Walking around a lake with my puppy, Leela, the other day, I couldn’t help but notice all the creatures on the road: caterpillars, snails, slugs. It had rained the previous evening and through the night, so the ground was still damp; the perfect environment for all the creeping-crawling-sliming things.
Where were they going, I wondered? Crossing the road – to get to the other side? That seemed a Herculean task given their size and the width of the road as well as the time it would take to get there.
How much time would it take them, I wondered? Even more curious, how long do they get to live in optimum conditions that crossing this road this morning is what they've chosen to do? Snails - maybe 2-3 years or more. Caterpillars - I guess it depends on the caterpillar. Slugs – 1 to 5 years.
Maybe that’s enough time to do whatever it is they do, so that moving this slowly across a road is time well spent.
Then, it struck me. They were taking it slow even though their natural lives weren’t more than the blink of an eye for us, because this is what they do: they wait for a good rain; cross the road to get to the other side. That’s it, and here we are, we humans, dashing about, waving our arms, wasting precious time, of which we’ve been given an abundance, and for what?
We are rarely satisfied or fulfilled; rarely happy with ourselves or our lives. There’s always something to improve or change or let go of; always something we’re told we’re lacking so we shop and fill our lives with things. Is that our version of crossing the road? Is that what we’re meant to do, or is there a deeper lesson in the slow, steady path of a snail, caterpillar or slug?
Here’s what I take away from that. Life is short. Take it slow.
“This isn’t the 1920s and people today have more respect for nature. Trees are not billboards designed to be written on, they’re living beings and you’d shouldn’t deface living beings. If you want to give yourself a tattoo, that’s your business, but tattooing someone else without their permission is just wrong! And tree carvings are tree tattoos.”
I recently visited Bayard Cutting Arboretum and the giant Weeping Beech tree, under whose branches there’s a boardwalk so we humans can walk around the base of this 130-year-old gentle giant and view her in all her magnificence … and all her tattoos.
She’s been defaced over the years with initials, names, words and hearts that beg the promise of love everlasting; a love which probably didn’t last as long as the scars on the tree will last. Permanent scars.
I spent some time with this tree this past week; this beautiful Weeping Beech; ironically named, for all the pain it’s felt with every knife carving into it. And yet, what I found was not anger, or victimization. What I found was a sadness and, something else; an immense honor in the scars it bears. As I placed my hand on this tree and listened, these were the words I imagined:
“Believe it or not, it got easier over the years to feel the sharp blade of someone or someones leaving a lasting legacy in my bark. Yes, at first, there was surprise, even horror, until I tried to understand them. I realized that those someones saw me as something capable of holding that legacy they probably didn’t even know they longed for; knowing that I’d live beyond them, carrying this moment in time far longer than any human could. I might even imagine that they believed other humans would come by and wonder ‘who carved this?’ or ‘who were these lovers, soulmates or was their love unrequited?’ I realized that they entrusted me to tell their story, or at least hold the mystery and wonder of their story. How sad that humans try so hard to be seen, known and heard! That their presence here on this planet isn’t enough for them. Too bad they couldn’t see this from the perspective of a tree; never moving from the spot on which I was seeded or planted and yet capable of dancing in the wind and being a home to the birds and other living beings! What more could these humans want?
I only wish they realized that I, too, was a living being, with a wish to create a legacy through my presence. That, while one carving might not be deep enough to allow pathogens in; that I’ll usually compartmentalize the wound and it will eventually heal over, that repeated carvings might allow an invasive fungus or microbe in; that leaving their legacy might end mine; that multiple carvings deface me to the point of unrecognizable bark until I am no longer a fine specimen of a Weeping Birch. I am now a fine specimen of human ignorance. And one ignorance leads to another; permission to carved something in me because someone, before you, did so already.
I hold hundreds of scars; tattoos; evidence of human ignorance and longing. I’ve survived. In fact, I live to be a teacher of these ignorant acts of humans; not with anger or resentment. You can see how strong I am; that I continue to grow in my one spot allotted me for life. I live to be a teacher of kindness and compassion. When someone places their hands on me today, there is a sweetness and gentleness to that touch. Sometimes, there is even an apology, a whisper, “Please forgive what they did to you”; oh-so-softly, so only I can hear it.
What more could a tree want in that moment?”
Linda Lombardo 11/30/2018
 The laidbackgardener.blog
Those of us, living in the Northeast United States, are especially fond of Autumn, when the leaves on the trees turn a resplendent array of colors: the brightest yellows, reds, oranges or sometimes, yes, even the lowliest of browns. The crunch of the fallen leaves under foot is a harbinger of the deep rest that is to come; the temperature drops and we bundle up. It just feels right. It’s why it’s called Fall, right?
Leading forest therapy walks in the forest at this time of year holds some special invitations: all about letting go, and yet, there is more to it than that; more to it than a leaf changing color and falling off a tree. In fact, it’s quite the other way around. It is the tree that chooses, and it is the tree that pushes the leaves off its branches.
According to our botanists, when the days get colder and shorter, a hormone is triggered in the trees. Once the hormone is released, the trees begin to deposit cells where the leaf and the tree connect. These cells are called abscission cells; the word literally meaning scissors. As these cells build up, the leaf and the tree begin to separate until, finally, the leaf is severed from its connection to the tree and it falls. The tree literally pushes the leaf away. Once it’s done that, the tree heals itself producing another, specialized layer of cells.
Not all leaves are pushed away and not all trees do this. Our evergreens keep their needle-like leaves year-round. Only Deciduous trees release their leaves in order to survive the winter and prepare for new growth in the Spring. Imagine the dead-weight of all those leaves if they didn’t fall. How would a tree create a new growth without releasing the past?
And the big question is … how might this inform our Human lives?
We talk about letting go; releasing what doesn’t serve us. So many of our global stories no longer serve us and yet, we hold on. Same holds true for personal stories: people, places, our clutter, money and our jobs. How will we invite new growth if our arms are full of old stories; our hearts full of grief and our minds so cluttered that we can no longer bear the silence in which discovery emerges? What would it take to create that release; that slow and steady cutting off of the thing(s) no longer needed; in fact, harmful to us if we allow them to remain?
An invitation to explore this in concert with a tree should come as no surprise. Who else to teach us how to release, to push off the unwanted? At the same time, let’s not forget those vivid colors; the red, gold, and orange colors of release. To be released with such love; not quietly, no, with splendor. What a gift!
How might you release an old story with love, with splendor?
Go into the forest, or park, or preserve. Find a tree with color surrounding it. I invite you to pick up some leaves: one, or as many as you can hold, and raise your arms up high, as if you were a tree, it’s branches full of the leaves that once gave you life. Name them, your stories, if you choose. Otherwise, simple stand with your leaves until your arms get tired; until you get tired of standing with these leaves from a season past. Then one by one, or all at once, imagine building a cellular wall between you and the leaves, notice their colors. They do not go quietly, do they? Once you’ve made the separation between you and your leaves, release them; push them off. Wait. Don’t go yet. What does it feel like to release them? Hands, free of old stories. Wiggle those fingers; maybe even wave your arms. Yes!
The tree also teaches us that there’s a resting period between this act of love, the freedom of release and new growth. A deep resting time to trust that we’re in the mystery of something extraordinary; something primordial. So, I invite you to rest, deeply. Don’t even consider Spring. The tree doesn’t and yet, it buds and blooms, and grows new leaves every Spring without fail. It trusts that’s how it works.
Time to trust how you work; how the world works in interbeing with you. Sweet dreams. See you in Spring.
Linda Lombardo, certified Forest Therapy Guide
I think of the poem, ‘Lost’, by David Wagoner.
“Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.”
One line in particular stands out for me:
‘If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost.’
I wonder, in a poem filled with such hope,
Why he chose to add that one particular line.
There is hope.
There is hope.
Unless you can’t see the connection between
You and all living things.
Then, you’re surely lost.
Arguably, some judgment there, even if it’s true
In my story, in your story;
Just not the stories
Of so many who cannot see the connection to
Other. Living. Beings. except to exploit them, or
Abandon them in hurricanes and floods;
Except to hunt them, even if they are the
Last. Of. Their. Kind.
And not only other species.
Our. Own. Species.
We are exploited by each other
and may already be the last of our kind, too.
And there is hope in the poem.
“Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.”
A beautiful expression that nature will always forgive us
And welcome us back. If only we’d just stand still for a moment.
The last line in the title of this article, “We are lost. Can we ever be found?” asks, “And who exactly is looking for us?”
Now, there’s a question.
I believe we are looking for us.
Each of us is looking for ourselves,
And we are looking for each other.
In order to do that, we need to
Let. Down. Our. Guard.
Stop trying to be so damn perfect,
So damn successful, so damn powerful,
So damn rich and impenetrable
In a world that is fragile at best.
Every day, we die just a little.
Some days, we die completely.
Let yourself be found.
Please, let yourself be found.
- Linda Lombardo 9.23.18
Ticks make a trip into the forest or meadow a serious adventure. It’s dampened my enthusiasm for being outdoors, even as a forest therapy guide. I walk in the woods with permethrin clothing, still spraying myself with (albeit) organic tick repellent. I tuck my permethrin-saturated pants into my permethrin-saturated socks. No joke. It isn’t fun. It’s hot. My body can’t breathe. It’s not how I want to be in the wilderness, and yet it’s how I must be.
I’ve come home with 2 ticks in the past few years. I hated both of them. They cost me, running to urgent care to be sure I got all of it out and getting some antibiotic cream ‘just to have on hand’. Now, after doing more reading, I see that any remnants of tick parts will fall off in a few days, so I can avoid a costly trip to the doctor.
An interesting side note, I told my new primary care physician that I’d had two tick bites in the last 2 years (yes, a miracle that it’s only 2 ticks) and while she recommended that I be tested for the Baby Boomer Hep C, she never once suggested I include a Lyme test in my bloodwork. I still wonder about that. The ticks were only attached for <24 hours and still, I always get a raised red patch as a sensitivity to the bite itself.
I always put my clothes in the dryer before washing them, including my sneakers. Permethrin clothing should be washed by itself so that’s an extra (small) load of laundry to do.
I’ve jumped out of my skin thinking I see a tick, when it’s nothing more than a piece of fuzz. I don’t like being on high alert for ticks and I have to be.
Ticks don’t come off in the shower, contrary to this video I watched. Not once they’ve latched on, at least. You’ve got to check yourself when you get home, top to bottom and showering is still required.
I was at C.E.E.D. in Brookhaven this summer when they released quail. It was a wonderful sight to see! And yet the question must be asked, “will they even eat the ticks?”, and “will the birds of prey or feral cat population make short shrift of the quail?” According to Eric at C.E.E.D., only one percent of the quail population lives to reproduce.
There are permit issues with releasing quail. I came across an article where someone released a certain species of ducks in a protected area and the land management people went crazy trying to capture the ducks before they invaded another species’ environment. Bob-white quail are native to Long Island, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
This also leads me to wonder about quail as a food source. Someone commented on Facebook, “Oh boy, quail hunting!” I don’t know that I’d want to eat a quail that’s been eating ticks. Do we know that quail are immune to Lyme, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? The only search that rendered any results about immunity to Lyme Disease was Opossums. One comment following the article stated that there’d been another study with a lizard (as if there’s only one kind) and the lizard was immune to Lyme. It begs the question, ‘are we at all interested in why Opossums are immune to Lyme disease?’
You think we’d be releasing Opossums, not quail.
Long Island’s parks and preserve management is notoriously passive. Trails are either passable or not. When I scout an area for a forest therapy walk, I avoid any trails that require me to duck, bob and weave, or worse, brush past long, tangling vines. My participants don’t want that, and I don’t want that for them. Not because it’s inconvenient but because I’m thinking ticks.
I was recently invited to engage in creating a forest therapy walk with an equine therapist in Virginia. At the end of the call, she added, “Oh, you know we have Lyme here, right?” Honey, I live on Long Island, was what I wanted to reply.
Ticks and Lyme Disease are serious threats to not only our health, our reconnection with nature. People don’t want to take off their rubber-insolated shoes and feel the earth beneath their feet. They just don’t. It’s dangerous.
I keep people on trails; wide ones, and if I invite them off trail to converse with a tree, I choose a spot with little to no underbrush. Pine areas are perfect for no underbrush. Otherwise, I choose a location where the trees are accessible on the trail.
Science takes money; money comes with interest. There just isn’t enough interest in what’s happening with ticks and Lyme Disease and not enough money ear-marked for wellbeing to make that happen.