Tag Archives: community

Listening and learning from the trees

I came across this blog today that shares some new ideas  and also encompasses much of what we glean and love about our forest retreats Wednesday through Friday each week at STLC. We are learning to be better listeners of the ways of the trees and our river, and we see those benefits come alive in the flourishing of our own true natures at the same time. Once again, it is about community building and figuring out how we all belong…to each other.

We look at trees every day. What if we paused long enough to “listen“? Could you hear a song if you put your ear to the bark? If one tree can sing a solo; what kind of symphony would come forth from a forest of trees? Dive into these questions on a long cold day with a warm cup and Maria Popova’s review of the book The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell. Give yourself the gift of lingering slowly over Maria’s collage of beautiful words and images. Savor Haskell’s unique approach of scientific study explained with lyrical vocabulary. Envision “the masterful, magical way in which nature weaves the warp thread of individual organisms and the weft thread of relationships into the fabric of life”.

This was really worth the read for me — hoping it is for you, too. Tien

The Songs of Trees 

by Maria Popova, syndicated from brainpickings.org, Jan 04, 2018

“Trees speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons,” an English gardener wrote in the seventeenth century.  “When we have learned how to listen to trees,” Hermann Hesse rhapsodized two centuries later in hi lyrical love letter to our arboreal companions, “then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”

For biologist David George Haskell, the notion of listening to trees is neither metaphysical abstraction nor mere metaphor.

In The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, Haskell proves himself to be the rare kind of scientist Rachel Carson was when long ago she pioneered a new cultural aesthetic of poetic prose about science, governed by her conviction that “there can be no separate literature of science” because “the aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth,” which is also the aim of literature.

It is in such lyrical prose and with an almost spiritual reverence for trees that Haskell illuminates his subject — the masterful, magical way in which nature weaves the warp thread of individual organisms and the weft thread of relationships into the fabric of life.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1917 edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

Haskell writes: For the Homeric Greeks, kleos, fame, was made of song. Vibrations in air contained the measure and memory of a person’s life. To listen was therefore to learn what endures.

I turned my ear to trees, seeking ecological kleos. I found no heroes, no individuals around whom history pivots. Instead, living memories of trees, manifest in their songs, tell of life’s community, a net of relations. We humans belong within this conversation, as blood kin and incarnate members. To listen is therefore to hear our voices and those of our family. To listen is therefore to touch a stethoscope to the skin of a landscape, to hear what stirs below.

Photographs from Cedric Pollet’s project Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees.

Haskell visits a dozen gloriously different trees from around the world — from the hazel of Scotland to the maples of Tennessee to the white pines of Japan’s Miyajima Island — to wrest from them wisdom on what he calls “ecological aesthetics,” a view of beauty not as an individual property but as a relational feature of the web of life, belonging to us as we to it. (Little wonder that trees are our mightiest metaphor for the cycle of life.) From this recognition of delicate mutuality arises a larger belonging, which cannot but inspire a profound sense of ecological responsibility.

Haskell writes: We’re all — trees, humans, insects, birds, bacteria — pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationship.

Because life is network, there is no “nature” or “environment,” separate and apart from humans. We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with “others,” so the human/nature duality that lives near the heart of many philosophies is, from a biological perspective, illusory. We are not, in the words of the folk hymn, wayfaring strangers traveling through this world. Nor are we the estranged creatures of Wordsworth’s lyrical ballads, fallen out of Nature into a “stagnant pool” of artifice where we misshape “the beauteous forms of things.” Our bodies and minds, our “Science and Art,” are as natural and wild as they ever were.

We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.

Our ethic must therefore be one of belonging, an imperative made all the more urgent by the many ways that human actions are fraying, rewiring, and severing biological networks worldwide. To listen to trees, nature’s great connectors, is therefore to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty.

Art by Cécile Gambini from Strange Trees by Bernadette Pourquié, an illustrated atlas of the world’s arboreal wonders.

Haskell follows the thread of relationship to the lushest arboreal habitat in the world — a symphonic sixteen-thousand-square-kilometer expanse of Amazonian rainforest in a wildlife and ethnic reserve in Ecuador, where a single hectare contains more tree species than the whole of North America. He limns this otherworldly wonderland, transliterating its peculiar language:

Amazonian rain differs not just in the volume of what it has to tell — three and a half meters dropped every year, six times gray London’s count — but in its vocabulary and syntax. Invisible spores and plant chemicals mist the air above the forest canopy. These aerosols are the seeds onto which water vapor coalesces, then swells. Every teaspoon of air here has a thousand or more of these particles, a haze ten times less dense than air away from the Amazon. Wherever people aggregate in significant numbers, we loose to the sky billions of particles from engines and chimneys.

Like birds in a dust bath, the vigorous flapping of our industrial lives raises a fog. Each fleck of pollution, dusty mote of soil, or spore from a woodland is a potential raindrop. The Amazon forest is vast, and over much of its extent the air is mostly a product of the forest, not the activities of industrious birds. Winds sometimes bring pulses of dust from Africa or smog from a city, but mostly the Amazon speaks its own tongue. With fewer seeds and abundant water vapor, raindrops bloat to exceptional sizes. The rain falls in big syllables, phonemes unlike the clipped rain speech of most other landmasses.

We hear the rain not through silent falling water but in the many translations delivered by objects that the rain encounters. Like any language, especially one with so much to pour out and so many waiting interpreters, the sky’s linguistic foundations are expressed in an exuberance of form: downpours turn tin roofs into sheets of screaming vibration; rain smatters onto the wings of hundreds of bats, each drop shattering, then falling into the river below the bats’ skimming flight; heavy-misted clouds sag into treetops and dampen leaves without a drop falling, their touch producing the sound of an inked brush on a page.

Art by Alessandro Sanna from Pinocchio: The Origin Story.

The tree itself stands as an acoustic microcosm of the rainforest: In the ceibo’s crown, botanical acoustic diversity is present, but it is more subtle. Drops are smaller and create a sound like river rapids in the leaves of the many surrounding trees, obscuring variations in the sounds of individual leaves. Because I’m standing high up in the branches of an emergent tree, a tree that arches over all others, the sound of the river rapids comes from beneath my feet. I feel inverted, like an image in a teardrop, disoriented by hearing forest rain under my soles. My ascent, up a forty-meter series of metal ladders, has carried me through the rain layers: The sounds of rain on litter and understory plants fade a meter or two above the ground, replaced by the spare, irregular spat of drops on sparse leaves, stems reaching up to the light, and roots drilling down. At twenty meters up, the foliage thickens and the rapids begin. As I climb higher, the sounds of individual trees push forward, then recede, first a speed-typist’s clatter from a strangler fig, then rasping drops glancing across hirsute vine leaves. I top the rapids’ surface and the roar moves below me, unveiling patters on fleshy orchid leaves, greasy impacts on bromeliads, and low clacks on the elephant ears of Philodendron. Every tree surface is crowded with greenery; hundreds of plant species inhabit the ceibo’s crown.

In the ceibo Haskell finds a living testament to the nonexistence of the self, to which we humans so habitually cling. A century after young Jorge Luis Borges contemplated how the self dissolves in time and relationship, Haskell writes:

This dissolution of individuality into relationship is how the ceibo and all its community survive the rigors of the forest. Where the art of war is so supremely well developed, survival paradoxically involves surrender, giving up the self in a union with allies.

The forest is not a collection of entities… it is a place entirely made from strands of relationship.

The Songs of Trees is a resplendent read in its entirety, kindred to both Walt Whitman’s exultation of trees and bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poetic celebration of moss. Complement it with the fascinating science of what trees feel and how they communicate,, then revisit my eulogy for a beloved tree and this illustrated atlas of the world’s most unusual trees.

Syndicated from BrainPickings. Maria Popova is a cultural curator and curious mind at large, who also writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and Design Observer, and is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings (which offers a free weekly newsletter).  

vision and the doors of perception

I was graciously greeted this morning via my email with this short video by Karmatube and this quote by William Blake: If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

It felt like a friend was visiting me as I watched the video clip and pondered the quote that reminded me so much of a childhood story we would read and talk about often as a family. It was about a house with a window of multicolored panes that portrayed different and beautiful views of the scene outdoors, but unrealistic views, because of the different colors of the glass. There was just one pane that had clear glass in it, but even the view from that pane was distorted when the pane was dirty. There were so many ways my mom used that story with us as metaphors for things going on in our lives and how taking the time to “clean” our view was so important. Thanks mom, I use that so often.

I love how Blake’s quote reminds me to take the moments to get silent and think about how I am seeing, perceiving and processing the views around me. Do my windows, my perceptions, need some cleaning? Is the view distorted by a tightly held opinion or standpoint, or even a world trend? Is the pane (or pain) I am looking through clouding my thinking or ability to hear new ideas, clearer direction, to see reality…even spiritual reality? Is there a bubble or misrepresentation in my looking glass? ah…I love this type of questioning within myself and to be able to see how clearer, cleaner, unobstructed views will help my day unfold with more realistic views about myself, others and my world…and where those wiped-clean “out-looks” will lead my footsteps today.

And then…how inspired I am to watch and think about the short video clip mentioned above. It fits so well with the quote and committing to a  moment, or as you see the video – a moment turned to many moments, to ongoing mindfulness moments, to kindness challenges, to community outreach, etc. in a previously-thought-unlikely workplace. I LOVE it!

From time to time we do mindfulness, gratitude, and kindness challenges at Scholars Together that always lead us so easily to more moments of reflection, self-examination and improvement, more thinking of others and our world, and being better stewards of our community. We are currently involved in a 21-day eco footprint challenge that is fun, eye-opening and causing us all to think and re-think our daily habits and purchases that affect our mother Earth. Feel free to join us here if you would like. There are 2088 members so far from around the globe.

And yet, I know that I/we can do more. The financial company in the video did SUCH evolving from their first simple commitment to begin their team meetings with a simple minute of silence. That minute took on a life of its own, a vital life, an inner and expanding life and view that has led this company, not only to go further financially than it thought possible, but to give new and clearer views to its team members that has spread to their families, new clients and communities.

So… I thought we all might use this as part of our inspiration to find ways to add more thoughtful or reflective moments to our days, to our family meals or meetings, to our team meetings at work and school, to a variety of group openers, etc. and see where it can lead us. Are you in?

Please share your thoughts, ideas and ways that YOU will and are integrating this commitment to a quiet moment into your lives, families, work and communities. Let’s look forward together to clean and clear views along our paths.

Tien Stone Langlois, Scholars Together Learning Community 

Yep, we ARE what we are grateful for

happyI am feeling very fortunate to have found an activity that all of our students LOVE to do. And equally important, actually even more important, is that it commands an immediate focus naturally, one that transforms an attitude in a matter of moments! It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?

It involves a little 99¢ app that is a gratitude journal. I am sure that a bit of the “pull or attraction” is that it involves using an iPad and having some freedom to choose a theme and a font, BUT it is evident that it is far more than that…it is the FOCUS on gratitude that is the key. There is an innate desire in us ALL to acknowledge good, to feel gratitude, and to find avenues to express it. EVERY one of our students (and our teacher/mentors) can go immediately and naturally into a quiet mode with this app regardless of what they have been doing previous to it, plunging right into their grateful mode, and then writing pretty effortlessly about what they are grateful for. And rarely are their items of gratitude physical items or “things”. Never once has a student not wanted to participate and of late everyone has gotten into the attitude of also wanting to share orally what s/he has written…. deep and insightful things about their true nature and what strikes them in the moment. Hooray!

The app is called “Gratitude Journal Plus”, whose byline is “change your thoughts, change your life.” grateful appTheir logo is a picture of a baby or toddler sitting still, perhaps meditating. We are imagining it is a caricature of a baby Buddha, but that may or may not be true. But at any rate the picture is appealing to our students. Besides the note pad that starts out with “Today I am grateful for…”, lines to type upon, a place to choose a theme for your daily gratitude note pad and a font in order to personalize it, and a place to rate your day, there is also a thought-provoking quote that changes each time and a sticky note comment that our students love to share round-robin style. The combination of the items on the gratitude 4app AND its theme of GRATITUDE has touched our students and we do it daily, oftentimes twice. If we miss a day the students notice and we double-up the next day.

My own gratitude increases even more during the openness of the sharing that happens after the students write, as I see such tenderness, insight and innocence shared by several who others may not presently label as tender or innocent….including themselves. Even the biggest and brawniest, or students challenged with focus, anger or emotional issues have been able to see a NEW side of themselves and are soaking in the love and inner satisfaction that comes from being thankful, recognizing goodness, and seeing a new view of him/herself or of the day. This is a transforming and HEALING activity!

The best way I could think of to share some of the goodness that has come about gratitude 5through using this app is to share (with their permission) some of what the students have written on their own, without any direction or instruction about what to write except to be grateful. I am using their words verbatim and using only the entries from our students, not from our teacher-mentors at this point, though those are inspiring, as well. The types of things these students are acknowledging say SO much about who they REALLY are. So here goes:

“Today I am grateful for:

● quiet moments ● being me ● the rising sun ● the nice feeling of getting “completions” done ● the feeling after I have been honest ● knowing that I AM my true nature ● being right here, right now ● having caring friends ● knowing I had a good day ● knowing that when things don’t go well that I always have tomorrow to do better ● that I am myself ● to know I can do whatever I need to ● knowing that I am a kind and respectful person ● having my true nature with me everywhere I go ● knowing that I am a masterpiece ● knowing that I gratitude 6am kind ● being happy ● having a day of progress and love ● having an opportunity to do my best today ● knowing that when things don’t go my way I can handle that ● knowing I am in the present moment ● having a loving community to give me support ● that I don’t have to redo my work because it is already correct ● being reassured by love and goodness ● hearing the soothing music ● the good in everyone ● the happiness in the room ● the calm fog ● the pretty streams of sunlight ● the self-awareness of others ● the great inner peace that is inside all of us ● a great new day full of opportunity and love ● the endless possibility of this fresh new day ● the help that we all give to each other here ● the sound of the chimes ● the nice calmness in the room ● the beautiful colors of the bearstone ● bearstone stillness ● the participation of everyone ● that our group includes everyone ● the peace of everyone sitting in the circle feeling grateful ● the sounds of birds chirping ● the scent of grapefruit and a peppermint candle ● coloring a mandala ● to get to dance in Zumba and have fun ● the treat of going shopping before school ● to look at books with my parent ● going on hikes ● skipping stones ● seeing my friends ● being able to pay attention and do my work ● being able not to make any sounds when it is time to pay attention ● doing all my homework ● listening to my teacher ● for doing my math ● following instructions ● T sees my best self ● going kayaking ● swimming in the lake with my friendsgratitude 8 ● helping each other ● listening for animals on our hike ● eating new foods ● my new friends ● to be loved ● that my parents adopted me ● life as a human ● food and shelter ● being able to sleep ● ability to afford this school ● being alive ● being me ● the ability to walk ● to be able to talk and see ● to be able to hear ● that I woke up on my own today ● that people care about me ● that I am part of a great community ● that I have the ability to actually find my true nature ● the life that has been given to me ● having T, Jay, Steph and Joe as a part of my life ● my great lunch that my dad made for me ● getting all my homework done today ● going to Scholars Together ● that I am happy ● this peaceful morning ● this app ● the coolness of this day ● RiverHawk ● my grandmother driving me to school ● the beautiful trees ● our three dogs ● the different seasons ● my dad’s cooking ● my mom’s baking ● my sister’s volleyball game ● to know that everyone has love and forgiveness inside of them ● my fuzzy bed ● my loving family ● my friends and family ● my mom ● my dad ● my bearstone ● flowers ● that I can thrive ● the yummy spaghetti sauce we are making and canning together ● Tom’s happiness (not written by Tom) ● I am safe ● puppy dogs ● paper ● having a true nature that is caring and loving ● to know that I am able to complete all of my homework and edits ● being happy ● I am me ● gratitude 3the air that the trees give to us ● my sisters who care about me ● to know that people love me even when I mess up ● my brain ● school ● calmness ● a rainy day that feels cozy inside ● having chocolate malts for dessert – my favorite ● that my core group is getting along so well ● to get almost all 5’s on my daily sheet ● finishing all my homework ● doing my best in Zumba ● helping my dad over the weekend ● to sit in the circle and connect with the others ● being at school ● having a good friend ● being born into this world ● having a good day ● having the same room and roommate ● that I did all my homework last night ● being with everyone here today ● a nice and beautiful day outside ● having a good day ● starting the day off in good way ● doing my best on my homework this week ● I did well on my email ● a good day ● that I am me ● I can learn ● I am good at math ● being in the present moment ● the moon ● the birds ● that I had a good morning ●  that I know that I am going to have a good night ● having a good lunch ● to be living ● a good breakfast ● I got all my homework done ● that I am learning ● the fog ● that I am able to learn ● that I am smart ● a good sleep ● calming music ● the birds chirping ● that I am alive ● this day ● the trees ● the wind ● the shade ● the heat ● the very good hike ● that I am here ● running ● that I am learning well ● that we are going to have special nachos tonight ● having a good time in yoga ● watching a movie about American Indians today and last night ● doing my best on gratitude 2my geology test ● that I know I am going to get all my homework done ● that I am connecting with more kids my age ● the great and quiet morning ● that I am here at RiverHawk ● the meditation in the morning ● that I finished all my work ● the earth ● everything that is good ● to be so happy ● the sun ● the beautiful day ● the animals ● the cold morning ● everything!”

As I finish copying these writings from the students journals I am pretty much awestruck at what is going on in their thoughts! I am thinking that this blog may be enough for the whole year to remind me (and others) who these kids are! And what is already IN there for nourishing and being thankful for! This does my heart SO much good…touches it in such a tender and potent place to know what the willingness to be grateful brings! And that the outward appearance of ANYone doesn’t necessarily tell usgratitude 7 who s/he is. That EACH of us every moment is the receiver of beautiful thoughts, ideas, fresh starts, and mountaintop perspectives of ourselves, others and of our day. I am SO very grateful for each of our students who dares to share their gratitude so openly and freely. They are prayers to me, that remind me of the childlikeness I long to embody and live. Mmmmm, the power of acknowledging good…and the love and healing that  gratitude brings is so transforming.

I am going to consider this the STLC Thanksgiving offering to us all. And the invitation to give ourselves a treat and take time for gratitude.

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we USE them is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” W. T. Purkiser

written by Tien Stone Langlois, Scholars Together Learning Community, Inc.