Featured image: Forest Edge
The global waste – measured in part by dying coral reef and a democratically elected official unapologetically speaking xenophobic and misogynistic overtones – surfacing now is the dark legacy of hubris and self-centredness in boys and girls grown barely to adulthood, uprooted from their mothers’ wombs and the grand arms of a mother-centred community beginning with their conception. There is like an undying sorrow in me for the ensuing materialistic patriarchy and a world all but gone and all the missing individuals lost in battles fought to secure and command rule of the common wealth – a wealth of land and sea born through the interactions of diverse organisms, including humans, long deemed the property of Commonwealth Nations and States.
Among the individuals lost are giant trees who once surrounded and enveloped the human experience, living long before and after a person and, so, measuring every human’s sense of personal responsibility and integrity. Giant trees who will again universally measure human integrity should trees and children alive today reach their full potential.
I have a rather peculiar, though traditionally more common, relationship with one of the giant trees lost. At the close of 2012, my mind was blown by the combination of a kiss I desired more than anything to repeat and by grief related to the story of ‘Discovery Tree’, as written by Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest. ‘Discovery Tree’ (pictured above) is a giant sequoia in the North Grove of what is now Calaveras Big Trees State Park. ‘Discovery Tree’ was cut in 1853 during the California gold rush. The cutting spurred the establishment of federally protected forests and parks now threatened by privatized mineral extraction.
Healing Scars extinctionwitness.org/create
After the shock of wed pleasure and grief to my system, I was driven to connect with the tree in person. In part, because enjoying that kiss again was not an option. I visited ‘Discovery Tree’ first in February 2013 to restore joy in the grove through grief ritual and then in April 2013 for ceremony, wedding myself in soul and spirit to this sequoia. Images here are from that wedding ceremony. The ceremony began with me lying down and wailing on the tree bottom and finished with dancing in a round, exclaiming “Who needs wine?”
My primary experience since has been fascination with the creative process, subconscious awareness, and creative expression. The relationship is touched by the genius of sorrow in joy. The fruit is poetry and liberated dance.
The sorrow flowing in undying waves through me is in part because the giant bottom of ‘Discovery Tree’ is yet a spectacle. The tree was originally cut so that parts could be shipped East for profit on display. And as much because the clearing of virgin forest continues with only near 5% of Earth’s ‘original’ covering left intact, while tree planting is yet mostly for crop rather than with intent to help forests regenerate. And because the gravity of loss to date is counted and quantified in numbers and percents killed and surviving rather than felt and qualified in the breadth of one child’s smile, one woman’s pleasure, and one mother tree’s reach severed.
Barely Hidden secure.extinctionwitness.org/support
My own history is one of being separated from inborn creative energy through early childhood incest. I liken the cutting of a mother tree to this severing of the child from her full potential as a woman and mother due to the inherited imprint of confused sensuality loaded with shame and fear. During the first months in relationship with sequoia, I experienced comfort with the prospect of wearing gold for the first time in my life. This is a curious twist given that this mother tree and other entire worlds have been lost in the lust-driven rush for gold’s power. My sense is that the sensuality restored to me through the relationship is one I am to help restore to Earth through a more reverent appreciation for gold and trees, one that recognizes their sovereignty along with the sovereignty of all entities. As I am now comfortable with gold, I am as well stripped of material obsession and the belief that my value is somehow reflected in what may or may not adorn my body and home. Whether dressed or naked, I am bare. I am bound with mother sequoia’s generosity, given not to fulfilling my own desires but to supporting others in the interest of thriving community.
Today, Remembrance Day, as with every day, the clearing of forests and subsequent manufacturing of refugees is at the forefront of my mind. Of the many reasons humans have cleared forests, agriculture is considered the greatest. In the shadow of this intent to provide food for those removed from the abundance of indigenous forest livelihoods is the clearing of forests for building battleships and harvesting minerals, gems and fuels, from the ground. The latter drives the former. Over the centuries of war, more and more humans have been cleared out and burned out of their indigenous ways and pushed to the fringes of a system founded in fear and insecurity. Thus, more forest cleared to feed the helpless. And for much of this history, the Doctrine of Discovery – a crown ‘Discovery Tree’ wears – has justified the genocide by law grounded in faith.
With the line drawn by prayer at the banks of Missouri River in United States, the absurdity of discovery doctrine, long used to justify the slaughter and removal of human beings in the interest of land acquisition, is being recognized and penned supremacy refused. Thursday November 3, 2016, over 500 clergy of varied faiths gathered with tribal leaders and water protectors near the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and its ongoing horrific consequence for indigenous peoples, first nations, and all organisms.
Ritual acts such as publicly burning copies of the Doctrine of Discovery, as practised on November 3, 2016 are more than gestures. These rituals are truths of solidarity that nullify anything contrary in thought, word, or writing before or after. First in the line of action to revive Earth’s diverse flora and fauna is the healing of wounds in the human psyche. This is because other species are caught in the crossfire of human competition. It’s possible that the mightiest of other species – viruses, bacteria, and fungus – could diminish human population to a degree that human competition no longer enjoys such a global influence. The beginnings of this path are seen in the suffering of humans, trees, mass dying of fish and marine mammals. And the dark reality of this possibility full-blown is not one I prefer to imagine.
Restoring community grief ritual is an essential part of healing old wounds that perpetuate the harms that wrought them. Properly grieving the cost of World War I will end all war.
But to write this is just a hollow suggestion unless I am willing to consider fully the cost of World War I and let the wail out. Let me go wail and dance because I am able to. Let me wail and dance in solidarity with those at Standing Rock who are now pelleted with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed, and jailed for praying. Let me wail in solidarity with my Irish ancestors who were denied their keening practice because of the power of a mother’s screaming grief in witness to a child murdered, whether or not the child be born from her own womb. Let me dance in solidarity with my African ancestors who were denied their dance by Quaker missionaries, and release the guilt of my Quaker ancestors for their failure to befriend African slaves and their role in boarding Native Americans in schools that robbed children of their language and rituals – their souls.
The common conception that grief can be unending is a false assumption that perpetuates the violence causing the grief. This concept of endless grief is common because most have forgotten how to grieve in a full-bodied practice. The spiritual practices of my ancestors were performed because of their physical power to restore the person to joy and, when possible, prevent another episode of that particular violation and the sorrow rising. These practices are healing and protective for individuals directly impacted by loss and, thus, the whole community. Proper grieving prevents revenge and clarifies right action in recovery from loss.
As is the burning of doctrine at Standing Rock, the forwarding of Remembrance Day for Lost Species is such a hopeful sign. Let the split in the United States that threatens to swallow everything holy and wholesome left here and globally be mended by women and men who are reclaiming our spiritual roots and clasping hands across the divide that our children may have a bridge to walk. The light in this dark hour is the grief it inspires. I am grateful first and foremost for my freedom to grieve and the joy in me revived. I will do everything in my power to encourage, support, and ensure others this freedom.
Light of Grief extinctionwitness.org/sanctify
Though we face this now, it is as unnecessary as it is improbable to know grief for the loss of a whole planet. Knowing as in feeling what it is to lose the potential of one mother, human or tree, to insecurity born of child abuse is quite enough grief to shatter the delusion that any reward reaped is worth these costs.
All images copyright 2013 Jack Gescheidt
Megan Hollingsworth is writer & creative director at ex·tinc·tion wit·ness