“The call to honor the mothering we have received in our lives is the sacred work of community. If we do not know where we come from, how can we know where we are going?”
~ Shiloh Sophia
I am sitting by a small but mighty tree. I am listening to the branches. Manzanita was the kind of tree that fascinated me as a child up on the mountain. This tree is so different than every other tree I know with the curling paperbark the color of cinnamon. This color red is my mother Caron’s favorite.
Red like red ochre, red on the hands of the first mothers making marks on a cave wall. Red like the iron of exploding stars. The smooth red elegant reaching arms and the tiny white bell flowers and the luminous green leaves at the first burst of sun in winter’s yawn.
I hope a poem will travel down my arm like Alice Walker says it can. I hope I will hear a clear message to share with you. I have asked the Manzanita her name, for she is friends with Eleanor the Oak, who lives just next door, but she isn’t saying yet.
She, the Manzanita, tells me I need to be quiet longer, to look closer, to understand more before she can tell me. She is younger than most of the trees here but speaks with the wisdom of her evolutionary ancestors. She has spent a lot of time adapting to her environment with over 100 species throughout California alone. That is a lot of adapting. Californians have followed a similar route I see, shapeshifting ourselves to our landscape, our climate, our eventual desert migration or fall into the sea. We shall see.
I saved her, the Manzanita, from certain death not long ago. They were just about to cut her down when I asked them to “please, stop. Not that one”. They were clearing ‘brush’ on the land, fire breaks, and although it needs to be done, I feel sorrow every time a tree is cut down, no matter how small. I have heard trees and plants have intelligence, and emotion, and response – and I believe it. Even if she won’t tell me her name. Yet.
That’s why I can’t go to Burning Man. A few years ago I felt I could hear the trees discussing the whole shebang. It wasn’t the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll I couldn’t bear, I like a good party especially when pink fur pants are involved, and glowing bicycles. What got me was the thought that the trees weren’t appreciative of this kind of ceremony – I felt I could hear the wood talking about the creation, followed by devastation, and how they could make houses for those without houses. How the wood that was once a tree had a different trajectory than burning in mind for the future.
When I was there I was thinking about how we should walk from the desert right to the snow and stand at Standing Rock instead of crash and burn. We left before the burn. Jonathan didn’t say no, and I was grateful. Imagine if everyone at Burning Man chose to stand for the rights of Indigenous peoples as their priority, what kind of press and traction we could get with that kind of ceremony. I often wonder what it will take for us in the United States to choose to put our focus on healing, of this land, first. Not judging, just asking, what would it take?
As I listen to the Manzanita I think of my teacher Sue’s voice and the things she would say when we were painting or drawing outdoors.
“Make friends with the tree. When you paint it, ‘write the bark’, that is how icons are made, through ‘writing’. Sit real still and look with only your eyes. Focus. Then, touch it and trace it with your finger. Talk to her. There are messages there amongst the branches, you know.”
Yes Sue, I know, now I know. I was young and restless then. I am quieter these days. Today, a day that the world honors women, I am grateful for my many women teachers. I am honoring them today with a reading of stories about Matriarchal Roots. But there is something else. I am astonished that we are still fighting for the same rights my female ancestors fought for. When I was young, I thought as soon as everyone understands if they hurt one woman or child, all of us are hurt, they would stop the violence. I thought if only the predators could remember the mother they came from. But I was wrong about this and so many other things. I never cease to be astonished. May I always walk in both the wonder at the beauty and the wondering at the violence.
Today, I can’t help but wonder, what else I could spend my time on if I wasn’t doing my part to end violence? What would the entire world of women be able to create, if we weren’t continually fighting for clean air, water, food? Standing for equal rights for all.
What a wonder to dream of what we could do…
I ask you now; if you weren’t spending so much of your time and resources defending yourself against the future, making a living to stay alive, fighting for the rights of your child or your elder, minding your addictions and your vitamins and trying to be kind when you are furious, what might you do with your time?
Your time is precious. You are precious. Just for today. Just for this moment. Pause with me? Ask yourself, if your time was yours, how would you invite it to unfold? What story would you tell?
The thing is, our time really isn’t ours if we want to keep our lives in order. There are things we have to do every day to manage that. Insert laundry, taxes, paperwork, job, kids, cats, fires, floods, storm warnings and fake news.
But I know this.
Your mind is yours. Your consciousness is YOURS to curate.
I guess that is what I really do, to find rest in the restlessness, I invite those who cross my path to remember, your mind is yours. What will you do with it? I was taught this by my mothers.
Sue and my mother Caron didn’t tell me how to occupy my consciousness in a literal way as I do with those who study with me in Intentional Creativity. They did tell me that I could think my own thoughts and should do my best to think thoughts other than those of the patriarchal constructs. I was only five when they told me that, my cousin Bridget, not much older. We understood because at that time our family was separating into those who were friends and lovers with men and those who were not.
So we had the idea – think for yourself – and we had art – and labor on the land. And yes, we were both taught to listen to trees. We also both were taught how to slaughter animals so we knew where our food came from. That is a story for another day though.
I am sure that – thinking your own thoughts and making art and working hard – were connected in their minds with the idea that girls could make up their own minds. But they didn’t tell us – “Here girls, this is how you gain access to your thoughts. And here is how you translate that into action.” I don’t think they knew quite what they were doing – they were so in it. Since our grandmothers didn’t know how to do it, inhabiting consciousness was quite new to our family.
Waking up and making connections would happen later because we did join the resistance through education. But I can’t help but wonder. If I wasn’t spending so much of my life force defending my right to my body and my own thoughts. What might my life look like? For today I will spend time there. Luxuriating in the company of this manzanita and listening for clues.
Sue used to draw human consciousness as a tree. She would show me how the branches of the tree were like neural pathways of development, firing synapses that I could choose to activate at will. And so I will.
Blessings to you and your mothering ones, dear ones, on this International Day to honor women and what they bring us. Without women, no life. Period. We are the beginning and the end of the story.
With the love of my ancestral roots beneath my slippers,
I was working on this painting last night, and took the photo of the Manzanita this morning and brought them together.