Red Pine

Red Pine[Edited: I learned 2/12/18 that this is actually a pitch pine. See my new blog post.] There is a red pine in the middle of our back yard… the only big tree (40 plus feet) that is not at the edge of the yard. But I have been struggling to create an affectionate relationship with this tree. I have had other very special trees in my life, and I loved the many trees that surrounded our home in North Yarmouth.  So why is this one hard?

I have been reading a lovely book, The Garden Awakening by Mary Reynolds, which is focused on creating a relationship with our land. She talks about trees as the guardians of the land.  So if we want to go deeper with the land, we need to go deeper with the trees.  That got me thinking again about the challenge of the red pine.

Perhaps it started when we first moved here, and were concerned about trees possibly shading the solar panels.  Or perhaps it is tied to my grief about the maple tree that was by the side of our house which we did have to take down because of dangerous branches and solar shading.  I loved that tree, and felt the contradiction so acutely: even though the maple tree was willing, and its wood became the ground layer mulch for our future orchard.  We decided that the solar panels would be okay with the pine tree’s slight shading, but it did get us off to a wary start.

So here it is.  It was identified as a red pine by an arborist who came by.  Right now, I have an intention to go deeper with this tree.  I want to understand all the dimensions of this relationship.  Some things that feel difficult to me:  The branches are all too high to reach, so it feels rather aloof.  When the pinecones drop, and there are lots of them, the ground underneath becomes difficult to walk on.  All around the tree there are old pinecones half buried in the grass from many years past.  If I could pick one word to describe my feeling of the tree, it would be “prickly.”

What helps? Last spring, we held an introduction to permaculture design course at our house, and many of the participants commented on the loveliness of the pine tree. There is a beautiful asymmetry in its branches. Their appreciation of the tree helped me to see its beauty.  The red pine is native to North America.  They can live up to 350-500 years.  Some sources said pine trees are symbols of longevity and wisdom.

Red Pine BarkOne website mentioned that its roots “are moderately deep and wide spreading. The lateral root masses also send down “sinkers” which anchor the tree very well in the soil. Red pines are very wind firm because of this dense root system.”

Okay, deep roots and anchors in the soil. I like that. I am investigating medicinal uses: one might be pine needle tea, which is good for immune function, bronchitis, and many other ailments.  More to research here.  This morning, I took pictures of the pine, and stood next to it, leaning against the bark.  What do you have to teach me, dear red pine?

 

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Rebuilding Relationship with Indigenous Peoples

Penobscot Flag, Photo by Margy Dowzer

Penobscot Flag, Photo by Margy Dowzer

Speaking to non-Indigenous people, if we want to rebuild a positive relationship between ourselves and Indigenous people, we need first of all to learn how to listen to stories of loss and pain. Listening is not about fixing something, or feeling guilty, or giving advice. Listening is about being present and opening our hearts to the experience of someone who has a story to tell.

When I visited Indian Island with the Giving Winds campaign, we listened to Penobscot elder Donna Loring talk about some of the history between white people and Indians in Maine. There are moments when the pain of such listening feels almost too much to bear, but I remind myself how much more painful it must be for the one telling the story. Then I feel such gratitude that someone is willing to share these stories with us.

If we want to rebuild these relationships, it is also helpful to be aware of some of the traps into which we might fall. One trap is denial. Denial is a tendency to minimize the damage, or scapegoat the victim to avoid the pain of what has happened. One example is the belief that Native Americans have benefited by being absorbed into white culture. Another form of denial is the myth that it all happened in the past and it’s over now. Denial interferes with our ability to be present and to listen. For healing to occur, we must acknowledge the brokenness of the bonds between us.

Another trap in our culture today is the temptation to romanticize Indians and Indian culture. I call this trap “wanting to be Indian.” The romantic stereotype is that all Indians are mystical teachers, close to the earth and bearers of a better way to live. One of the most problematic manifestations of this trap is the widespread marketing of so-called “Native American Spirituality.” What is advertised as Native American spirituality is a distortion, fragments of Indian spiritual practices taken out of context. Most Indigenous people are outraged and frustrated by this abuse of their culture and religions.

Janet McCloud, a Tulalip elder and fishing rights activist, says:

First they came to take our land and water, then our fish and game. …Now they want our religions as well. All of a sudden, we have a lot of unscrupulous idiots running around saying they’re medicine people. And they’ll sell you a sweat lodge ceremony for fifty bucks. It’s not only wrong, it’s obscene. Indians don’t sell their spirituality to anybody, for any price. This is just another in a very long series of thefts from Indian people and, in some ways, this is the worst one yet.

I believe this issue of spiritual theft is especially important for those of us who are seeking to reconnect with the earth. We might naturally seek to learn from the people who have honored their connection to the land. And it is important to acknowledge that there is much to be learned from Native peoples. But in our search for help, we can do damage too, because of the context of the broken bonds between us. If we are not sharing the pain and the struggles of Indian peoples, then what right do we have to share in the celebrations?Solstice MJ IMG_0057

These ideas were previously explored in my essay “Wanting to Be Indian: When Spiritual Searching Turns into Cultural Theft” now available online in pdf format.  The quote from Janet McCloud was originally published in Z Magazine, Dec. 1990.

Sand Castles

Sand Castle

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Harold Kushner tells a story:

I was sitting on a beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand. They were hard at work building an elaborate sand castle by the water’s edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages. Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand. I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work. But they surprised me. Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle.

All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spend so much time and energy creating, are built on sand. Only our relationships to other people endure. Sooner or later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up. When that happens, only the person who has somebody’s hand to hold will be able to laugh.

From When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, (New York: Fireside, 1986) p. 165-166.