The Tree of Life: Trees from my past. The butterfly tree.

If I trace my research into communications with trees I remember a time,  (1988) when I lived on Salt Spring Island. We were in a house overlooking an inlet where a pod of orcas swam by on their way north. If I walked on a path along the water’s edge I came to a tree. It was an Arbutus tree. The name “Arbutus” means ‘tree’ in Latin. These trees are unique to the region known as the Gulf Islands. Each one takes on a form and highly individual expression . Their trunks can turn and twist and curve – they can be wide but they can also be slender. Their bark will appear in one of three phases:

1. a plain rough grey
2. peeling layers of peach-orange, rust and burgundy – as if paper had been curled and attached to the trunk and
3. silky smooth reddish orange pink on naked wood – It shines when wet as if glistening moisture on skin!!

Arbutus branches-Hornby Island
Arbutus branches-Hornby Island
Arbutus bark-Hornby Island
Arbutus bark-Hornby Island
Arbutus Tree-Hornby Island

The tree I befriended had one limb that grew almost horizontally (with graceful curves rippling along the length of the branch extending out towards the water) .It stretched from the huge trunk on the land – out past a cliff edge which plummeted down towards rocks and waves. There was one particular curve that embraced my form perfectly so I could sit with total ease and comfort for long stretches of time.
Arbutus Tree-Hornby Island

What was particularly wonderful about this is that my hips and pelvic region are not symmetrical but oddly formed around a chronic hip injury (my right femur sits halfway out of the socket and my right leg is shorter than the other). When riding a bicycle I have to adjust my imperfect form in awkward ways. But here, in the arms of my beloved Arbutus tree I was perfectly at home. This time in my life I was seldom away from my one-year-old son. From time to time I would reach a limit and would ask to go out for a solo walk – or perhaps I was sent out?! And I would go to this tree. I would sit quietly reflecting on my life perched halfway between heaven and earth.

At some point I noticed there was an exchange taking place. A friendship had developed so that when we moved away I said a tearful goodbye to that tree and inwardly from time to time my soul flies into the unconditional embrace of this dearly beloved tree friend.

If I trace even further back in my life I realize that both my father and my mother established close connections with trees near our homes – and for several years we lived in a house which backed onto the steep slopes of a ravine. A cluster of 5 mature red maple trees stood next to the house and my parents had a balcony built off a second-floor bedroom so my mother – who was ill and bedridden – could be outside in nature. It was this group of trees who became, magically and suddenly orange overnight in September one year… It was a monarch butterfly tree!!

 

Tree Conversations: Article for International Institute for Transformation February 2015 newsletter

Suggested title “What trees have to tell us”

 

The great Oracle at Delphi was a community who devoted Pomeranz_004_z65HpGmnEtch_testtheir lives to the work of being the voice of the gods. They were able to live and be conscious both in this world of the senses and in the mysterious worlds across the threshold of life and death.

Two Streams of Time

In our time where do we turn to hear the higher voices that guide us towards the unknown? How do we relate to what we call the future? Rudolf Steiner describes two streams of time. The first is that which flows from the past to the present. This is the stream where we, out of experience, can think about what we know, what has “already happened” in the outer waking world.

The second stream of time he suggests, astonishingly, arrives in the present from the future. How can we perceive it or form a relationship with it? Steiner speaks about the human capacity to develop Imagination as an organ of perception. As the human eye “sees” visible light and objects revealed by it….the human heart can become an organ of perception….Imaginative Cognition is the term that he uses to describe the activity of the heart using Imagination to “perceive” the stream of time arriving from the future.

We often say dismissively “ Oh that’s just your imagination.” As if to say, that has no value, you’ve “invented” that or “made that up” and in fact there is an aspect of inner activity that is fantasy based where we think about what we might like to have or do. This is something that arises in us and we might project it out into the world. Imaginative Cognition is NOT the same as fantasy but rather it is a receptive, perceptive listening.

Art as Divination

For the last thirty years I have been researching Art as a form of divination, where, as with the oracles at Delphi, a question can be posed and through an artistic process wisdom can be invoked . The activity of participating in the art process builds capacities of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. The art itself “speaks” and can be observed in ways that allow the meaning to be communicated. These three capacities of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, are no longer haphazard, chance experiences but rather capacities that can be called on for any activity involving thinking, feeling and creating.

Trees Communicate with us through Images         

My most recent research in this area began about three years ago when I had an idea to work with a tree through meditation/visualization and to “ask” the tree what it might like to show on paper with line and colour. I “listened” to the response, trusting the image/thought that came to me. I did this for several hours slowly building up a picture. (I use Derwent Inktense pencils for this work which can be used as a drawing pencil which is wetted, allowed to dry and drawn over again ) The result was intriguing and I moved over to a second tree, it was the same type ( Silver Maple about 60 years old) that grew nearby….the second picture was dramatically different from the first.

There were two more trees growing in proximity and I did the same thing with each. Again there was an astonishing variety between the pictures…this raised many questions and set me off on a journey that included working with trees as old as 2000 years ( an oak in Glastonbury , England). I have about 200 of these tree “conversations” in art. I have worked with trees in urban settings as well as rural/wild areas in the United States ( New York City), England ( London and also Hereford, Glastonbury, Avebury etc.), Wales, Ireland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Guatemala and Canada ( the Toronto area).

Functions of Various Trees      

A tree will have a certain “function” that it performs on behalf of a certain area and they also have a “personality” or tree spirit.  I am discovering that the trees of a certain species, say Oak, which have many varieties ,do have certain tendencies to be “STORYTELLERS” who offer images/stories and also seem to be interested in the “news” of the world.

I find that trees will sometimes show me something about human activity that is taking place near where it is growing. One example was a Linden tree in Slovenia that I was able to return to after an initial brief conversation ( I was constrained by travelling with a group who had to leave that site at a certain time)  . I discovered under its canopy a group of local people dressed in traditional costume, playing local instruments and singing and dancing! I realized that this was a celebratory tree that participated in local culture and traditions!! I was taken back to be shown the “meaning” of the image I had received from the tree.

 

I have worked with a wide variety of trees including Linden, Maple (many different kinds including the Sycamore or Plane trees in London), Beech, Cypress, Cedar of Lebanon, Pine, Fig, Olive, Mango, Avocado, Hocote ( unique to Guatemala) and more.

Some trees seem to be participating in what I would call a global network of tree being/consciousness and they are able to offer/facilitate new thoughts/imaginations to human beings in response to our questions and conflicts. I feel that our relationship with trees is a vast and rich resource that through collaboration and this new form of “divination” or listening communication can infuse our thinking about world problems AND ALSO PERSONAL problems to a new level.

Finally, I am delighted to report that trees also seem to have a very good sense of humor! I have come to enjoy what I call “Tree jokes! Certain trees, in particular ,the very old( 300 years plus) Oaks in Sweden, can enjoy having a joke at my expense!!!!

I invite you to open yourself to trees to explore new dimensions of relationship. I have started to work with groups, introducing one way of connecting with the inner world of trees! Many people that I meet have a story of a certain tree that was important in their life, a tree “confidante”. I was laughing with another tree enthusiast as we imagined parades in the future, much like the gay pride parades of today, but instead they will be for all the people “ coming out of the woods”. Tree lovers of all ages, religions, races and nationalities!!!

 

Suggested title “What trees have to tell us”

 

The great Oracle at Delphi was a community who devoted their lives to the work of being the voice of the gods. They were able to live and be conscious both in this world of the senses and in the mysterious worlds across the threshold of life and death.

Two Streams of Time

In our time where do we turn to hear the higher voices that guide us towards the unknown? How do we relate to what we call the future? Rudolf Steiner describes two streams of time. The first is that which flows from the past to the present. This is the stream where we, out of experience, can think about what we know, what has “already happened” in the outer waking world.

The second stream of time he suggests, astonishingly, arrives in the present from the future. How can we perceive it or form a relationship with it? Steiner speaks about the human capacity to develop Imagination as an organ of perception. As the human eye “sees” visible light and objects revealed by it….the human heart can become an organ of perception….Imaginative Cognition is the term that he uses to describe the activity of the heart using Imagination to “perceive” the stream of time arriving from the future.

We often say dismissively “ Oh that’s just your imagination.” As if to say, that has no value, you’ve “invented” that or “made that up” and in fact there is an aspect of inner activity that is fantasy based where we think about what we might like to have or do. This is something that arises in us and we might project it out into the world. Imaginative Cognition is NOT the same as fantasy but rather it is a receptive, perceptive listening.

Art as Divination

For the last thirty years I have been researching Art as a form of divination, where, as with the oracles at Delphi, a question can be posed and through an artistic process wisdom can be invoked . The activity of participating in the art process builds capacities of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. The art itself “speaks” and can be observed in ways that allow the meaning to be communicated. These three capacities of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, are no longer haphazard, chance experiences but rather capacities that can be called on for any activity involving thinking, feeling and creating.

Trees Communicate with us through Images         

My most recent research in this area began about three years ago when I had an idea to work with a tree through meditation/visualization and to “ask” the tree what it might like to show on paper with line and colour. I “listened” to the response, trusting the image/thought that came to me. I did this for several hours slowly building up a picture. (I use Derwent Inktense pencils for this work which can be used as a drawing pencil which is wetted, allowed to dry and drawn over again ) The result was intriguing and I moved over to a second tree, it was the same type ( Silver Maple about 60 years old) that grew nearby….the second picture was dramatically different from the first.

There were two more trees growing in proximity and I did the same thing with each. Again there was an astonishing variety between the pictures…this raised many questions and set me off on a journey that included working with trees as old as 2000 years ( an oak in Glastonbury , England). I have about 200 of these tree “conversations” in art. I have worked with trees in urban settings as well as rural/wild areas in the United States ( New York City), England ( London and also Hereford, Glastonbury, Avebury etc.), Wales, Ireland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Guatemala and Canada ( the Toronto area).

Functions of Various Trees      

A tree will have a certain “function” that it performs on behalf of a certain area and they also have a “personality” or tree spirit.  I am discovering that the trees of a certain species, say Oak, which have many varieties ,do have certain tendencies to be “STORYTELLERS” who offer images/stories and also seem to be interested in the “news” of the world.

I find that trees will sometimes show me something about human activity that is taking place near where it is growing. One example was a Linden tree in Slovenia that I was able to return to after an initial brief conversation ( I was constrained by travelling with a group who had to leave that site at a certain time)  . I discovered under its canopy a group of local people dressed in traditional costume, playing local instruments and singing and dancing! I realized that this was a celebratory tree that participated in local culture and traditions!! I was taken back to be shown the “meaning” of the image I had received from the tree.

I have worked with a wide variety of trees including Linden, Maple (many different kinds including the Sycamore or Plane trees in London), Beech, Cypress, Cedar of Lebanon, Pine, Fig, Olive, Mango, Avocado, Hocote ( unique to Guatemala) and more.

Some trees seem to be participating in what I would call a global network of tree being/consciousness and they are able to offer/facilitate new thoughts/imaginations to human beings in response to our questions and conflicts. I feel that our relationship with trees is a vast and rich resource that through collaboration and this new form of “divination” or listening communication can infuse our thinking about world problems AND ALSO PERSONAL problems to a new level.

Finally, I am delighted to report that trees also seem to have a very good sense of humor! I have come to enjoy what I call “Tree jokes! Certain trees, in particular ,the very old( 300 years plus) Oaks in Sweden, can enjoy having a joke at my expense!!!!

I invite you to open yourself to trees to explore new dimensions of relationship. I have started to work with groups, introducing one way of connecting with the inner world of trees! Many people that I meet have a story of a certain tree that was important in their life, a tree “confidante”. I was laughing with another tree enthusiast as we imagined parades in the future, much like the gay pride parades of today, but instead they will be for all the people “ coming out of the woods”. Tree lovers of all ages, religions, races and nationalities!!!

 

The Ancient Trollsgarden Oak: OOland Sweden: A sea of sounding colour

Prior to my understanding what my Maple tree friend ( In cedarvale ravine in Toronto in 2005) meant by “Make art with me”: ( at first I though he meant make art for him or using /displaying it on his body but I have come to understand that he meant “with” literally and I have yet to go and DO that with him. It is on my list for the spring.) I did have significant relationships with trees.

In Barbados in the Caribbean( winter 1978) I remember a day outing into the landscape away from the world of hotels and swimming pools. We were taken to a spice plantation and we entered a grove of trees. I was sure I was in a fairy tale. I was permeated by the smell of cinnamon and I had no idea where it was coming from. When our guide told us these were the trees where cinnamon came from I was still looking with a puzzled glance here and there…that’s when it became clear. The bark of the cinnamon tree IS cinnamon. I was brought to tears. It took my breath away and I could have stood there for days. I was so sorry to be rushed along.

Fast forward thirty- five years and I have my back to an old Swedish Oak-probably 200-300 years old. The ground is sprinkled with delicate magical white flowers with little starlike faces. There is moss, there are rocks and water in the distance, it is absolutely heavenly. I introduce myself to this majestic grandfather. I have discovered that the trees in Sweden don’t have to get used to the approach of a human being for conversation.  I attribute this to the continuity of a culture of storytelling and belief around the elemental beings. In my exchange with this Oak tree I’m bubbling away about children’s books and this and that ( all inner “silent” exchanges). I have the sense the tree is enthusiastically supporting me and it “says” “ Yes and you could make these beautiful handmade children’s books with “oak” paper.” I paused…I reflected. I recognized I was being teased a bit-“Oak paper” would of course require felling oak trees! I realized, not for the last time, that trees have a sense of irony and certain trees love to tease.

We travelled for a few days and visited an island called “Ooland: . At the northern most tip of that island was a park called “ Trollgarden”. The most treasured feature of this special forest ( with a boardwalk designed to be fully wheelchair accessible) is the beloved Troll tree a 1,000 year old Oak. I approached this being with reverence and gratitude. I had only 20 minutes next to him- I entered the consciousness of the tree and discovered a burgeoning sea of movement and colour. I felt a peace as if swept up in a wave of time. I felt humanity flowing, singing and dancing around the tree connecting to the ocean in a flow or river of thought and deed. I quickly sketched an impression of it from the outside and thanked it deeply. I tore myself away reluctantly. I had an experience of the inner worlds unlike any other I’ve had before or since perhaps as Marjorie Spock described how about the etheric realm- IT WAS A SEA OF SOUNDING COLOUR.

Researching Relationships with Trees: My first experiment

I was agitated, angry and sad in other words full of disruptive emotions! I was walking my dog wondering how I would or could communicate about what I perceived as a lie. I heard a radio interview hailing a work travelling the world that consisted of dead human bodies, infused with plastic and propped up in strange positions ‘as if’ they were “doing” some kind of activity e.g. skiing. Body Worlds was touted as a work of Science and even as Art and most horrifically to me, as Educational.

As I walked the dog I turned to follow the sweep of the path which led to ‘my’ tree. There were five mature maple trees lining the upper edge of a curving hillside. These trees overlook the expanse of the Cedarvale park. “My” tree was the second one. The particular form of her branches became a great comfort to me when I recognized them from a distance.

I had decided some months earlier to experiment. I read a book called “Nature Spirits and What They Say” by Verena Stael von Holstein where through conversations with places ( e.g. an old Mill) substances (e.g. Salt) and aspects in nature such as a marsh the beings of these conveyed their experiences/consciousness, their particular point of view. They were communicating so that Verena understood what they meant, each had a unique ‘grammar’ or way of connecting thoughts and words. Verena describes the experience as connecting with the place that comes before words and concepts!!!

A Sketch of my friend the red Maple tree in Cedarvale Ravine 2005
A Sketch of my friend the red Maple tree in Cedarvale Ravine 2005

For my experiment I chose one tree. I knew I would visit with some regularity as it was in the park where I often walked my dog.

What would happen if I turned my attention to this one tree every day with the same kind of inner interest and warmth that I carry into a conversation with a friend? Of course there would be a period of getting to know each other. I looked forward to that. I took careful notice of all of my sense impressions, objects in the environment, encounters with people, animals, and sounds. I decided that I would observe everything as if it was “speaking” to me. I would arrive each day and lean my back up against the trunk. I had learned that approaching trees in this way respected the shy nature of the tree spirit.

The first week of my new friendship there were various surprises. My foot caught the edge of something on the ground , “Another piece of garbage”, I thought. I would always pick up any garbage I found on my walks so I bent down to pick up this clear plastic shape and when I saw what it was I laughed aloud – it was a form for a plaster cast – the shape in this case was an angel – wings and head – as it turned out I had this exact relief in plaster, and it had been given to me many years ago and it had some significance. Syncronicity.

The next day I greeted “my” tree and sat down on a bench that was placed conveniently on the other side of the path . I could meditate and close my eyes to concentrate on making a connection with the tree. As I was about to sit my eyes caught sight of some graffiti sprayed onto the back support of the bench. There were small musical notes also sprinkled around the words… The words read “In glory singing praises” again I laughed. I had “seen” this bench hundreds of times and this writing had never caught my attention if, in fact, it had been there before. I took these sweet and “real” outer world “things” to be a response to my intention and attention. They had an aura of magic and a great beauty concealed within the ordinary, even what could be considered “ugly”, expression of human activity –i.e. graffiti or garbage.

Back to the day where I was so shattered by the little voice of a five year old girl saying on the National Radio “I learned that bodies have plastic in them and can do lots of stuff…” The broadcaster came on afterwards praising the educational value of the exhibit.

I ‘shared’ my distress with the tree, asking “How can I communicate what is missing – what is wrong with the THINKING behind this work…?” Then I was aware of “thinking” or perceiving a series of very simple and direct images. The first image was of a living tree. It was cut down. It was transported inside a large building and made to stand erect by means of an elaborate mechanical support which required time, resources and human engineering. Then each leaf is dipped in a plastic, hardened and attached one leaf at a time to the branches. Then a group of school children are brought in, walking in a straight and orderly line. An adult gestures towards the tree. This is the “lesson” on trees.

All of this took place in a flash. It came as IMAGE and I immediately laughed out loud. It was brilliant, simple, clear and even humorous. Tree jokes!! It contained irony. How could that be? My mood shifted and I went home to write a letter to the radio program with this image described in the letter as a starting point to make my plea for some sense about what a child would and would not take from exposure to “Body Worlds”.

I was astonished at the efficient and direct communication by this tree. My encounters continued. I often arrived with strong and turbulent emotions to this tree friend and was comforted and soothed . I received what I might  call good advice .

I was moved to offer the tree a gift… I asked the tree what it would like from me as a gift… The response I was given was a plea for “Art” “What kind of art?”, I asked. What materials, what form? The response “You’re the artist”…so I pondered this and pondered it but could not come to a satisfactory conclusion. I was aware each time I visited that my promise was not yet fulfilled. I decided to just do something so I brought my sketch pad and some coloured pencils looking deeply and carefully at every nuanced shape, the branching, the shape of the canopy, the protruding roots, the texture of the bark – I appreciated the individual unique beauty of that tree. Again I asked what kind of art? No response. In fact I felt a bit of a sullen silence. This might be strange to say as we experience the silence of trees as a given… There are the subtle sounds of rustling leaves or branches creaking in big gusts – or rain dripping off the canopy…where outer silence gives over to inner conversation, where meditative visualizations, the metamorphic panorama of images, thought and feeling take place in the hidden heart that is where the trees become like thunder beings – awake and changed as is the air is in a storm with great burgeoning thoughts and imaginations.

I flailed about trying to understand the tree’s request for Art – I decided in the meantime to make a gift, even feeling that it somehow didn’t really fulfill the invitation. At first I just tried sketching the tree (the two attempts shown). But that did not seem to satisfy the request.

Then I gathered my jewelry-making tools and copper wire. I selected many large, beautiful beads. Some were semi-precious stones, others hand-carved seeds or wood, others one of a kind handmade clay beads, some colourful glass beads. I made two single strands that I intended to join onto the tree branches. I decided to attach them to the tree when the park was most likely to be empty…I brought an ladder, my beautiful copper creation, some pliers and wire to attach it to the tree. As soon as I entered the park I an older Scottish woman who I often met on morning walks in a different park came up to me. She was my father’s neighbour . She immediately saw my strange accessories (not easy to conceal a ladder) and she asked me what I was doing. I said without too much thought – “Well, I am an artist and I’ve made a gift to give to a tree”. She looked perplexed trying to find a concept in her worldview that resembled anything I was describing… She said something politely and went quickly on her way. That was not exactly what I had in mind in terms of surreptitiously giving the gift to the tree.

Then as I turned the corner around a small hill where that I could see my tree across the bowl of the field I noticed a police car parked in the lot next to the field…what? Is it possible that what I was doing might be considered vandalism? Then I arrived at the tree and sitting on the bench opposite (which was empty most of the time) there was a young man and his dogs. My goodness…what I felt was being conveyed was that this work could not be done anonymously but had to be witnessed and done openly. Much like our experience of trees themselves – we ‘see’ them – and may even love them – but these alternative and deeper aspects of tree nature are not noticed nor acknowledged.

I arrived at the tree and set up my ladder. I found a lovely place where the branches met and assembled the ‘branchlets’ so there were two loops gracing the place where the branches joined. It looked beautiful – elegantly harmonizing with the form of the tree and also catching the eye . I folded the ladder and went home.

My son was visiting a week later and I was excited to bring him to see the tree adorned with my gift. I had the feeling it could be a wonderful work to adorn trees in this way all around the world! When we arrived at the tree I saw the branches bare and empty of any ornaments. The branchlets were gone. I was saddened…wanting to share it with my son, wanting the tree to have that gift eternally and wondering what kind of intention was behind the removal…yet I knew that the way I reacted in front of my son was important. Was I going to be attached through the egotism of my own small deed? Some days later I was telling my mother what happened. She dismissed my worry and said with firm certainty,” Oh never mind dear the gnomes have taken the branchlets and they are very pleased with them!” Well I don’t know although I am reminded that even though there was not an outer ongoing presence of my little creation, the deed was done and that could not be undone. I continued to wonder. What did the tree mean that I was to give a gift of Art?