Paying Attention: When Trees Speak

The mid-September days at 10,000 feet at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite were warm–although as the sun slid away in the late afternoon the temperature soon dipped way down.

From late morning until later afternoon, it was warm enough to wear light clothing, and even go naked. Given what my body had told me on Tuesday (see December 10), I spent some of Wednesday afternoon sitting naked on various rocks. I knew I had to expose my whole self to the sun, to the earth and creatures and trees and rocks around me. I knew I needed to do that to be able to wade into the lake on Thursday.

So Wednesday is a day to become better acquainted with my surroundings, to sit and watch and listen. Perhaps I will connect more with my soul, even become more appreciative of myself.

As I sit, I begin to see the trees. I sit for awhile, not very conscious, just gazing mindlessly at various trees. I notice how multi-shaped they are, how misshJu, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 068apen many are. I notice what will become my soul tree (see December 9).

I begin to speak, calling the trees my siblings, thanking them for being here, for surviving long enough to bless me. I have an “aha moment,” when I realize that the trees are doing what trees do. They grow, even in granite and weather extremes.

Then I notice that all are growing, whether they are “properly” shaped or not. They don’t have to have perfect bodies to be trees, and to grow. I realize that I could learn from this truth. I don’t have to have a perfect body (as defined by someone else, or society, or me) to be me, to live and thrive.

As I take this in, I say “Thank you” to the trees, my teachers. I tell them I am glad to be with them.

Then, a voice, well, not exactly a voice in the human sense, but a voice nonetheless, says, “We have missed you.” It is so clear, and simple. We have missed you.

I cry a little, and then I sob, great big gulping sobs, so aware of how long it has been since I really paid attention to trees and how grateful I am to be here, now, with Ju, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 069these beautiful trees. Every tree is simply stunningly beautiful. I want to touch each one, and bow and say thank you.

And I see that I am beautiful–maybe not stunning, not quite sure I can say that about myself, at least yet–but certainly beautiful, handsome.

So I cry some more, and stand up and walk around, just being glad to be revealed to these siblings. And I hug my soul tree. It is a careful embrace, given my bare skin and his (I have decided he is male) needles, but a brotherly, tender embrace nonetheless.

It is beginning to cool, and it is time to put some clothes on. But I know I am now ready to wade in the water tomorrow.

I am home with my pinus albicaulis family, and all their neighbors and friends. I am safe. I have been missed, and I have missed them. We are together and I am loved, and I love, too.

Next, the lake, and who knows what else!

Paying Attention: When Our Bodies Speak

Paying attention is not always easy, or pleasant. Sometimes, you see or hear or learn stuff you’re not sure you wanted to deal with. On the other hand, if we stay stuck in where we are we will never get to where we can be, or where God wants us to be.

That is one reason I went on the Vision Quest. I knew I needed to be more open to the nudges I kept feeling, and the sense that I was not fulfilling what some might call my “destiny.”

Cathedral_Peak_and_Lake_in_YosemiteI have written about the amazing trees I encountered at Lower Cathedral Lake, and especially the one I call my Soul Tree. But there is more to share about our encounters. First, some background is needed.

I went up the mountain as one in a group of seven, led by an amazing shaman, Dr. Tom Pinkson. We spent all of Monday getting to Yosemite by car from Marin and up 10,000 feet, arriving at that height after dark so we had to stop for the night. Putting up your tent in the dark is not fun!

But I made it (with a lot of help from more experienced hikers), and the next day (Tuesday) we headed up another 1,000 feet and then back down 1,000 feet to get to our base camp site. We set up our tents, and we each picked out a site around the lake where we would camp alone, fasting, for two days, starting the following day (Wednesday). Then we relaxed.

I started writing in my journal, of course. So much to record, and there had been no time since we left Marin the morning before.

lower-cathedral-lakeAs I sat on a rock, writing, I heard a splash. I looked up to see one of our number wading into the lake. He was naked, which of course is the way to do this if you can’t afford to deal with wet clothes! Besides, some say your body stays warmer naked than covered (but I am not advocating this, or even claiming it is true).

He is a good looking man, and I noticed his backside appreciatively.

But what came over me so fast was body shame, my own. I was shocked, thinking I had dealt with this a lot in therapy over many years. But here it was. I knew it was one thing I would have to deal with on the Quest.

And I knew at least one thing I had to do: go into the lake, without clothes.

This is where my siblings the trees come in. I am so grateful to them and as I relate more of the story, I think you will understand better, if you don’t already, about what Gerald May calls the “wisdom of wilderness.”

But I am going to stop here to ruminate about this experience and prepare to share more another day.

Paying Attention

I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window and ruminating about what to write, when a large black bird walks across the lawn and a squirrel scampers from our yard across the street into the woods.

Now I know what to write. These two creatures, now disappeared from my sight, are messengers, reminders that it is time I began telling of my adventures on the Vision Quest–what I have come to call my Soul Quest–in Yosemite National Park in September.

The understanding that other animals (not just human animals) and the natural world contain and share messages and truth for us is one learning from the Quest. I learned a lot from these teachers during my short time in the relative wilderness at 10,000 feet, and a primary lesson is to pay attention.Soul tree front view

Being without a watch, cellphone and internet reception, books or other devices that divide my attention from what is immediately around me in the natural world opened my eyes to what I so often take for granted–the movement of flying creatures and four-leggeds, as well as sky and water and earth, and, perhaps most of all, trees.

Trees are my special love. I grew up on a tree farm. I was not especially enamored of all the hard labor helping my Dad, but I always loved the trees (and I really liked growing flowers, too, but that is for another time).

I try not to use the word “love” when it comes to talking about things I enjoy, or like, but with trees it is the right word. I love trees.Soul tree side view

We had thousands on the farm, all in rows, plus 10 or more acres of woods, and I felt connected with so many of them. I especially felt close to the trees in our small orchard–pear, apple, apricot, and cherry–and most of all to the giant white oak, Quercus alba is the Latin name, standing majestically next to our driveway where it met the public road.

Trees are signs of God to me. Like God, they grow everywhere, or try to. They appear in whatever form is most conducive to living. They grow in the most improbable places at times, like the five-needled white bark pine, Pinus albicaulis is the Latin name, that grow out of granite in the Alpine or timberline forest in Yosemite. How trees can be rooted in granite is a mystery to me, but then how God takes root in us is one, too.

As I spent time alone, fasting, near the shore of Lower Cathedral Lake, sitting on huge granite boulders, I began to notice these trees. Some of them were soul tree side view 2tall and graceful, well-shaped conifers. Most of them, however, showed the effects of living in harsh conditions so that many appeared as dwarf trees, and others almost prostrate, almost all lacking the shape we think of as normal for pine trees.

Together, these trees became my spiritual teachers, even masters, helping me move into a meditative state and then guiding me into some deep soul truths.

One tree most captured my attention. As I share three pictures of my soul tree, I am going to pause to gaze for a while. At another time, I will write more about our encounter.