Sunday, January 15, 2012

Aldered Experience: Connecting to those 'whispers' within

Skiing around Jenness Pond today was frigid, only around 9º with a brisk wind, but I was dressed for it wearing a windproof shell, facemask, even goggles. It was a real challenge being buffeted by the wind, skittering on top of the snow most of the time, except for sudden and unexpected jolts from breaking through the crust.

My reward was soaking in with all my senses the sparse primal beauty of windswept ice and sky. Plus whatever else one might encounter.

Last week, before the snow, while skating on the lake, I spotted the huge dark body and white top of an eagle circling about 300’ away and marveled as she stopped in mid-flight, hovering motionlessly, before slowly descending straight down like a helicopter to dine on dead bait the ice fishermen left behind.

What would it be today?

Going down the far side of the lake, I found myself pulled, as if by some mysterious force, to a haphazard row of scraggly bushes leaning out over the ice. I knew what they were: common alders considered a trash plant, a nuisance and eyesore to most summer people trying to yuppify their lakefront lots.

Maybe what attracted me were the fractal shapes of the alder cones, bowing in the wind in an understated way like Buddhist monks. Or maybe because they were such good environmental Samaritans, feeding and protecting wildlife while embracing the shoreline with their roots, preventing erosion.

Whatever the reason, my attraction overruled commonsense, even on the windiest stretch of the lake, forcing me to stop, take off my down mittens, and fumble around to find my camera. Even after I was finished taking photos, I lingered, reluctant to leave, as if waiting for some secret message from the alders.

I found myself pondering the subject of my photographs, what appeared to be cones hanging off the alder branches. I was confused because growing up, I called these appendages something else, a name that I used to know well, as did everyone in my rural community who, because they lived close to the land, were well versed in local flora and fauna.

Cauking? Caitring?  Why couldn’t I remember?

Dredging deep down into old memory banks I kept trying to remember the proper name. Suddenly, it came to me…CATKIN!  But still, I wasn’t positive my recollection was correct. Was it a real recovered memory or a false memory, a spurious consequence of information overload, caused by well over half a century of new memories steeped in modernity, overlaying the old.

I decided to google “alder catkin” as soon as I got home. While making this mental note, I had another thought: perhaps my old catkin memories which had sunk, through disuse, into my subconscious were analogous to how modern humans have lost the ability to locate underground water while indigenous folks like the Australian aborigines still can because they have not become disconnected from the natural world.

My insight extended further: Beyond the human capacity to find water, there surely exists a vast reservoir of other primal knowledge and body memories – of being one with our mother, the earth, and cradled like a happy newborn within her natural rhythms that we have lost access to, submerged beneath our conscious mind by a rushing tide of unprecedented social change – waiting for us to draw them back up into our waking world, just as I had done with my memory of catkins.

After I got home and warm by the woodstove, I hit pay dirt on my very first google attempt: I landed on a blog so attuned to what I was thinking, it was as if Google’s patented algorithm had read my mind.

First off, I found that, yes, the word I had associated with alders is ‘catkin.’ But alders are unusual, one of the few shrubs able to produce both male and female flowers which can cause problems, making it difficult to tell male flowers from female. What “gives the game away” is that only last year’s female flowers develop into cones.

So it is confusing: what I photographed today used to be a female catkin last summer but isn’t one today: she has transformed herself into a seed-bearing cone.

What is not confusing is Suzi Smith’s marvelous blog, Alder... Catkins, Cycles and Continuity, where I found this informaion. She introduces us to the complex world of alders with poetic words and haunting photographs while, at the same time, connecting us to the larger ecological and spiritual implications. I highly recommend it!

All and all, I've been on quite a journey today.

I was inexplicitly drawn to the alders which connected me not just to my unconscious but to closer harmony with the rhythms of the natural world and then, as if guided by a higher power, passed directly through to Suzi who closed the circle by validating my alder experience, telling me “all of us are ‘healers’ in some way…use your intuition, connect with those ‘whispers’ within.

I feel simultaneously exhilarated and humbled.

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