Tag Archives: nourish

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).  

Are you tapping into your innate mental strength?

Yay, Steph!

steph mug shot       We have been blessed for several years at Scholars Together Learning Community to have Stephanie Ruopp work with all of us in many venues… all that focus on     supporting our community, students and staff. Her           efforts often revolve around her natural inclination and love of writing, editing, and creative expression while steering others towards that path, too. Besides coaching,   mentoring and editing with Scholars students, she does lots of writing on her own, including articles, blogs, and other tidbits, including her latest work. We are so happy that others are seeing more of her just-plain-talented self and thought we would share this link of her most recent published work and also her blog site.

Thanks, Steph, for these helpful reminders that are encouraging and show doable ways to continue on our path of nurturing our mental strength.

steph blog photo

Nourishing Choices


1. providing items necessary for life, growth, strength and good condition
2. fostering the development of; promoting; cherishing; building up
Synonyms: beneficial, wholesome, healthful
Something SO dear to me are the lessons I have learned (and am still learning) about being mindful. And in particular, being mindful about the choices I have EACH moment to either nourish myself (and our world) or to add toxins to my thought, body and environment.
I have learned how to be mindful, aware, through MANY venues, teachers, life experiences, trainings, meditations, etc. One set of favorite reminders for me of how I want to treat myself and our world is a series of mindfulness trainings adapted from Buddha’s teachings by mindfulness teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. They offer such a practical guide for any seeker – spiritual, religious or otherwise, who wants to have a transformative impact on oneself and one’s world. I am so grateful to have them as part of my guide as to how to LIVE. Each time I read them something new stands out, or a phrase seems especially inspiring. I made a pact with myself many years ago to conscientiously employ them in my daily life.
For the past couple of weeks I have really had this phrase “nourishing choices” in my thought…feeling a blog entry emerging. I see such a need in myself and in our communities, both here and worldwide, to make nourishing choices, void of as many toxins as possible. I realized that the 5th Mindfulness Training really says it…and my, oh my, the word “nourishment” is right in its title! It didn’t images 2seem right not to include it in its entirety in this blog about nourishment and choices.
A word about these trainings…they are goals, a guide on a journey towards a destination, high ideals,…not a means to judge ourselves or others, nor to use as a comparison to another…but to lead us higher, to our best selves, to our best world.
“5. Nourishment and Healing”

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.”

As I write today, I am most interested in the mindful consumption that reaches far beyond the choices of daily food…to what imagestypes of inner dialogues, internet sites, game themes, humor, TV shows, movies, and conversations we ingest and digest each day…AND to realize that we have a CHOICE each time to take in and “chew” what best nourishes us, strengthens us, prepares us, brings out the best in us, and in turn, nourishes our world.

I have had several days recently where a health issue has kept me pretty much in one or two spots, kind of hunkered down…i.e. much time with my thoughts. In my efforts for healing, I have been ultra aware of the mental chatter that would try to lead me here and there AND have had the opportunity to observe. I’ve seen how easy it is, unless we are aware, to be subconsciously led by the nose to let toxins flow into thought and experience, and then to let them sit there, digest there. Whether it be through violent TV shows, movies, electronic games, or derogatory thoughts about ourselves and others, or fear of the future or blame from the past, or using substances that could impair one’s ability to think clearly, …and so many other avenues of available, currently trending and tweet-able daily fare.

I am filled with gratitude that I WANT to make nourishing choices for myself and that I learn more each day about HOW to do that better…while still partaking generously of the breathtaking wonders of this life and planet. My gratitude is also because I also know that it is within us ALL to make nourishing choices for ourselves...to actively become more mindful of what we may be doing out of habit, to make step-by-step choices to bring out the best in ourselves, and eventually others, even if it goes against popular social trends or what media tells us will make us happy or unhappy.

Wait postcard

We have been using this acronym at STLC, adopted from an NVC (Non-Violent Communication) retreat we attended this past summer, to help us on our individual and collective nourishing ventures. We all have a postcard-sized laminated card in a spot that we see often to remind us to pause, reflect, and make a conscious choice about what will be a benefit to our nurturance. Some of the phrases that have been helpful for us are:be your best self
What Am I Thinking?
Why Am I Talking?
What Am I Telling myself?
What (or Whom) Am I Trusting?
       and our newest in honor of this blog topic…
       What Am I Taking in?
written by Tien Langlois, Scholars Together Learning Community
in honor of my mom, Carley…SUCH an avid proponent of choosing in each moment what best nurtures her highest self to bloom…and in turn, others to bloom, too.