Transformation in the Woods

I saw the standing deadwood from a distance. It was a giant tree trunk jutting high into the air. Something was dangling from it, swaying lightly in the breeze. Too soft and fabric-like to be peeling bark, I decided.

Walking closer now, my breath caught and I stood frozen in awe the moment I recognized the largest snake skin I had ever seen. Transfixed, I looked up at the thin membrane dangling like an exotic scarf from a height of about 10 feet. My next thought turned to the owner of the skin, probably a black snake that must be living somewhere around the tree roots. I looked around cautiously, not wanting to accidentally step on a monster snake.

At the same time, my mind kept chanting one word over and over: “Transformation, transformation.”

My heart beat a little faster. I knew this was the snake’s message to me. Spring and summer had been full of snake energy – from the rattlesnake vibrating the air alive on our covered porch to the black snake I found entangled in a roll of bird netting in the garden shed. I was able to cut it loose marveling at the strength of the muscular flesh contracting under my hands. And here was the grandfather of all snakes leaving behind his mark, a mark I could no longer ignore and bury in the busy-ness of my life.
Because I was leading a forest bathing group when I came across the skin, I turned my attention back to my group, listened to their tree experiences and led them back out of the woods. A big storm prevented me from heading back there for a few days. When I finally looked for the tree again, the skin was gone!          I circled the tree trunk wading through brambly bushes and finally spotted the skin. I pulled it out as gently as I could to prevent the brambles from shredding it. Then I hung it up over a nearby smaller tree so I could photograph it. While suffering from a bit of wear and tear, it was still magnificent!

I remembered that snake symbolizes rebirth, initiation, and wisdom. In Native American mythology, snake is a symbol of transformation and healing. In Eastern lore, a coiled snake at the base of the spine represents kundalini energy which, once activated, opens up new levels of awareness and creativity.
But – what did THIS snake skin mean to me? What kind of transformation was imminent in MY life?

As I sat and contemplated, the snake skin released its short message to me: “Go deep,” I heard, “Go deep – here.”
I had been spreading myself in too many directions, going “wide and far.” I knew intuitively what “going deep” meant: to gather my energies inward and invest them into my life here, on my property in the mountains of Virginia. This is where I can go deep – with native plants, plant medicine, my own re-connection to Earth after decades in the urban rat race, and stewarding the land and the woods.

“Go deep” the snake whispered through its cast-off skin.

In the coming months, I began to shed small and large fragments of my old skin: the majority of political activities that had been depleting my creative and emotional energies; traveling abroad (a yearly luxury) which immediately eliminated my largest carbon footprint source; and de-cluttering spaces in my house selling, giving away, or recycling unneeded items.
Now it was time to travel again, right here in my own backyard and backwoods. I started a small plant sanctuary for endangered wood- land medicinals. I re-committed to book research that would encourage gardeners to plant natives in our area. I am designing workshops and retreats that will help others re-connect to their outer and inner nature.

I feel more anchored and grounded in my new skin and am listening more intently to that inner calling.

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The Gift of an (Extra)Ordinary Morning

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Originally posted on The Beauty Along the Road:
Blue shadows ruled as we got on the road just before sunrise. Alles war in blaue Schatten getaucht als wir uns kurz vor Sonnenaufgang auf die Fahrt machten. There was a destination,…

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How to be hungry

I’ve been following Robyn’s blogs for many years and have enjoyed reading her poetry and prose, sometimes funny, sometimes acerbic, but always astute, in her observations of human nature and the predatory cultures we have created.

Even though we were in touch via email recently, I did not fully grasp the desperate situation she was in – and will be in until she manages to find another IT job. In the meantime, if you are moved and have some spare change, feel free to send some funds her way. Her paypal address: (Robyn Murray). She’s an IT expert who has worked on large corporate projects as well as my own business website, and she would be happy to take on a new project.

Jambo Robyn

This is a bit of an odd post for me, and quite long, so I won’t be offended if poetry readers skip it. Mostly it is published so I/it can be there for myself if it happens again.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of a totally new and profound experience of hunger. Of course, at first I approached it like a problem requiring an urgent solution. You know, do something, anything, I’m used to overcoming problems.

I tried to take my little bit of money to the usual grocery stores but the buy-in price for something nutritious was so much higher than my available dollars, not even one thing that wasn’t junk food could I really afford, except perhaps milk.

Real food (the GST-free stuff) is ridiculously overpriced in this country lately. So-called fresh food is often shipped in from the USA so the quality is as terrible…

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What Age Has Brought Me

Last week, I sat down with a writer friend and we chose to write in response to one of Laura Davis’ writing prompts: What Age Has Brought Me.

Thanks for the inspiration, Laura!

River guardian

River guardian

I am at the younger end of the baby boomer generation. In my youth, I was an athlete – cross-country running, long jump and high jump. Oh, how I miss the agility, stamina, and strength of my young body! Especially now, as my knee joints ache, my hip flexors contract and a few toes turn numb for no reason any doctor or physical therapist has been able to identify. I don’t run anymore, but I am still grateful for long walks.

My 30s, 40s, and early 50s were intellectual power years building on my education and marinating it with the experience and realities of working in my field as a psychologist.
Age has introduced me to other ways of knowing – intuition and its many disguises starting with a knowing that enters through my feet grounding on earth, then works its way through my muscles, guts,and heart, and afterwards settles somewhere in the familiar territory of the brain.
Age has brought me to the door step of patience and trust that matters will somehow be resolved even without my meddling. This doorstep, this threshold – I haven’t quite stepped over it with full conviction but each year nudges me closer.
Age has muddled what I thought was a well defined line between right and wrong and has blurred and twirled that line depending on which side of the river I stand or whose eyes I am looking through. This has not made life any easier but perhaps a bit less judgmental.
“Truth is one, paths are many” is the motto engraved everywhere you turn in Yogaville (an ashram in Buckingham, Virginia) where I spent a bit of time recently. It’s a consolation of sorts while I still swipe the dangling vines out of my way and find my footing on this uneven path called my life.
Age has introduced me to the adventures of inner travels replacing the trips to other countries I used to take when I was younger. Inner travels avoid the need to pack, spend long hours in airports, exchange dollars into foreign currency and leaving just when you learned to say a few phrases in another language. Inner travels sometimes require a different language as well which unravels its layers of meaning with time and focus. Inner travels avoid the disappointment of throngs of other tourists at favorite sites, or the strain of travel companions not matched to my own interests or temperament.
Inner travels command their own seasons, create their own weather and itineraries. They may take me into the past, revisit people and places that may no longer exist in this reality, observe myself interacting in ways that can make me cringe now. Inner travels send me back to times of decision making and make me wonder how my life would have changed if only…..then knowing that I made the right decision no matter what because it brought me to now, this place, this time, this way of being me.
Inner travels can project me forward into the future, perhaps to prepare for an important meeting or conversation that can address misunderstandings, resentments, hurt feelings and either end a relationship or send it on a deeper path.
Inner travels take me to meetings with guides who drop me into a more profound level of understanding, sometimes with one leading question or succinct comment.
Inner travels help me plan my next steps or add sparks of creativity to a project.

Age has brought me closer to tolerating boredom when nothing seems to be happening. That period of waiting for the next train to arrive (so to speak) is the perfect time to practice mindfulness and listening to the wind.
So, yes, I am grateful to the years that have made me who I am. I don’t want to be any younger, I just want my knees to stop hurting.

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Nancy’s Bird Nests

Nancy Spahr’s current exhibit of multi-media bird nests in Staunton, Virginia, is simultaneously inspiring and delightful…and disturbing.

Delightful because she combines surprising detail, careful research, and creative combinations of materials and media in her art work.

Take a look at one of her “assemblages”: basically a variation of a shadow box that contains an abandoned nest, 3D printed and hand-painted eggs, an image of a chipping sparrow superimposed on old dictionary paper.

Chipping Sparrow assemblage

Nancy emphasizes in her artist’s statement that all of her bird nests were collected well after the nesting cycle of the birds was completed. She made sure not to interfere with nature by researching each bird’s habits. Any feathers or wing parts used in her works are either from domestic fowl or found dead birds.

I particularly liked this painting of a robin’s nest cradled in the curves of an antler, the softness of the round nest held by the hard, spiky strength of the antlers.

Nest on deer antler

Another emotionally evocative piece was this mixed media construction of a robin mama guarding her nest:

Robin guarding her nest

The following piece, created with the use of oil, tar, sand and feathers, represents a barn swallow nest aptly entitled “Feathering Your Nest.” Nancy described how a pair of barn swallows built a nest from mud pellets, straw, grasses and poultry feathers inside a barn right above her work table. She had to move the table to avoid disturbing the swallow parents as they tended first to the eggs, then to the baby birds until they were ready to leave the nest.

Barn swallow nest

Then there was the disturbing part of the exhibit, city nests that incorporated trash we humans drop mindlessly wherever we go:

House sparrow city nest

When you look closely, you can see the cigarette butts woven into the nest! While research has shown that the chemicals in these cigarette butts may actually deter ticks and mites, they can also cause physical damage to the birds.

Lastly, the largest art piece was entitled “Is This The Bird’s Future?” incorporating familiar throw-away trash.

Is this the bird’s future?

A close-up:

What have we done to our world?!

To see more of Nancy Spahr’s art:

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