kind your essay embodies. Our challenge, and especially the challenge of science,is exactly to think like a tree, and–the leap repels the positivist–be thought by the tree.

    If nature is a reflection of Mind, such thinking opens an ancient door.

    Thanks for knocking,Scott.
    As ever,
    Bill

  7. Thanks,
    After listening to you at Chestnut Mountain, and reading the Conservationist Manifesto and A Private History of Awe. Sitting on the west bank of the Mississippi River I want to silently say Amen and Thank You.

  8. Dear Scott,

    You have composed pretty well what you have seen, heard, and felt.

    It’s meditative piece and peace!

  9. I am grateful for all of these comments (posted as of Oct 26), especially the eloquent response by Bill Johnson. Since I first came to know Orion more than twenty years ago, this magazine has been the place I’ve turned to, as reader and writer, for artful thought about the human condition and about our place in this mysterious universe. What we call “nature” is simply our source and our home. Science has revealed, in marvelous and ever-increasing detail, how the universe works, but it cannot tell us how we should live. Orion offers a home for writing and visual art that considers the questions science cannot answer–questions about meaning, purpose, beauty, responsibility, and belonging. Everywhere I travel in America, speaking to people who care for their neighbors, their communities, and the earth, I find readers of Orion.

  10. No Matter, Never Mind

    The Father is the Void
    The Wife Waves

    Their child is Matter.

    Matter makes it with his mother
    And their child is Life,
    a daughter.

    The Daughter is the Great Mother
    Who, with her father/brother Matter
    as her lover,

    Gives birth to the Mind.

    Gary Snyder
    Turtle Island

    I had vaguely remembered that Bertrand Russell said it, but if you Google “no matter never mind” it seems that George Berkeley may have started this dialogue (“What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? No matter.”). But, as you can see above, Gary Snyder takes it a step further. Poetic but closely akin to a scientific viewpoint. And Snyder takes a stand on the chicken-or-egg sequence.
    It’s when we ask, “What is the matter?” that we have to contemplate the fact that this “lowly stuff” is really something wholly other.
    Picturing that other as Mind just seems to me to be a throwback to the biblical story of being “made in the image of..”. We wish. But if we’re not it needn’t be so disappointing. Whatever it is we seem to be a part of it (just not necessarily a copy in any sense).
    We’re still heavily invested in the idea that mankind is the high point of evolution, that our mind is modeled on another higher mind. But by doing that we may be once again creating a new god in the image of man. It’s been done many times before.
    I admit that, whatever may be true about these things, premonitions about our fragile position on an endangered planet should command our attention at the moment. Like the fox crossing the river at the end of the I Ching, we have to discern things clearly according to their nature – we cling to the ice while our tail dips in the water. The matter is the matter. Our mind is our best tool. Many rivers to cross. First this one. Hopefully there will be future generations to cross the others.

  11. Scott Sanders has written an eloquent piece of nature prose, which is wonderfully reflective. However, as a Christian who has worked on and supported environmental causes for years, I take exception to Sander’s little slam at the ‘sky god’ (Abrahamic) religions. Trying to tie deforestation to ‘sky god’ followers hoping for a glimpse the heavens is a little over the ‘tree tops’. Cutting down trees has a lot more to do with human need and human greed – the need being to grow crops in support of burgeoning human populations and the greed to make money off of board-feet or to grow palm oil, sugarcane, pine-based toilet paper, fast-food beef, and other ‘cash crops’ at the expense of forest ecosystems. Slash, cut, clear, and burn has been accomplished in forests around the world by those of all religious persuasions and of no religious persuasion – Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Native Americans, pagans, agnostics and atheists (true non-believers).
    Contrary to the belief of many in the secular environmental community, many Christians, including myself, have no problem with simian ancestors. (Hopefully, the ancestors take no offense.) In fact, our simian background may have more to do with our desire to create open spaces and our love of ‘savanna lawns’ in suburbia than it has to do with any ‘sky god’ worship. There’s the hypothesis among ethnologists, anthropologists, landscape ecologists, and others that the appeal of open spaces with scattered trees is because it’s similar to our ancestral environment on the plains of Africa – right there at the edge of the Garden of Eden no less. The open, tree-studded landscape preference may be in our DNA.
    I encourage readers not familiar with Christians working on environmental issues (which I’m guessing might be the majority) to check out some websites such as those for the Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation (working to stop all old growth cutting in national forests), Christians for the Mountains (trying to stop the sacrilege of mountaintop removal in Appalachia), Earth Ministry (located right there in the Pacific Northwest), The National Religious Partnership for the Environment, and many, many others.
    The sideswipes and innuendoes against all of Christianity as anti-environmental, so common in secular nature writing, do little to bring more like-minded Christians to the table with secular environmentalists for the cause of saving the earth as we know it. Whether we believe we’re reflecting our creative abilities back at an all-embracing universal mind or that we’re looking into the immanence of a God who is also transcendent, we all need to be working together for the good of the earth.

  12. Thank you for “Mind in the Forest,” and the gift of your tapestry of woven words, awareness, awe, emotion, wisdom. Simply elegant. You fanned the flames of my love for ORIOIN Magazine, and the fact that my yellow labrador, Dylan Thomas, takes his nap with his head resting atop my stacks of Orion. The Literary Dog.
    Your essay was like a favorite song that I’ll return to again and again. It brought to mind a specific day, a specific tree, and the gift it bestowed.
    Here in the mountains of Idaho, there is an old pine tree just off a hiking trail on Griffin’s Butte, north of Ketchum. The girth of this pine tree is too large for two people to touch hands while hugging it. But my daughter and I tried. I named the tree “the crying tree.” Soon after my 28 year old son died unexpectedly, I hiked this trail with my daughter. WE discovered with great awe, this tree, her deep grooved bark literally covered, every inch of it, in sap. We stood in amazement, breathing in the scent of pine sap, touching it, some droplets hardened like wax, others oozing sticky deliciousness. The sap dripped like an enormous candle in teardrops of muted irridecent colors, hues of blues, sage,rosey pinks, milky yellows. This Mother Tree gave me what I needed: A woman who could share my tears. The visual image of a strong mature pine tree, with her entire trunk dripped in a painter’s palette of sap, comforted me: You can mourn and be joyful and grow, simultaneously. I took the image of her with me. The weaping mother, with her roots strongly anchored in terra firma, her scent deliciously wafting through the breeze, her branches shouting out around her to gather both vertical and horizontal energy, her bright new tender green needles at the fingertips of every branch. There she stood, anchored in stone maternity, and reaching towards the sun. I bathed in the beauty of your words and thoughts, and appreciated the reminder that we can find soulful noursihment in every dimension and direction. As a musician and painter, I needed this! I’ll not forget to look earthward for spiritual nourishment as well. And, as always, To ORION Magazine. Thank you. Nancy Thomas. Sun Valley Idaho

  13. Again, I appreciate readers’ responses to “Mind in the Forest.” To erstwhileterrestrial (comment #13), I would say that understanding human existence as a participation in the flow of what we call “nature,” and understanding human consciousness as only one manifestation of the inwardness of that flow, does not exalt humans above other species. On the contrary, it places us as members alongside all our fellow creatures—and, I suggest in the essay, alongside rivers and mountains, trees and stones. The fallacy, decisively formulated by Descartes and perpetuated in mechanistic philosophy, is to imagine that we humans are the sole home for thought or source of meaning in the universe.
    I agree with JTL (comment #14) that many Christians, along with many people of other faiths, take seriously our responsibility to care for the earth, and they are acting vigorously on that conviction. In addition to the worthy efforts mentioned by JTL, I would call readers’ attention to the Evangelical Environmental Network, Interfaith Power & Light, and the Forum on Ecology and Religion. On the views of Christians about evolution, here is what I wrote: “Of course, many who decry tree-hugging don’t believe we have a simian ancestry, and so perhaps what they fear is a reversion to paganism.” Note that I said “many,” not “all.” I realize that the majority of Christians accept the theory of evolution as the best account we have for understanding how life has taken on its myriad of forms. But, unfortunately, millions of the most ardent, vociferous, and pugnacious people who call themselves Christians are Biblical literalists who dismiss evolutionary theory entirely and push to have its teaching eliminated from our public schools. It’s ironic that JTL labels my work as “secular nature writing,” since I have been taken to task elsewhere for drawing on the language and teachings of religion. Over the past thirty years, especially in the dozen or so essays that I have published in Orion, I have explored the spiritual dimension of nature, and of our place in nature, often to the discomfort of my fellow writers who take an entirely materialistic (in the philosophical sense) view of things. Readers curious about this effort might look at my latest two books, “A Private History of Awe” and “A Conservationist Manifesto.”
    And to Nancy Thomas (comment #15): I appreciate your generous words, and your story about communing with a pine tree after the death of your son. We don’t need to believe that our fellow creatures—whether pines or panthers—actually share our feelings in order to be comforted and inspired by their presence.

  14. I have no problem, looking “downwards”, shall we say, accepting the incremental “mindedness” of our near and our not-so-near relatives on this planet (or looking “sideways” to our peers the dolphins). We’re all made of the same stuff, in a closely interwoven pattern. It’s when I look up at the inscrutable cosmos that I hesitate to use the word (or corresponding ideas – awareness, etc.). That great whatever it is must march to its own drumbeat – something other than thought occupying its “time”. It contains us; it contains thought, but there’s most likely some other bigger game in town. Of course I have a hard time explaining what I mean by this, but I do find it worth thinking about.

    Scott Sanders, you say, “Suppose that mind is not some private power that each of us contains, but rather a field of awareness that contains us…” This is really the only point in your essay that made me a little bit uneasy (you can see by my first comment, #4, that I agree with almost everything you wrote, and maybe I should have just left it at that). But I feel that at this point the ice could become a slippery slope and bring us right back into the lap of the old guy with the white beard (made in our image). I just need to hang onto my ice floe. Sorry if it seems like nitpicking.

  15. erstwhileterrestrial,

    I don’t think that the idea of mind as a field necessarily brings us back to the old guy with the white beard. It could bring us, for instance, to certain Zen teachings, where in periods of meditation, “before thinking”, our mind is the same as everything else, not yet tied to specifics, not yet naming everything.

  16. I thought this article was elegantly written. It was both poetic and profound. The insight about nothing in nature being fixed was very thought provoking. One of the only focuses in the world that everything is subject to is change. Although the degree of change may differ among species, it can not be escaped.

  17. A beautifully written, metaphorically descriptive piece of work. As a young man growing up in the Southern Appalachians, I have spent my fair share of time reflecting while immersed in the tranquility of our forests. It seems to put me in a better place.

    While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of an article titled “Evangelical Envionmentalism” from Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion. In this article, the author speaks of the importance of nature as one of God’s creations. As a gift from God, this earth is sometimes treated with disrespect. We should all, whether religious or not, respect this earth and all of what it entails, because the fact of the matter is that there is only one earth and one life to live.

  18. I found this article to be very well written in describing the relationship between humans and the environment. I agree with Jared on the eloquently written metaphorical description of the trees and surrounding nature. The descriptions of the forests can captivate any reader causing him or her to feel as if you are meditating alongside the author. I particularly liked the idea of nature not being fixed and how humans yearn for the fixed. A well structured article by someone I presume is undoubtedly a “tree-hugger”.

  19. Thank you for your essay. I’ve spent many weeks at HJA during my husband’s research trips. I know the tree you leaned on and I think I know the spot where you sat by Lookout Creek. When my daughter was small, we played many hours by the creek and both of us made poems there.

    I’d like to share some of my favorite ways to connect with trees. The first will work in your deciduous homeland: On a windy day, find a smallish deciduous tree, four to 8 inches in diameter, and press your ear to its bark to hear its song.

    The second will probably necessitate a return to the western mountains. Find a large Ponderosa pine, whose bark has begun to split into plates and furrows similar to those on OG doug fir. Put your nose into a crevice between the plates and sniff. I hate to tell you the smell, since you should give it your own name. [I recall the same scent in the bark of at least one other dry-site pine, sugar pine, so it may be that pines in your region offer some special aromas.]

    Third, my brother and I invented a game to play with the puzzle-piece-shaped flakes of Ponderosa pine bark. While one of us closed our eyes, the other would remove a loose flake of bark. Then the other would try to fit it back into place in the section of bark from which it came.

  20. Classic books on trees written by Steve Arno and illustrated by Ramona Hammersly

    Northwest Trees: Identifying and Understanding the Region’s Native Trees (2nd edition, 2007)

    Timberline: Mountain and Arctic Forest Frontiers (1984)

  21. How beautiful. Our forests, in the antipodes, are different, but exquisitely similar.
    Thank you.

  22. In this article, the author does such an awesome job describing how we as humans do not respect nature.I have to admit that while reading this article I imagined sitting under that Douglas Fir and concentrating on all the beautiful sounds,breathing all the fresh air, and enjoying the feeling of piece that nature can bring. One phrase in this article that caught my full attention is “What power draws the elements together and binds them into a spider or a person, a fern or a forest?” Personally I feel that the human species has forgotten the answer to this question or just never really believed in the first place. GOD is responsible for all the beauty of nature as well as all living things. I strongly agree with the author on how if a person believes that all the resources of the world is fallen, corrupt, and sinful that they are more likely to abuse it. With this in mind, if the abuse continues then no one will have the chance to enjoy the greatness of nature because it will cease to exist.Personally I feel that with all the pollution and global warming issues, we dont have much longer to decide that our trees and other nature is a very important factor for the human species existence. As the author writes about in this article, I too believe that there is intelligence within the forest. For instance, the spider conducting a web,just as author Scott Russell Sanders acknowledges the fact that the wind may have blown the spider one way but not back again and the wind especially did not help the spider with the details in the web. Sanders asks “How does a trees’s intelligence compare to ours? What can we learn from it?” The answer to this question is in the article.Just as sanders said, if he or any human had to survive in the forest, we would have to learn the ways of the forest.One last part that really got me to thinking is about how the forest is not fixed and that there is always change.”We cannot speak against the damage caused by human behavior unless we distinguish between nathural change…..”.
    This article has really got my attention on how much we as the human species depend on resources that come from nature and how we neglect the warning of it all being destroyed.

  23. This article is so good, it almost hurts when an issue of Orion arrives that doesn’t have at least one article as moving as this.

  24. I’ll admit, when I first read this article, I thought it was going to be stupid. As I read more and more, I began to grow a whole new appreciation for nature, and trees in general. From your writing, I’ve managed to tie metaphors together with nature. Instead of viewing a tree as just a tree, I now view a tree as a wise old man. Meaning, that tree has seen it all, and has been through a lot. If the tree could speak to us, I’m sure it would have a dozen of stories to tell.

    The Scott Russell Sanders is such a strong writer along with that. The way he described his experience out there in the presence of ancient trees painted a vivid picture in your head.

  25. I think this is a very interesting article and extremely well written. It gives us a look into how important nature really is to all of us. Our society has become so intrenched with technology and the future that we sometimes overlook the destruction we are causing ourselves by destroying the very thing that assists our survival. Many people, including myself, get so involved with everyday life that we forget to step back and take in the wonder that is around us. We breath clean air because of the beautiful trees that give us the oxygen we need. When something becomes second nature to us, we forget its importance. Thank you for making us all stop and realize we need to change.

  26. I thought that this was a beautiful piece of writing. I loved the way he described the forest, and the mountains. I live in the mountains and i dont really have a chance to explore them. After i read this article it makes me want to go exploring. Nature is so beautiful and the way that you explain it in this articl is just breath taking. Thanks for such a beautiful piece of work.

  27. When I started reading this article. Just seeing what it was about made me think twice about reading it. I finally started it and was extremely well written and, I hate to admit when I’m wrong, but I enjoyed it very much. The detail in it was pretty much amazing, I got a clear image in my mind of Lookout Creek. It also made me think as well. The idea of us each, instead of having our own “private power” we have a field of awareness that encompasses all forms of species. This very well written article was very good and I’m glad I decided to take the time to read it.

  28. I love this peace it made me want to get up and hiking. I love the outdoors anyway and its like being there but only reading it. I loved the way he talked about the forest and the sencery. He made it sound so beautiful like a magical place that only you dream about. I said to myself if only a place like this existed. Thanks for a wonderful piece of work.

  29. Again, I appreciate the responses that readers have offered since I posted my last comment (#16). I’m encouraged to hear that “Mind in the Forest” has stirred others to think more deeply about our relationship, not only to trees, but to all our fellow creatures. It’s easier to sense that relationship in an old-growth forest than in a city street, easier to sense it in a prairie or swamp than in an apartment or house; but we’re just as dependent on the rest of nature inside our human constructions as we are in deep wilderness. But wild places are precious because they put us so directly in touch with our source. They remind us where we come from, what we’re made of, and they offer standards of ecological health by which we can measure the condition of our settled places. Nearly all the truly wild places left in the United States are on public land, protected in our name and on our behalf by federal and state governments, or by nonprofit land trusts. We need to defend public lands from those who would mine them for money.

    One other point for now: Because I’ve often written about my love of trees, readers sometimes ask me whether I actually wrap my arms around bark-covered trunks, in broad daylight, where other people can see me. You bet, I answer. And then I turn the question around: You mean to say you’ve never felt tempted to embrace one of those grand, rooted, powerful, durable, eloquent, sturdy, fragrant, musical creatures? Hugging trees seems as natural to me as hugging my wife, my granddaughters, my close friends, or anyone else I love.

  30. This is a beautiful piece and encompasses my thoughts on the disconnect between humans and nature due to the idea of our “dominion” over it. Dispelling this ideology could be the key to changing human practices that destroy the beautiful world we call home.

  31. Stewart Brand reports,

    “We are as gods and have to get good at it.”

    I hope Stewart will forgive me for saying that he has elucidated at least one of the problems humanity faces now. It appears the formidable global challenges that loom before the human community in our time are likely the result of distinctly human activities borne of extreme foolishness, pathological arrogance, unbridled greed and malignant narcissism. To be a species with such remarkable self-consciousness, intelligence and other splendid gifts and to do no better than we are doing now is a source of deep sadness and occasional outbreaks of passionate intensity (likely signifying nothing).

    The first fifty years of my life were lived as if in a dream world in which humans believe and act like gods, a profane world devised by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us. I had no awareness a single generation would elect sponsors of powerful, greed-mongering economic powerbrokers who would formulate policies and implement business plans that irreversibly degrade Earth’s environs, recklessly dissipate its limited resources, relentlessly diminish its biodiversity, destabilize its climate and threaten the very future of children everywhere. My failures include not realizing that my selfish generation were hyperconsuming and excessively hoarding resources, ravaging the Earth, and effectively behaving in a way that could soon lead to the destruction of our planetary home as a fit place for habitation by the children. Even though it is discomforting and difficult to responsibly perform our duties to science and humanity, at least we can speak out loudly, clearly and often about these unfortunate circumstances and in the process educate one another as best we can. Like you, I do not have answers to forbidding questions related to the patently unsustainable ‘trajectory’ of human civilization in its present, colossally expansive form that has been organized by and for the benefit of the Masters of the Universe. Much more problematic, however, is the ruinous determination of many too many experts who have colluded with the Masters of the Universe to obstruct open discussion of the best available scientific evidence of “what could somehow be real”. If what could be real about the human condition and the Earth we inhabit is not confronted with intellectual honesty and moral courage, how is it possible for the family of humanity to adapt to the practical requirements of “reality” in reasonable, sensible, sustainable and timely ways?

    An ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort is likely to be the end result of experts choosing to embrace false common knowledge and to remain willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute rather than skillfully examining and objectively reporting on extant science of human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of our evidently finite and noticeably frangible planetary home. This refusal to respond ably by acknowledging evidence and accepting responsibility for the human-driven global challenges that have emerged robustly and converged rapidly just now could be one of the greatest mistakes in human history. After all, what mistake in history could be greater than the ones made in our time by those self-indulgent Masters of the Universe and their many minions who are knowingly leading humanity down a primorse path, perhaps to precipitate the inadvertent demise of life as we know it and to put at risk a good enough future for the children?

    We have entered not only a new year but a new decade as well. Hopefully the deafening silence, disinformation, dishonesty, denial and ideological idiocy that marked the last decade have ended.

  32. A very nice piece that resonates with me. I have little doubt that one of the evolutionary bottlenecks that our species passed through was in a region of forests and streams. There is little that evokes a simple reverence better than a small brook running through a mature forest.

  33. This is a lovely meditation, wise and heartfelt. I look forward to sharing it with my students as we discuss the relationship between humans and nature (as Michael Pollan has pointed out, we’re the only species that can countenance having such a “relationship” with something as intrinsic as nature).

    I disagree with the sky god criticism, however. I think it is clear that short-sighted human cleverness as expressed in our technology is the core problem. All human civilizations have tended toward land abuse, but their technologies limited or supported this tendency. The underlying question is, how do we change human thinking and behavior to end the repeating tragedy of the commons that has brought us to the brink of global disaster?

    Allan Savory makes an impressive argument in Holistic Resource Management for a more thoughtful and conscious group approach to using, managing, and conserving resources. The idea is to counter individual greed and divisive politics through policy and the regular revisiting of values. Sort of a mission statement forged when everyone is calm, uncommitted in money or ego, and at the table.

    As far as I know, the biblically driven Amish are the most effective model of this. Their aim is to preserve community, in the widest sense, and in large part through case-by-case limits on individual greed and the use of technology.

  34. Thank you for this piece. Your last few paragraphs remind me of Albert Low’s Zen and the Sutras. Do you know it? Chapter 6: “We talk about being aware OF the world, aware OF other people, aware OF the flower, aware OF the past, [aware OF the tree]? Most people would say that we ar aware of the world, but the sutra says that we are aware of ‘all the memory of the beginningless past..preserved in a way beyond consciousness and ready for further evolution.” Another way of saying this is that what we are aware of is awareness AS memory crystallied AS objects. In other words, we are aware of awareness AS the world, AS other people, AS the flower, [AS an old growth tree]. Thus, when I say I am aware of the flower, this should, technically, be speleld out as I-am-aware-of-awareness-as-the-flower.” Thanks agai

  35. Global warming was the topic of urgent attention as the time I sent ORION the comment dated October 25, 2009. People around the world are, by and large, aware of the threat. Regretably, such events as the faulted structure of the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and its faulty operation as well as the violently erratic weather calll for more assertive awareness of both the beauty and the generosity of the earth, the atmosphere, the water and the life systems evolved over millennia. If what I have written is ultimately too thin or too unconvincing, I must seek out another elder Douglas fir and offer a stronger embrace, not just a hug. Such a stalwart tree hears and responds to feelings and facts better than the cyberbranches too many of us cling to too often, in my opinion.

  36. Mind in the forest is skillfully and passionately written. There is no doubt. However I find Steven Salmony’s response on 1/16/2010, to be infinitely more relevant and insightful for humanity.

    I live 10 miles from the H.J. Andrews forest and have skinny dipped in Lockout creek in years gone by and attended many gathering there over the last 30 years.

    I have tried to bring the question; what constitutes ‘social relevance’ regarding scientific research to the discussion many times, with public lip service agreement but never any action.

    I have asked during a talk touting all the data collection at Watershed #1, how do you separate the data from wisdom, as E. O. Wilson asks in this book Consilience, the unity of knowledge, when he states, “we are drowning in data while starving for wisdom”. The response was laughter without any insight.

    I have challenged specific research when scientists ask the question; how do we create structural diversity in a plantation? I suggested the question isn’t ethical, relevant or scientific as it attempts to provide an obvious justification to perpetuate Industrial forestry. I asked why did you have to destroy that diversity in the first place and then attempt to restore it. I never got an answer.

    When scientific research is transparent, open, relevant and creates synthesis we might explore real solutions. However when it represents the best money can buy, we get 200 year studies of trees composting and concrete flumes that can’t provide one wit of socially relevant conclusions that may have prevented the hundreds of erosion failures in 1996.

    Until forest research attempts to simultaneously integrate environmental health, economic vitality and social equality (Montreal Protocol) it will remain largely irrelevant, continuing to disconnect management causes from management effects and hastening extinction of species including ourselves.

    Although Mind in the Forest is excellent prose; Steven Salmony adds far more relevance to the discussion. Thank you Steven, I applaud your honesty and insights.

  37. Thank you for so gently and carefully presenting what have, until now, only been glimmers of ideas in my consciousness. Meditating, listening to rustling trees and indeed the wind on desert sands, and sitting in my studio beginning a new painting, I hope to be closer to the awareness you have elucidated in this beautiful essay. Well said, wisely spoken words.

  38. Thank you for your patient seat by the creek. You made it come back to my own memory of such times.
    The God of the three great religions was perhaps what you call a Sky God just because of the very emotion and wonder that we experience when we gaze at the stars and feel the embrace of the unknown.

  39. I experience oneness in manyness when my mind is quiet, alert, open and receptive. This beautifully written essay has this message of oneness of life, harmony and inter connectedness that we seem to miss when our mind is filled with the deafening and dividing noise.

    Jagdish Dave

  40. Your beautiful essay reminds me of one of my favorite little books, Flat Rock Journal by Ken Carey, who describes a day walking in the Ozark Mountains. His travels take him to visit “grandfather” trees and to record the songs of the spring peepers on a musical treble clef staff. Please keep visiting your forest and finding calm in the great tree.

  41. Simply brilliant! What a wonderful essay that captures so much of what I think & feel but I lack the gift to put to words. I am truly moved. Thank you so much

  42. Thank you for sharing this journey. You quieted my busy mind and now I will go out and ‘sit’ with the old tree in my back garden.

  43. I am deeply appreciative of the invitation to accompany the author on his walks (physical, intellectual and emotional) into the forest which I love and am no longer physically able to experience. His insightful appreciation helps me to feel somewhat more hopeful for the future of our civilization.

  44. A beautifully constructed, though provoking piece, which pretty much mirrors my own thoughts. None of us can ‘know’ it all; but we can all ‘feel’ our own relationship with the Universe, starting with our own planet.

  45. A friend just forwarded me this, and what a beautiful meditation to start me on my day. So I thank you for that, and wonder if I might offer in exchange something of my own work – a recent interview I did with The Sun magazine. There are close affiliations between our work, it seems to me. Warm regards …. and I hope you might find a moment to check out the interview:
    http://philipshepherd.com/the-sun/

  46. I clicked on the ‘remove me from your list’ thingy by mistake! Please ignore, or reinstate me. Thanks.

  47. what a wonderful piece, that tree would remember you for sure:~) tree memory lasts soo much long than ours

  48. I love how he write this guys is quite the linguistic person I love how he compared himself to the rest of the world it give that great power of writing being very verbal and literal

  49. Everywhere I look a new understanding is manifesting itself. I’ll not call it a religion or spirituality; it is more an awareness of the obvious. The new is like this. Finite animals are intelligent enough to learn that if you dismantle the atom sufficiently all that is left is pure energy. Proof enough that there is only one thing in the entire universe and all things are manifestations of it. If you can accept that the universe is infinite, one could say that the entire universe is intelligent because the finite cannot have an attribute (intelligence) that the infinite does not have also.
    The important part is that there is a theory that there is enough energy in one cubic meter of the empty vacuum of space to evaporate all the oceans on Earth if we knew how to harness it.
    It is not something I am recommending because we harnessed nuclear power and look what we did to the Pacific Ocean with it. The Chinese will not now buy seafood caught anywhere between Northern California and Alaska.
    If this new idea is possible then it is possible we are actually part of the one thing and should start treating each other everywhere with more respect and consideration.
    Keep Portland Weird!

  50. What a wonderful way to start my day. I am grateful to have found this.

Commenting on this item is closed.