Oh, Sweet Canada

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This is a White-throated Sparrow. It is a spring migrant here in Minnesota, and then spends its summers in its nesting grounds in Canada.

As it passes through, we are blessed to hear the males court the females with their distinctive voice, a syncopated series of clear, high-pitched notes that is rendered as: “Oh, Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada”.    You can listen to its beautiful song on this site, from which I’ve also borrowed the picture:     http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/white-throated-sparrow

Early this morning, when I stepped outside, I was greeted by its call.

But things are not so sweet in Canada at this moment….

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[picture from: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/out-of-control-wildfire-could-reach-saskatchewan-1.2892380%5D

The Canadian Wilderness has always held a magnetic pull for me.  The boreal forest of pines and spruces and firs and birch and aspens, punctuated with thousands of lakes and streams, with its granite bedrock still laid bare from the scraping of the glaciers 10,000 years ago, it is a remarkably primeval landscape.  It is a wilderness in which one feels truly close to the raw elements of creation and to the Creator itself.  Its siren call has lured me north time and time again, at least in spirit if not always in body.

As a wilderness guide in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Ontario during my college years, I led many groups of boys and young men on canoe expeditions through that enchanted land. And then for a period of 10 years in my later adulthood I introduced groups of spiritual seekers into that enchantment.

Nature touches us all, and there countless sacred niches and sublime landscapes throughout this majestic planet of ours, but few have touched me as deeply as this primitive land; and I believe that every one I ever led there was, to varying degrees, transformed by their experience. To paddle a canoe through this rugged environment, from lake to lake, never seeing a building or hearing a motor for days on end,  soaking in the bliss of fair weather and enduring the challenges and discomforts of foul, it was always a journey of the body and the spirit.

The adventure camp where I worked summers during my college years was reachable only by water; one had to drive to the very end of the Gunflint Trail, and then make the rest of the journey by boat or canoe. Even when not out on trail, we were always immersed in the elements – the cabins and dining lodge had pine wood walls only the first four feet up from the ground, the remaining four feet being simply screened in. We slept in pine-scented breezes every night. There was no electricity.  Even in basecamp we were camping.  The official song of the camp captured the spirit of that wilderness so richly, in both tone and lyrics. Sung under the stars by the light of a crackling fire, it was an entrancing drone of solemn male voices, who, out of reverence and sentimentality, did their best to carry the tune. Here are the words:

 

The Life of the Voyageur

The life of the Voyageur
that of a sojourner
travels around and round
but not from town to town

Paddles the lakes and streams
follows his distant dreams
peace on the waterways
blue sky and cloudy days

My heart has but one home
from which I’ll never roam
land of true happiness
Canadian wilderness

The call of the lonely loon
wolves are howling at the moon
wind rustles through the trees
that’s a Canadian breeze

Smoke rising from the fire
up through the trees in a stately spire
all is calm in the evening glow
sun goes the down the north wind blows

My heart has but one home
from which I’ll never roam
land of true happiness
Canadian wilderness

You can listen to a young man sing the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu23BgovCjg

Given my deep connection to this land and its spirit, I have been deeply distressed by the intense wild-fire that is burning near Fort McMurray, Alberta. I have been intently following the news since Wednesday.

Here in Minneapolis, about 2:00 am Saturday morning, I was awakened to heavy smoke in the air and had to close my all of my windows. At 6:00 am there was white haze in the sky, covering the city. The air quality was considered “Very Unhealthy”, given all the suspended particulate matter.  We were warned to not engage in strenuous outdoor activity.  It turned out that the smoke was from the Fort McMurray fire, 1,500 miles away. Southerly winds soon cleared the air, but at its worst, the acrid air could bring tears to one’s eyes.

I later learned that the smoke had reached all the way to Florida. Truly, what happens in distant parts of the planet can affect us all, and the forces of nature know no boundaries.  As of yesterday, the fire was nearing a half million acres in size and is considered uncontrollable; it is speculated that it may burn for months.

Today, Sunday morning, when I stepped outside,  and heard “Oh, Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada” resounding through the clear air, it brought so many emotions home. And, once again, Canada brought tears to my eyes.

Our northern brotherland has had a warm, dry winter and spring.  Millions upon millions of acres of forests are stressed and highly vulnerable to fire.  And the fire season is just beginning.

Add to this, after an extraordinary winter of unheard of warmth, the arctic ice cap is in the poorest spring condition it has been in for hundreds of years.   The ice, already greatly diminished in thickness and volume over the last 20 years, is the thinnest and weakest and the smallest extent ever recorded for this time of year. And it is melting rapidly.  The weather of the next four months will determine how much of it melts.  Some scientists fear the worst.

Should the arctic become ice-free, or nearly so, during the summer melt season, it has the potential to disrupt climatic and weather systems around the world.  The impacts upon daily life and food production could be catastrophic.  Again, some scientists are concerned that we could experience this within a few short years.   The conditions this year do not bode well.

The addition of the CO2 and soot entering the atmosphere from the forest fires is considered a “positive feed-back loop” of global warming.  The increase in forest fires that results from global warming in turn contributes to increased warming. It adds vast amounts of CO2, and the dark soot, landing upon sea and glacial ice, accelerates its melting.

Perhaps I will get in to more of the science in a subsequent post. But, for the moment, I ask that, as we are moved, we all take stray moments out our days, to send prayers of healing and to hold a vision of the Canadian wilderness in all of its sweet splendor.

 

For those interested in more of the hard facts and a scientific account of the fire and arctic conditions, please check out the exceptional and highly respected blog by Robert Scribbler:

http://www.robertscribbler.com/2016/05/02/arctic-sea-ice-is-falling-off-a-cliff-and-it-may-not-survive-the-summer/

http://www.robertscribbler.com/2016/05/06/shift-in-the-wind-may-push-gargantuan-fort-mcmurray-fire-toward-tar-sands-facilities-on-saturday/

Environmental Organism

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A hair band transected by a bobby pin.

Who knows how it came to be here, lying innocently upon the sidewalk.  A pleasing scenario that comes to mind: perhaps a blustery wind, wanting to set free a young woman’s hair, saw fit to loosen the shackles from her tresses with a well placed gust.   And she, hair blowing wild, felt more intimately her connection to the forces of nature, and, like a veil had been lifted, felt her participation in the life of the Earth.

However it happened, the sight of its perfect configuration did immediately jar my mind loose, and remind me of my connection to the natural world, and my participation in the life of the Earth, by conjuring up the all but forgotten Ecology Symbol that was so ubiquitous during my young adulthood in the 1970s.

After my encounter with this serendipitous symbol, I spent the rest of my morning walk contemplating various effects of global warming, including the strongest ever El Nino and its effects across the globe (while taking note of the very unseasonably warm weather we’re having in Minneapolis, that everyone is so blithely enjoying) and contemplating our participation in healing the Earth.

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I had not known of the symbol’s origin until I looked it up after my walk:

The ecology symbol was formed by taking the letters “e” and “o”, the first letters in the words “environment” and “organism”, and putting them in superposition, thereby forming a shape reminiscent of the Greek letter Θ (Theta). The symbol was created by cartoonist Ron Cobb, which he published on November 7, 1969, in the Los Angeles Free Press and then placed it in the public domain.  The colors represent “pure air and green land” and environmental action.

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Look magazine incorporated the symbol into an image of a flag in their April 21, 1970 issue. It widely popularized the Theta symbol, which is associated with the Greek word thanatos (death) in light of human threats to the environment and atmosphere of the earth.  

 

As it turns out, the Theta symbol is also used in various sciences to denote temperature; which forms an interesting connection to my contemplations about global warming and our connection to the Earth.  Theta is used to represent:

The potential temperature in meteorology.

Quantity or temperature, by International System of Units standard.

Dimensionless temperature in transport phenomena. In engineering, physics and chemistry, the study of transport phenomena concerns the exchange of mass, energy, and momentum between observed and studied systems.

 

As it turns out, the Theta symbol is also used to in the trading of stock options to denote the risk that time imposes upon options not exercised; which forms an interesting connection to my contemplations about global warming and our connection to the Earth.  Theta is used to represent:

The measure of the rate of decline in the value of an option due to the passage of time. Theta can also be referred to as the time decay on the value of an option. 

The measure of theta quantifies the risk that time imposes on options as options are only exercisable for a certain period of time.

 

As it turns out, the Theta symbol is also used in the study of brain waves to denote the deepest state of meditation; which forms an interesting connection to my contemplations about global warming and our connection to the Earth.  Theta is used to represent:

….a state of very deep relaxation. The brain waves are slowed down at a frequency of 4-7 cycles per second.

While in the Theta state, the mind is capable of deep and profound learning, healing, and growth – it is the brainwave where our minds can connect to the Divine and manifest changes in the material world.

The use of the drum by indigenous cultures in ritual and ceremony has specific neurophysiological effects and the ability to elicit temporary changes in brain wave activity, producing Theta waves, and thereby facilitating imagery and possible entry into an altered state of consciousness, especially what is called the shamanic state of consciousness.

 

To be continued…

Scientific & Spiritual Areas

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As soon as you enter this woods, a sacred hush falls upon you, envelopes you, permeates you, and you know that the Mystery is powerful here. Even the most casual strollers you encounter seem to be under its spell, and walk with a more reverent air.
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In this woods Sugar Maple Trees over 200 years old tower above you.
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This woods is one of the few significant remnant old-growth parcels of “The Big Woods” left in Minnesota. While we have the Boreal Forest of conifers, birch and aspens in our north country, “The Big Woods” was a deciduous hardwood forest that once covered nearly 2 million acres through the central portion of the state. This remnant virgin woods is 220 acres. Virtually everything else of the original “Big Woods” is now gone, or second-growth.
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Technically, this woods is a “Scientific & Natural Area” – in Minnesota SNAs are used to “preserve natural features and rare resources of exceptional scientific and educational value.”

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Though we may know that the entire Earth itself is sacred, and we may tune in anywhere, there have always been those places where Spirit has felt more present. In my experience SNAs, these little niches of preserved pristine nature, are often times liminal spaces – thresholds between the ordinary and the non-ordinary reality.
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I like to believe that the sacredness of these places was strong enough that even humans hell-bent on subduing the landscape could feel it….and were inspired to preserve it. But it must also be acknowledged that many times it was the rugged form of the topography itself that saved an area, being unfit for commercial or agricultural development. And it is this very topography that feels like an eruption of the more profound Sacred into the more commonplace landscape.  In the case of this woods, the topography and its Sugar Maples combined so that it was originally preserved because of a commercial use:
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I have been making pilgrimages to this woods for almost 20 years. To place your hands upon the trunks of the elders, to embrace them, is to be filled with a flow of energy so sublime and uplifting.   And for a moment you are a part of the tree itself, feeling its crown swaying in the Sky, and its roots firmly grounded in the Earth.

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Over the years, I have come to discover, one after another, many of the old giants had fallen to the ground. I still remember the great grief I felt the first time that I encountered one of the fallen Grandfathers. Though placing my hands upon him, his Spirit was still vibrantly alive; he spoke to me, and asked that I carry his energy to one of his sisters.

This one I encountered yesterday. It’s message…”Do not grieve for my departure, for though my individual energy is leaving this forest, it goes to rejoin the spirit of the Earth herself, to assist her in her rebirth.”

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The old giants, their numbers growing ever fewer, are scattered throughout the parcel. But nonetheless, the canopy of leaves woven together by the crowns of older and younger trees, remains thick enough so that in most places there is no understory of shrubs, plants, or invasive weeds.  But here and there the ground is carpeted with a multitude of Maple seedlings.  Only the Maples themselves fully know the mystery of why one patch of ground sprouts a new generation while other areas remain bare earth.
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But the future of this woods as a continuing legacy of the elder Sugar Maples seems assured, for there are many patches of these seedlings..
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one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and older..

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and older still…
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This woods holds a space for the sky in its heart…
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As A Tree

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A friend of mine posted this image on Facebook.   Such a fantastic concept!

Which prompted me to share this thought:

“How cool would it be to create a “living cemetery” of these that is a Food Forest ~ could literally feed one’s descendants, and they would be fed by their ancestors…   [see the link below for a description of a food forest]

Then someone else made this comment:

I like to think of me as a tree !!!

Which inspired me to write this little poem:

I like to think of me
as a tree ~
with roots sunk deep
into ancestral dreams
and ever nurtured
by the fecund earth
with a willing embrace
of this world of form.

I like to think of me
as a tree ~
with branches reaching
toward what is to be
and ever enlivened
by the radiant sun
with a willing embrace
of the Élan Vital.

I like to think of me
as a tree ~
transmuting
past into future
heaven into earth
energy into form
dwelling within
the omnipresent.

 

And as long as I’m dwelling upon thoughts of trees, it feels fitting to share this talk that I delivered at a 911 Tribute in 2005.  (I was speaking in front of 3,000 people, and was so nervous that my knees were wobbling the entire time.)

TREE DEDICATION

As we begin our program this evening and prepare for the invocation, I would like to first bring everyone’s attention to the tree festooned with ribbons and streamers that stands to the west of the band shell. This is a Valley Forge American Elm, a testimony to survival – it is naturally resistant to Dutch Elm disease, and it has just been donated by area businesses to serve as a living memorial to all those who died in the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Throughout time, trees have always served as inspiring symbols, symbols of hope, of strength, of peace, and even the symbol of life itself. And in our country specifically, trees have been a symbol of the political principles that we treasure so deeply. The first Liberty Tree, located in Boston, was an Elm tree, just as this one is. The Sons of Liberty gathered and held their meetings in the shade of its branches. They flew their banners from its branches. In time, all 13 colonies each had their own Liberty Tree, which served as rallying places for the ideals of the American Revolution.

The original Liberty Elm in Boston was cut down by British soldiers, as an act of war, in 1775. The last of those original 13 Liberty trees to die was in Maryland, in 1999. It died as a result of a hurricane.

So in trees we see living symbols of our guiding principles, and we also see how those principles might be lost. We find ourselves gathered here this evening with two events in our minds and in our hearts – one, an act of war, 4 years ago, the other, a natural disaster, hurricane Katrina, mere days ago. Both of these events have presented our country with immense suffering and sorrow. Both of these events have presented us with immense challenges. They have challenged us to respond in a fashion that maintains and upholds the democratic principles that we hold so dearly, “that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It has been said that the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit – to plant trees for generations that are yet to come. The founding fathers and mothers of this country planted many trees, in the principles they fought for and the institutions they created. We benefit from these trees which they planted so long ago. And so it is now our turn to plant trees. Thus, tonight we dedicate this Elm tree, as a living memorial, as a testimony to survival, as sign of hope for healing and peace. May we also plant trees of principles and institutions that will shelter and serve generations yet to come.

 

http://www.beaconfoodforest.org

Welcome
The goal of the Beacon Food Forest is to design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food and rehabilitate our local ecosystem.

 

What is a Food Forest?
A food forest is a gardening technique or [Permaculture] land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals make up the lower levels. The Beacon Food Forest will combine aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening.

 

Wolf Medicine

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Mexican Wolf Population Now Tops 100 in US

15 years ago I led a small group who carried the Wolf energy from Minnesota down to New Mexico to do a blessing ritual for the Mexican Gray Wolves that were being reintroduced into the wild.

Minnesota at one time sheltered the last remaining wild wolves in the lower 48 states, so it seemed fitting that we give some spiritual assistance to this noble effort.

Thus, I was so pleased to read the article linked below, that tells of how the wolves, after a very rough start, have been flourishing.

This is just wonderful news to share for all those who feel a connection to our animal brothers and sisters.

http://news.yahoo.com/mexican-wolf-population-now-tops-100-us-123358887.html

The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), a smaller subspecies of gray wolf, was hunted out of the wild in the United States by the 1970s.

Once driven to the brink extinction in the United States, the population of Mexican wolves has doubled in the past five years.

— there are now 19 packs, with at least 53 wolves in New Mexico and 56 wolves in Arizona. The 2014 total also included 38 wild-born pups that survived through the end of the year

(keep reading more at the link)

I could discuss the Wolf energy, and how Wolf can assist one as a spirit animal; but rather than doing that, I would love to hear about other people’s  experience with Wolf Medicine ~ So please share!

 

Air Temperature Animation – remains of Typhoon Nuri

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The animation of this storm moving into the Bering Sea and displacing the Arctic air is absolutely spellbinding:
Click here for the animation:
Air Temperature Animation
(the Bearing Sea is on the left side of the map)

As remarkable as this phenomenon is to watch, the effects of this storm could have 3 potential serious impacts:
1) Any damage that the storm itself may inflict upon the lands surrounding the Bearing Sea.
2) The deleterious or hazardous  impacts of the unseasonably cold air upon the lands, agriculture, people, and ecosystems – including much of the US – where the arctic air is being displaced to.
3) Perhaps most significantly, the freeze up of the Arctic Ocean could be seriously disrupted, which has knock on effects on the animals, such as walrus and polar bears, that depend upon the arctic ice that their lives are adapted to. After years of seriously critical declines in arctic ice extent and volume, this year and last year there was a bit of respite, with a bit more ice surviving the summer melt season – though still well below historical norms. I can’t help but wonder how this storm might slow down the freeze up, by pushing the cold air out of the arctic,  and also break up the ice that has newly been forming since the melt ended in September. But perhaps my concerns are unfounded. I’ll share graphs of this info if a serious disruption actually occurs.

Here’s more info on the storm:

http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/alaskan-storm-that-could-be-stronger-than-hurricane-sandy/story-fnh81jut-1227116929174?from=public_rss

Alaskan storm that could be stronger than Hurricane Sandy

The brunt of the storm — the remains of Typhoon Nuri — is expected to pass into the Bering Sea and weaken, but it will still push unseasonably frigid air into much of the US next week, the National Weather Service said.

Forecasters said waves could be as high as 50 feet (15 meters), prompting ships and fishing vessels to get out of the storm’s path or seek protected harbours.
The storm was expected to surpass the intensity of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and has the potential to be one of the most intensive to ever hit the North Pacific, meteorologists said.

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“The oncoming storm … this November 5 photo provided by NASA shows an explosive storm, a remnant of Typhoon Nuri, heading toward the northern Pacific Ocean. Picture: AP Photo/NASA Source: AP”