Sunday, February 18, 2007

Planning With the Grove

A few months ago, I gave a talk at our UU congregation about Earth-centered spirituality and focused on my own experience with trees. I described as best I could how it feels to have a conversation with a tree. After the service, I was approached by about 6 or 7 different individuals who wanted to "confess" (really confirm and affirm) that they, too, had these experiences. Most were men. Most seemed terribly relieved, delighted even, to have someone mark out loud an experience they had known personally for some time.

Today, I went out into the grove behind my house, having been drawn there, as I understand it, by the space itself. A few days ago, while jogging, the grove suddenly came to mind, and in particular, the space at the back of the grove where I had been considering a Druid's garden, this image came to me. The space is an oblong circle (or an oval) set off by pine or oak trees at the cardinal positions (pine at east and south, oak at west and north). The pines are 25-30 feet tall and about a foot at the base. The oaks are youngish and I think "water oaks" which are not always very large anyway, more like 15-20 feet tall and 5-10 inches at the base. The image that came to me was a classical labyrinth set in that oval with Druidic herbs planted in and among and around the labyrinth--so a garden labyrinth. The space would become at once a garden and a place for walking meditation.

I went to the space just now to tell the space of my idea, and to listen for its permission and direction. This kind of "talking for me" is a combination of images and words which I use very quietly. I think the words are mostly for me, and the images are the energy form that trees and plants communicate with.

I sketched the space and made notes about trees, etc. And then, I began asking the plants and trees for permissions. The space within the oval is filled with blackberry bramble, honeysuckle vines, and small saplings and other scrub that has grown up in what had been once open space within the grove. (I mentioned in the earlier post that this seems to have been farmed at one time, and I suspect that opening may have resulted from that. The opening in the grove is also about 30-40 feet from the stream that runs at the back boundary of my property.

Specifically: I asked blackberry if I might cut and remove the bramble in the oval, but that I would want her to relocate through her roots to the outer edges. I love blackberry and would not want her to disappear. She gave permission as long as I do this before spring sprouting begins. Honeysuckle gave an immediate nod of approval for the same. I asked all of the trees for permission to remove small saplings and small trees that are in the oval. Honestly, if they all grew, they would crowd each other terribly. The message I got back was an affirmative, but where possible, I should dig saplings up and relocate them toward the stream. Finally, I asked the space about placing the garden-labyrinth there. The image I got back was that this space had inspired this from the beginning and had called me to this image. In other words, the idea of the labyrinth garden came from the space itself. In a sense, I already knew this.

I started to leave, and then realized that I need to ask one more permission: of poison oak, ivy and sumac. I knew they were there, but I could not see them. I asked them if they would locate outside of the oval and be our guardians, not our enemies. The reply: yes, if you will do the same for us.

This space, from the day I began working in it draws me as space for human beings, perhaps only this human being, but I sense others, to find new and deeper communion with the earth, with nature, and with the particular trees of this grove.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

In the Grove

I'd like to share an experience and an adventure that I began this past
week, one that has been taking shape interiorly for some time now.
When my wife and I bought this house, (metro Atlanta) we knew that based
on our jobs as teachers, we would have certain areas that we needed to
try and find housing in--largely for school zones for our children and transportation/fuel concerns in our commutes. Most of our affordable options were in
subdivisions-not very high on our list of priorities. So, we insisted
that the real estate agent show us only subdivisions where trees had

been left alone as much as possible. The short of it is that we found
this house in a very large subdivision built by one architect who wove
the subdivision in and around the small river and large tract of what I
am sure had been untouched woods 20 years ago. The home owners'
association contract, which all owners must sign, requires a
neighborhood approval on the removal of all trees. In other words, we
don't cut down trees!

Our property runs long behind our house into the woods and all the way
to the river (stream). This past week, I began a project that, as I
say, has been taking shape in my imagination. I want to create a living
relationship with those woods, with the grove behind our house, and in
that relationship find spaces where I can spend quiet, meditative time and
where I can have a garden. There is a space in the heart of the
grove between our house and the stream that is fairly encircled with
large trees (mostly oak), and closer to the stream, there is an open
area-open to the sun-bounded in the cardinal directions by trees whose
type I have not identified yet. They are hardwood, it seems, and one
may even be a pear tree.

So, last Wednesday, I began. Beginning meant standing at the edge of
the grove and talking for a while with the nature spirits of the grove,
and sharing with them the dream that I had inside me, and asking if they
would work with me, help me, guide me in 1) making a walking, safe path
through the grove to the stream and potential garden site. The path
would need to be cleared of accumulated twigs, fallen trees, leaves,
vines, etc so that humans could walk without fear of unseen snakes,
holes and poison oak/ivy. 2) establishing a circle at the center of the
grove within which I could sit, meditate, reflect; 3) cultivating the
open space within the trees as a garden with herbs and perhaps some fruit/vegetables for my family's use.

And then, I listened. What I received was this kind of message/wisdom
and direction. 1) They would work with me, but there was some
skepticism on the part of some of the nature spirits about whether I
would listen, so in a sense, I am being tested. They want to know if
they can trust me. 2) They insisted on removing no trees (except for an
occasional small one for which I would need to stop and receive
permission). Vines could be clipped and pruned as their underground root
network is vast, and they are free to put up shoots anywhere they like.
So, I was told, pruning vines (largely the vines I face are cat's paw-an
invasive thorny vine, wild muscadine, wild blackberry, and poison ivy)
for the purpose of making the path was acceptable. 3) They showed me
where they wanted me to lay the path-along what was already a a series
of natural openings along a very old fence that had once been there for
animals. More on that in a minute.

And so I began. I did ask them to protect me from poison ivy (I am
increasingly allergic, and with all the other vines that we have in the
grove, it's not always obvious, especially this time of year with most
leaves are gone). With my rake, I began sweeping out the path and with
my pruners, removing vines that fell in the path. I only worked a
couple of hours that first day, and the path took shape all the way to
the garden spot. It passes just by the western edge of what will be the
meditation circle and approaches the garden spot from the south-west. Along the
way, I found where stone and brick had been piled (how long ago I don't
know), but as I removed the pile, using the brick the line the path and
the stone I piled at the food of the oak that borders the western edge
of the circle, I asked the earth to tell me about what had gone on
there. I began to get mental images of a farm that had been there and
that this part of the wood had once held a pen for animals. I kept
seeing pigs.

When I left the grove at the end of that first day, I scattered cornmeal
as an offering to the nature spirits. I had done this at the opening of
the grove when I started my conversation earlier that day, and I ended
by scattering cornmeal all along the new path.

And that's where I am in this adventure. What I found, true to other
experiences, is that when I attempt to speak and listen to nature
spirits (I love JMG's phrase in several of his books-patterns of
energy), I find that what is communicated is not words, but impressions
and images. In other words (using words to try and describe non-verbal
experiences) patterns of energy use non-verbal patterns of energy to

We shall see how this unfolds, and I will post here and
keep journaling about what is happening in the grove.. I am excited that this interior vision
is taking shape.

I think that the garden
spot is going to be a bit more challenging for me to listen and work
simply because, while it is largely open with respect to trees, it has
quite a lot of smaller undergrowth that has clearly grown up there over
the last 10 or 15 years. This includes invasive blackberry. Wild
blackberries are delicious, but the plants are a thorny nightmare. I am
at this point, thinking that they qualify under the "vine" rule I was
given, but I will talk to them, and ask them to relocate through their
root system. Also, I'll ask for their assistance in clearing the space
for a more formal herb garden.