Thursday, December 26, 2019

A "Webbed Vision " - Toward a New World Story

"What might we see, how might we act, if we saw with a webbed vision? 
The world seen through a web of relationships…as delicate as spider’s silk, 
 yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.” 

The quote above, from theologian Catherine Keller, has been deeply important to me.   I first read her book "From a Broken Web" in 2008, when I was pursuing my "Hands of the Spider Woman" Community Arts Projects.  The first project  was at the Midland Center for the Arts (with the Alden B. Dow Creativity Center) in Michigan, then at the Creative Spirit Center, also  in Midland (with Kathy Space),  and last when I was a Resident Artist at the Henry Luce Center for the Arts and Religion in Washington D.C. 

Perhaps because I live in the Southwest,  the "legends of the Spider Woman" have always fascinated me as I encountered Her in native American art.  Spider Woman is an ubiquitous Creatrix found throughout the Americas, with her earliest known  origins among the Maya of South America.  Spider Woman manifests among the Navajo and the Pueblo Peoples of the Southwest as the "great Weaver".    Among the people of the Keresan Pueblo she is also called  Tse Che Nako,  the "Thought Woman" who weaves the worlds into being with the stories She tells.  Within this metaphor of the "great weaver",  Spider Woman waits at the center of the Web of life, within which we are all connected,  interwoven and co-creating.
Ts' its' tsi' nako, Thought-Woman, the Spider is sitting in her room thinking of a story now:   I'm telling you the story   She is thinking.
Keresan Pueblo Proverb from Carol Patterson-Rudolph 2

My path on the trail of  Spider Woman has been fraught with synchronicities, which I have come to think of as  touchstones along the way.  Synchonicities, to me, are a mystical part of the overlay (and the foundational "under")  of  the metaphor Dr. Keller writes  of.  As I write about   "A Webbed Vision" , for example, I note that for the past weeks a spider has made its home on the ceiling directly above the keyboard where I write.  I have come to think of that spider as my muse - perhaps, fancifully, she is Spider Woman's envoy,  weaving its patient web just  above my head, reminding me each day of a vision I want to hold.

In her 1989 book  Dr. Keller does not speak of the Native American Goddess Spider Woman, but she often  references  the Greek myth of  "Penelope".  Penelope is a name with  ancient origins that derive from an archaic  Greek word  meaning  "with a web on her face".   It is likely that Penelope was originally a Fate or Oracular Goddess before she was later demoted in patriarchal Greek mythology to the faithful wife of Odysseus, weaving and un-weaving a shroud to avoid her suitors (it's always  interesting the way myths are transformed to suit the evolving mythos and power base of different cultures).   Yet within the earlier context of a more egalitarian society, "Penelope" would be one who could "see" and "weave" the beginnings and the ends of a life.  She might have been personified with a loom before her, or spinning a thread.  Taking the metaphor further, such a Goddess  would "see" the inter-dependencies between all things, the Great Web spreading out across the landscapes of life.   

Pueblo mythology tells that when each of the previous worlds ended in catastrophe, it was Spider Woman who led the people through the sipapu, the kiva (or birth canal) into the next world.  As such Spider Woman is the divine midwife for the birth of  each new age. According to Hopi cosmology,  we have now entered the "Fifth World".  It is interesting that, in contemporary  Neo-Pagan practices,  there are 5 Elements that symbolize the "great Circle".   The Fifth Element is called "Center", and is represented with the color white, the union of all colors.  It is the last Element, and symbolizes the universal force or Aether that unites all the other Elements.  

I cannot resist imagining that the World Wide Web might just be  is Spider Woman's latest appearance!  

“In Hopi cosmology Spider Woman was the first to weave. Her techniques and patterns have stood the test of time, or more properly, the test of timelessness.…..…..Weaving is not an act in which one creates something oneself – it is an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.” 
John Loftin 3

As we confront the universal catastrophe of climate change,  it seems to me that this is a significant and appropriate metaphor.  Indeed, a significant Prophecy:  for what we now confront concerns  not just a tribe or nation, but all beings upon planet Earth.  We must evolve a new, global paradigm  for this Fifth Age if we are to survive.   Spider Woman, bringing a vision of the Great Web of life, once again must be the midwife as She makes visible the connections, the strands of the Web,  whether we speak of  ecology,  economy, quantum physics, or integral psychology.   In our essence, as Jungian psychologist Ann Baring has said, "we are one".

 " The new myth manifests through the triple influence of quantum physics, depth psychology and the ecological movement suggests that we are participants in a great web of life, each one of us indissolubly connected with all others through that invisible field.  It is the most insidious of illusions to think that we can achieve a position of dominance in relation to nature, life or each other. In our essence, we are one."
Anne Baring,  Awakening to the New Story   4
How indeed, as an evolving  global society, would we think and act, if we saw,  like  Penelope (or Grandmother Spider Woman)  "with a webbed vision"? Would we be able to change the catastrophic course of ecological destruction if  we had such a theology based upon Relationship instead of Domination?  If our reasoning, and our way of seeing,  was inclusive rather than dissectionist?  If instead of valuing  competition and the "alpha" winner,  we valued consensus? If instead of "fight and flight" in the face of danger, we instead pulled out the defense tactic found among female monkeys of "tend and befriend"?   If instead of renunciate, hierarchical religions that turn us away from nature and Earthly existence toward an abstract "heaven" or "nirvana", we saw ourselves as profoundly embedded in the sacred body and evolving soul of our living planet?
"The question is not so much "What do I learn from stories" as "What stories do I want to live?" 
David R. Loy, "The World is Made of Stories" 5

If each of us could, like Penelope,  "see" ourselves holding  a thread that originates with all of those who came before us - and touches all of those who will come after us - how indeed might we see, and act?
"The New Story coming into being is that the whole universe is a unified field. The world we experience is like a minute excitation on the surface of an infinite cosmic sea which sustains not only our world, but the entire Cosmos. We live within a cosmic web of life which underlies and connects all life forms in the universe and on our planet. Through a vast network of electro-magnetic fields we are connected to the earth, the sun and the hundred billion galaxies. So we are not separate from any aspect of planetary or cosmic life. "
          Anne BaringAwakening to the New Story 6

As I watch the ongoing corporate greed that is eroding not only democracy, but the very life of our planet,  and the unreasoned ideology of capitalism (as opposed to local free enterprise) that makes it  possible for this new monarchy of the 1% to arise, I wonder sometimes if there is any hope for the future at all.  If I am not my brother's and sister's keeper, and they mine - who is?  Monsanto?  Walmart?  A civilization, indeed the raising of a single child, is a grand collaboration among many,  and it might be said from that "webbed vision" of societies  that the exploiters and  warlords pounding their chests and sitting like dragons on their stolen gold....... are the parasites of a civilization, rather than any  appropriate leaders.

We urgently need pragmatic ways to create and envision expanding community, which can be simplified to a fundamental sense of belonging.   Beyond that, we need an ethos and mythos that supports the fundamental, and foundational, understanding of inter-dependency.    If America was not a culture that idealizes "rugged individualism" where "good fences make good neighbors"  what other kinds of values might enhance the quality of life for us (and perhaps the very survival of our species) along with an extended community of many other species we share our world with?
"The Rugged Individualist" cheers when needy people are deprived of food, battered women are deprived of protection from brutal husbands, children are deprived of education, because this is "getting government off our backs.”
Philip Slater,  The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture  6
"Alpha male" individualism fails in every way to communicate that we live within a  web of human and environmental inter-dependency, a web that is unimaginably vast and  also very intimate. This is the "Webbed Vision" that sees and recognizes the links that must be restored.   A successful adult is so because of  parents, siblings, friends,  teachers, community resources, the backdrop of nature and environment, global society.........and distant ancestors that enabled him or her to be born.  Without a sense of belonging and contributing to that continuum as it reaches into both the past and into  future generations, human beings end up feeling alienated, disposable,  and without a sense of purpose.   Which is what an unsustainable, insatiable consumer system, as a placebo for the pain of spiritual and communal isolation, feeds on.

In tribal societies, survival depended  on cooperation, as well as the collective ability to adapt continually to new environmental challenges, be it drought, invaders, or the exhaustion of resources.  The mythic foundation of any tribe (or civilization) is ultimately  the template upon which they stand; a culture with a rigid mythos that cannot adapt and change is doomed to collapse.   Without a significant mythos of co-dependency in the face of global ecological crisis, the coming collapse of our civilization is apparent.  
"The culture that is holistic is holistic because its reasoning structure is holistic.  The problem we have with holism is that our reasoning is fragmentary, dissectionist, it removes us from relating things, it structures things in separate compartments in order to "have control"
 Rafael Montanez Ortiz  7

The Latin origin of the word "religion", religios, means to "link back".  To rejoin with the greater and divine  whole in some way.  In my opinion, many of today's religions, at least in their institutionalized forms, fail in communicating  this ultimate "webbed vision" - in fact, as tribal social control mechanisms with millenia of often mutually contradictory doctrines behind them, they do exactly the opposite.  They separate, create discord and fear, and damn those who do not share their cultural or philosophical constructs.  Religions are essentially concretized mythologies - concretized communal stories.  


What stories are so many people and institutions telling about the world we live in, the 21st Century world of global civilization? How do these sacred stories - most of them with their origins in ancient tribal societies existing in a very different kind of world - serve, or fail, the world of today?

Returning to "religios", the "linking back" to what is sacred, patriarchal  Renunciate religions that teach us to renounce the world, the body, and the demands of relationships of every kind, either in service of some abstract "better place" or teachings that degrade earthly life as "impure" or "unreality"..............will not help us.  More importantly, they certainly will not  help  those who must come after us to live in a diminished world.   In traditional theological  systems of patriarchal religions,  divinity is placed "elsewhere", be it the literally conceived  paradise that awaits the faithful,  heaven, or nirvana.  Equally, this renunciation of life can include more elegant abstractions that teach us that  "this is not real" but fail to describe what actually "is real" in a way that is tangible.  Renunciation of a false, dangerous, or corrupt world is a prime theme  to be found in patriarchal religions, religions that have their origins in violent  warrior ideology and warrior  lifestyles.  It might be said, for an example, that the  Old Testament God Yahweh, with all his punishments and rules,  is a classic  example of an authoritarian, merciless, warrior  "sky god".   

And more subtly, the  New Age message that "this experience  is not real" which drives devotees to seek "the real world"  found in  some divine, other-worldly, perfected  abstraction once we are "purified" or "surrender" in order to have one's consciousness raised sufficiently.  Which often must happen  through an authoritarian Guru or spiritual leader, with many of the attendant social abuses.  

To speak of "oneness",  to address creating a cohesive vision of holism that is appropriate to the world we live in today,  mythic systems that include  creative diversity within that "oneness" are needed.   Myths and symbols that can include many gods and goddesses, many voices and languages, and many ways to the truth instead of simply eliminating the competition.  Further, our world myth can no longer be simply a human world myth - it must include many evolutions, many other beings within the intimacy of ecosystems.  If we're to survive into sustainability.   

"We live in a world today in which the problems we face are all planetary" Philip Slater commented in his last book The Chrysalis Effect, “the polarization and chaos we see in the world are the effect of a global cultural metamorphosis".  Slater's view was ultimately hopeful - that we are witnessing the chaos of a new evolution.   That metamorphosis he spoke of, I personally  believe, is based on the realization of inter-dependency with all life.  In his view, this is humanity's childhood's end.  We are called now to the world, each other, and the miracle of life, with a "Webbed Vision". 

As the New Year approaches, I personally would like to call on artists, writers, musicians, storytellers,  and all  other "cultural creatives" to help to make a new mythology for the global tribe.   The writer Ursula Leguin called them "realists of a larger reality".  Among the Navajo (Dine`) infant girls still have a bit of spider web rubbed into their hands so they will "become good weavers".   May we all now rub a bit of spider web into our hands for the work ahead of us ..........and, like Penelope, may we all now see "with a web on our faces".

“Hope now lies in moving beyond our past in order to build together a sustainable future for all the interwoven and interdependent life on our planet, including the human element.  We will have to evolve now into a truly compassionate and tolerant world – because for the first time since the little tribes of humanity’s infancy, everyone’s well being is once again linked with cooperation for survival.  Our circle will have to include the entire world. 
Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power 8

1)   Keller, Catherine, From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism, and Self, 
       1988, Beacon Press

2)    Patterson-Rudolph,  Carol,  On the Trail of Spider Woman, 1997, Ancient City Press.

3)    Loftin, John D., Religion and Hopi Life, 2003,  Indiana University  \
        Pres(first published January 1st 1988)

4)   Baring, Anne, "Awakening to the New Story",  2013, from her  website:

5)   LoyDavid R., The World is Made of Stories,  2010, Wisdom Publications

6)   Baring, Anne, "Awakening to the New Story",  2013, from her  website:

7)   Slater, Phillip, The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture,  2008, 
       Sussex Academic Press

8)   Ortiz, Rafael Montanez Ph.D., interview with Lauren Raine, unpublished manuscript 

9)  Alstead, Diana and Kramer, Joel, The Guru Papers:  Masks of Authoritarian Power, 
       1993, Frog Books    

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Winter Solstice 2019

Saint Lucia Swedish Celebration 

Solstice Blessings to All

On this, the longest and darkest night,  we light our candles and our bonfires, as ancestors have done for uncounted centuries, around the world and in many languages, before us, in the depths of winter, an affirmation of light and warmth and the Sun's return.  I think what is important to affirm is also what Light each of us wants to ignite within ourselves, that might illuminate not only our own lives, but the lives of other Beings of the Earth.  And I also reflect on the healing and creative powers of  what poet David Whyte called "sweet darkness", the times of silence and incubation that are wedded to the times of  illumination.

"To go in the dark with a light
is to know the light. 
To know the dark, go dark.
 Go without sight, and find
 that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
 and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."

Wendell Berry

Winter Solstice, Willits Community (2012) Photo courtesy JJ Idarius and Ann Waters

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at Newgrange during the  Winter Solstice today. The passage tomb in Co. Meath was built over 5,000 years ago. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.
Winter Solstice inside Newgrange


When your eyes are tired
the world is  tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes to recognize its own.

There you can be sure you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness
and the sweet confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

David Whyte

Monday, December 9, 2019

"Realists of a Larger Reality" - Remembering Ursula Leguin

 "I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. "
  For so many years, the writer Ursula Leguin always spoke to the core for me.   I've visited numerous times every world she has shown us, and one thing she has always shown are  the infinite possibilities of the imagination and human culture, brilliantly reasoned out through the eyes of the anthropologist's daughter that she also was.

I have travelled with her through worlds of vast introverted solitude, where a young girl must travel alone  to "make her soul" in "The Birthday of the World" collection.  I've visited a world in the midst of an Ice Age, and come to love a pragmatic  hero who is also a hermaphrodite, neither male nor female on a world without gender, in "The Left Hand of Darkness".  I've visited Earthsea many times, and watched the coming of age of the mage Ged, who can talk with dragons, and  must learn not only about power, but far  more importantly, he must learn about the uses of power, about maintaining the Equilibrium, becoming attuned to the balance of the world.  And in "Four Ways to Forgivenesss" I've seen two worlds come apart and re-form as millenias of slavery is ended, and former slaves and owners must also  find their personal salvation in the midst of a vast human revolution.  In "May's Lion" I  saw the visit of a lion, coming to the home of an old woman in order to die, from the perspective of not only an old American woman, but an old Native woman who knew  that she had been honored, because he came to her to open that way.

 Thank you, Ursula, thank you for making it possible for me and so many others  to visit those worlds, to escape my own when I needed to, to see with your words the infinite possibilities of  human experience. Her "view from the Ecumen" has helped me time and again to gain a view of life here on Earth.  

I wanted to  share her 2014  National Book Awards speech, because the call she made to visionary artists and writers,  on the precipice of a new year, it is important.  She says what I have so many times thought, especially recently - how "money sick" everything has become. We have lost the Equilibrium of consciousness of the whole, of a "webbed vision".  May this year coming be the seed of a turning of the way.

"But the name of the beautiful reward", Leguin says, "is not profit.  Its name is freedom."   The freedom to create uncensored, internally or externally,  by the demand that what is created somehow be justified, it's "value" determined,  by how much money "it" can make.

Which is no "real" evaluation of success at all, any more than the "success" of corporations has anything to do with preserving our planet's future or quality of life for us.  Indeed, the greed manifest in many of them is actively destroying not only the evolution of humanity, but the evolution of many, many other forms of life evolving on this planet Earth.    Capitalism  has become an oppressive force indeed, a profoundly destructive  force in  it's soulless quest for profit.  We need to put money "values" outside the door when we enter the house of  creative integrity - otherwise it's like a loud cacophony of endless commercials, nattering away, obstructing any capacity to hear, see, know, be "en-souled".

My house, of course, is full of art, 45 years of it, and being an AIRBNB host, I"m always amazed at how very rare it is for those who come here to comment or acknowledge it.  I've often said to myself that I could hang mops on the walls for all most people would be aware of the art.......which belongs, perhaps, to another conversation. To keep myself from feeling defensive about being an artist, I almost never attempt any longer to talk to my guests about my "other life" as an if being an artist was never a "real job".  Ah..........But when young artists come to my home, I find I'm disappointed  for another reason.  Which is how rarely any of them ask about the work - what it means, what  it derives from, even just how I made it.  I find most of them ask about shows, ways to promote work, what kind of prices I get....... how, in other words, did I make money from my work and can I help them to do so.  I've never said this out loud, but so very few seem to see that artwork is a Conversation, one I so often wish I could share with others.   Paintings are doors into some other dimension, windows into story.   In the babble and preoccupation with money,  so many voices are never  heard.

What wealth, if money was left outside the door like our shoes so as not to soil the space........what wealth might be found in the creative language being spoken on the walls or streets  of many places, what dialogues might be shared about the  impulses from which they sprang?

In accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 2014  National Book Awards, eminent  writer Ursula Le Guin made a knock-out speech about the power of capitalism, literature and imagination that, as she put it afterwards, “went sort-of viral on YouTube.”


I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Asherah ..... new Mosaic

I continue to be fascinated with the lost (but re-surfacing) Hebrew and Canaanite Goddess Asherah.  This new piece shows the leaf and body of the Goddess, and at the base, the eyes represent for me the intelligence of nature, at the roots and foundation of all life.  

I see that I have been creating Her image for many years in many ways.  She may be much older than the early Hebrew tribes that worshipped Her and carried "Asherah poles" to represent this Great Goddess who manifested as a Tree, Her origins going back to prehistoric, primal roots. 

Asherah may very well be "The Tree of Wisdom" found in the Garden of Eden, or the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah.  I don't know, I just know that I have been making "the Woman who is a Tree" image for many years, going back to before I began to even learn about the evolving Goddess culture and Women's spirituality/Eco Feminism of the 70's and 80's.  The Tree was always important to me, because "As above, so below"..........the branches that reach to the stars, the roots that touch the heart of the Earth.  But so often, I found myself placing the heart of a woman within the body of the tree - no "Daphne" this, escaping the lust of an Apollo, but a great intelligent maternal Being that belonged, and flowered and leafed and rooted, within the Great Cycles of the planet.

I did some writing about Asherah a year or so ago, after a visionary experience when working with a healing session.  She lingers with me, and I hope that I will continue to dream and develop with Asherah..............

Friday, November 22, 2019

UNDER LAND - The Rooted Intelligence of Trees and the World Below

"Earth Icon IV" Lauren Raine

“Deep time” is the chronology of the under land. Deep time is the dizzying expanses of Earth history  that stretch away from the present moment. Deep time is measured in units that humble the human instant: epochs and aeons, instead of minutes and years.   Deep time is kept by stone, ice,  stalactites, seabed sediments and the drift of tectonic plates."
I have always been fascinated with "the World Below", and many of my personal Icons that I make over and over and over again seem to be about roots, being rooted, entwined, webbed, linked.  Looking at my many "rooted" images I see that truly my "deep self" does not seek to leave the  Earth, rather, I seek to go into the Earth, to participate more deeply with all the Beings, visible and invisible, that I share this em-bodied, in-carnate  life with.  Hands represent the creative power, as well as what we "touch" the Earth and each other with.  Eyes represent  the intelligence of nature, the Eyes of Gaia, and also, the innate intuitive consciousness within us that allows us to "see" a greater belonging.   

Here is a painting I did a long time ago, the winter of  1993 to be exact.  It's name is "Past Desire, Hope or Chance I Rest in You a Seed".  I have always loved this painting, which to me is about the sanctity of our roots in the alchemy of the planet, as a part of the Earth Herself, the cycles of arising and falling.  

One of my favorite online journals is Brainpickings - this article, summarizing and extracting from a  book by Robert Macfarlane that eloquently explores the Underland, the great mystery of life just below our feet, ,  begged to be archived where I would remember to come back to it, again and again..........where better but in my journal/blog? 

WelcomeFrom 11/21/2019 edition of newsletter by Maria Popova.

Relationship Lessons from Trees

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” William Blake wrote in his most beautiful letter. “As a man is, so he sees.” Walt Whitman saw trees as the wisest of teachers; Hermann Hesse as our mightiest consolation for mortality. Wangari Maathai rooted in them a colossal act of resistance that earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. Poets have elegized their wisdom, artists have drawn from their form resonance with our human emotions, scientists are only just beginning to uncover their own secret language.
Robert Macfarlane — a rare enchanter who entwines the scientific and the poetic in his lyrical explorations of the natural world — offers a crowning curio in the canon of wisdom on human life drawn from trees in a passage from Underland: A Deep Time Journey (public library) — his magnificent soul-guided, science-lit tour of the hidden universe beneath our feet.

"Touching"  Lauren Raine

Macfarlane writes:
2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngLying there among the trees, despite a learned wariness towards anthropomorphism, I find it hard not to imagine these arboreal relations in terms of tenderness, generosity and even love: the respectful distance of their shy crowns, the kissing branches that have pleached with one another, the unseen connections forged by root and hyphae between seemingly distant trees. I remember something Louis de Bernières has written about a relationship that endured into old age: “we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.” As someone lucky to live in a long love, I recognize that gradual growing-towards and subterranean intertwining; the things that do not need to be said between us, the unspoken communication which can sometimes tilt troublingly towards silence, and the sharing of both happiness and pain. I think of good love as something that roots, not rots, over time, and of the hyphae that are weaving through the ground below me, reaching out through the soil in search of mergings. Theirs, too, seems to me then a version of love’s work.

"Nest Icon III"  Lauren Raine
Beneath the canopy, Macfarlane marvels at the slim contour of empty space around each tree’s crown — a phenomenon known as crown shyness, “whereby individual forest trees respect each other’s space, leaving slender running gaps between the end of one tree’s outermost leaves and the start of another’s.”
In this, too, I see a poignant lesson in love, evocative of Rilke and what may be the greatest relationship advice ever committed to words: “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”

Couple this tiny fragment of the sweepingly wondrous Underland with Amanda Palmer’s lovely reading of Mary Oliver’s poem “When I Am Among the Trees,” then revisit Kahlil Gibran on the difficult balance of intimacy and independence in love.

Please consider supporting BRAINPICKINGS with a donation .  THANK YOU.

"Green Hands"  Lauren Raine (2005)

Underland:  An Enchanting Journey into the Hidden Universe

 Beneath Our Feet

“To sense this world of waters known to the creatures of the sea we must shed our human perceptions of length and breadth and time and place, and enter vicariously into a universe of all-pervading water,” the great marine biologist and environmental hero Rachel Carson wrote in her 1937 masterpiece Undersea — a lyrical journey to what Walt Whitman had called “the world below the brine,” a world then more mysterious than the Moon — as she pioneered a new aesthetic of poetic prose illuminating science and the natural world.
Nearly a century later, Robert Macfarlane — a rare writer of Carson’s sensibility, who rises to the level of enchanter — extends a lyrical invitation to a vicarious journey into another mysterious earthly universe of all-pervading darkness with Underland: A Deep Time Journey (public library).

Macfarlane writes:
We know so little of the worlds beneath our feet. Look up on a cloudless night and you might see the light from a star thousands of trillions of miles away, or pick out the craters left by asteroid strikes on the moon’s face. Look down and your sight stops at topsoil, tarmac, toe. I have rarely felt as far from the human realm as when only ten yards below it, caught in the shining jaws of a limestone bedding plane first formed on the floor of an ancient sea.
Enshrined in the layers of the underland, in the layered dust of cultures and epochs, are traces of our abiding need for shelter and sacrament, our age-old hunger for knowledge encoded in the stone tablets of dead languages and the rusted instruments of annealed curiosity, radiating a reminder that we are creatures not only of place but of time. Plunging into the time-warping wonderland beneath the surface through the riven trunk of an old ash tree, Macfarlane writes:
Beneath the ash tree, a labyrinth unfurls.
Down between roots to a passage of stone that deepens steeply into the earth. Colour depletes to greys, browns, black. Cold air pushes past. Above is solid rock, utter matter. The surface is scarcely thinkable… Direction is difficult to keep. Space is behaving strangely — and so too is time. Time moves differently here in the underland. It thickens, pools, flows, rushes, slows.
The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.
Shelter (memories, precious matter, messages, fragile lives).
Yield (information, wealth, metaphors, minerals, visions).
Dispose (waste, trauma, poison, secrets).
Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.
Echoing Oliver Sacks’s lovely case for nature’s beauty as a lens on deep time and the interleaving of the universe, Macfarlane writes:
“Deep time” is the chronology of the underland. Deep time is the dizzying expanses of Earth history that stretch away from the present moment. Deep time is measured in units that humble the human instant: epochs and aeons, instead of minutes and years. Deep time is kept by stone, ice, stalactites, seabed sediments and the drift of tectonic plates. Deep time opens into the future as well as the past. The Earth will fall dark when the sun exhausts its fuel in around 5 billion years. We stand with our toes, as well as our heels, on a brink.
But for all its consolations, such a dilation of the telescopic perspective can be deeply disquieting in alerting us to our own helpless insignificance — motes of matter in a blink of time, adrift amid the unfeeling emptiness of pure spacetime. It takes especial existential courage to inhabit this physical fact with unflinching psychic agency, with the insistence that however brief our earthly time may be, however small our impact relative to the vast scales of time and civilization, we can still leave a worthy mark on an ancient world. Macfarlane cautions against the defeatist cowardice of taking the scale of deep time for permission to squander our precious allotment:
We should resist such inertial thinking; indeed, we should urge its opposite – deep time as a radical perspective, provoking us to action not apathy. For to think in deep time can be a means not of escaping our troubled present, but rather of re-imagining it; countermanding its quick greeds and furies with older, slower stories of making and unmaking. At its best, a deep time awareness might help us see ourselves as part of a web of gift, inheritance and legacy stretching over millions of years past and millions to come, bringing us to consider what we are leaving behind for the epochs and beings that will follow us.

Long ago, as Johannes Kepler — the first true astrophysicist — was revolutionizing our understanding of the universe, he envisioned the Earth as an ensouled body that has digestion, that suffers illness, that inhales and exhales like a living organism. He was ridiculed for it. Three centuries later, Rachel Carson made ecology a household word. Picking up where Kepler and Carson left off, Macfarlane adds:
When viewed in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. New responsibilities declare themselves. A conviviality of being leaps to mind and eye. The world becomes eerily various and vibrant again. Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless Earth.
To probe the mysteries of this largely unfathomed underland, Macfarlane explores mines and railway tunnels, catacombs and particle colliders, seeks answers from a spectrum of scientists and indigenous cultures, contemplates the relationship between landscape and language, and draws on the work of pioneers like forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, who uncovered the astonishing science of how trees communicate, and evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, who championed the interconnectedness of life across time, space, and species.

Perhaps the underland’s richest and most dimensional lens on deep time — and space, and self — comes from some of Earth’s most poorly understood yet most essential organisms: fungi. Besides serving as a kind of central nervous system for the forest, fungi account for a quarter of Earth’s biomass and furnish the world’s largest organism — the colossal honeycomb fungus of Oregon’s Blue Mountains, dwarfing the blue whale with its mycelial span of nearly four square miles and its girth of two and a half miles. Four decades after Lewis Thomas wrote about how a jellyfish and a sea slug illuminate the mystery of the self — the most exquisite thing I’ve ever read on the subject, from one of the most poetic science writers who ever lived — Macfarlane draws kindred revelations from the underdog kingdom:
All taxonomies crumble, but fungi leave many of our fundamental categories in ruin. Fungi thwart our usual senses of what is whole and singular, of what defines an organism, and of what descent or inheritance means. They do strange things to time, because it is not easy to say where a fungus ends or begins, when it is born or when it dies. To fungi, our world of light and air is their underland, into which they tentatively ascend here and there, now and then.

Masters at the long view of survival, fungi offer a model of unparalleled grit — they were among the first organisms to return to the site of atomic devastation in Hiroshima and their soil presence is an indicator of a forest’s resilience. With an eye to the wisdom of the more-than-human world, to which native cultures have been attuned for millennia and modern science is only just beginning to awaken, Macfarlane considers how fungi challenge us to reconceive some of our basic human constructs:
Orthodox “Western” understandings of nature feel inadequate to the kinds of world-making that fungi perform. As our historical narratives of progress have come to be questioned, so the notion of history itself has become remodelled. History no longer feels figurable as a forwards-flighting arrow or a self-intersecting spiral; better, perhaps, seen as a network branching and conjoining in many directions. Nature, too, seems increasingly better understood in fungal terms: not as a single gleaming snow-peak or tumbling river in which we might find redemption, nor as a diorama that we deplore or adore from a distance — but rather as an assemblage of entanglements of which we are messily part. We are coming to understand our bodies as habitats for hundreds of species of which Homo sapiens is only one, our guts as jungles of bacterial flora, our skins as blooming fantastically with fungi.
A century and a half after Whitman’s famed observation that we contain multitudes, Macfarlane roots the metaphysical insight in the physical reality of our creaturely nature, entwined with other natures:
We are beginning to encounter ourselves — not always comfortably or pleasantly — as multi-species beings already partaking in timescales that are fabulously more complex than the onwards-driving version of history many of us still imagine ourselves to inhabit.
Given that we have hard enough a time living with full awareness of our belonging to the web of life, of our intricate connection to other living beings, it takes a special wakefulness to fathom our connection to nonliving matter. Even if we know that we are made of dead stars, it is only an abstract knowledge. We so easily forget “the singularity we once were,” as the poet Marie Howe so splendidly captured our cosmic belonging. In the underland, moving through the time-stamped bedrock of being, Macfarlane finds a powerful reminder:
We tend to imagine stone as inert matter, obdurate in its fixity. But here in the rift it feels instead like a liquid briefly paused in its flow. Seen in deep time, stone folds as strata, gouts as lava, floats as plates, shifts as shingle. Over aeons, rock absorbs, transforms, levitates from seabed to summit...............We are part mineral beings too — our teeth are reefs, our bones are stones — and there is a geology of the body as well as of the land. It is mineralization — the ability to convert calcium into bone — that allows us to walk upright, to be vertebrate, to fashion the skulls that shield our brains.
"Sow" Icon  Lauren Raine