Coming soon: a new web address for this blog!

[[[At the end of November I'll be migrating this blog to a new address, which will be:]]]

18 October 2012

underworld (into the forest)

The best memories of my childhood are of being in the forest, alone.

My thoughts were more clear there than they were in any other setting at that time. Today I learned that the imagery of the forest still has the power to bring me clarity of thought, or at least to bring to a state of calm which allows for a greater degree of clarity. This state of calm is not the calm of absence, the calm of lack; it is the calm of vibrancy, of womb-like life, a symphony of souls, blanketing the forest like a mist.

There in the foothills of the Adirondacks, I found shelter in the forest; it saved me from my home.

This could be a picture of the woods surrounding my father's house.
It isn't, but it  looks exactly like it, right down to the grown-over tractor trail.

Such a strong connection to the spirits, there... as though the Underworld were closer in a forest...
It seems there are many connections between forests and the Underworld - which I'm sorta using as shorthand for a comprehensive  label describing all things on the other side of the veil. 

I remember escaping into the forest, running from the tension and the hurt; the season didn't matter, the forest always welcomed me. It hid me, sheltered me from my step-mother, who rarely left the house and wasn't "fool enough" to go walking in the woods.  

We logged those woods, as a family, every autumn. We would be finishing up right around this time of year, if we still lived there. Logging was one of the few things we ever did cooperatively. Once every few years, Dad would hire a guy to come in with his percherons and cut down the trees of a certain size. That year and the few following years, we would spend the late summer and most of autumn finding the felled trees and harvesting them. Dad wielded the chainsaw, slicing the trunks and branches down to carryable size. My step-siblings and I (often it was just my step-brother and I, as my step-sister didn't care for this work) would load the pieces into the wagon. My step-mother helped with the loading sometimes; usually she just drove the tractor. In her defense (I suppose), she did usually make my step-sister help with the unloading, once we got the wood back to the house. There, Dad or my step-brother or I would chop it down smaller with the ax, so it could fit in the wood stove we used to heat the house. We'd stack it along the wall of the house, near the back door.

One year, my father's grip slipped, and he sheared off some of the skin on his palm with the chainsaw. He went back to the house, cleaned it up and put a bandage around his hand. My step-mother insisted he go to the emergency room. So he went, and the doctor took the bandage off, cleaned it out again, put a new bandage on, told him he was lucky, and gave him some painkillers. I doubt he ever took them. That was the year we had to wait to haul in the rest of the wood, and we ended up going back in between snowfalls so we'd have enough to last til spring. Only Dad was allowed to use the chainsaw.

I liked being there in the woods. It made me feel safe even when my step-mother was there. As though the strength of the forest overpowered whatever drove her and made her cruel. In hindsight, it seemed that it was true. I have so very few memories of her being angry while we were in the woods, and so many more of her being neutral, or even pleasant, during that work. There, I could shrug off what cruelty did come; it lacked significance.

I felt more powerful in the forest. There was no need to fear. In part, I think that was because there were no walls to close me in, to trap me. There were no corners to back into. But there was  space. There were many hiding places, and I knew them well. She could barely find the trail. It was more than that, though. The forest felt sentient and beloved, an active shelter for those who loved it back.

These are the citadels, the natural cathedrals, the monasteries of the sentient Earth. Starhawk writes, "Branches are patterns of flow, of collection, concentration, and dispersal." (The Earth Path, page 188) She How many mythologies can we think of which describe trees - or a tree - as connecting two or more worlds? This site (which is interesting in it's own right) lists more than a dozen cultures with "cosmic tree" myths. The Forest, with it's dramatic seasonal cycles, has long and wide been a symbols for human cycles of life. In a place that is so alive, so long-lived, and composed of trees to touch all worlds, it's no wonder there is such a strong spiritual presence. I've come to believe that forests are places where the Underworld is unusually close to our physical world. If nothing else, their patterns of branches and roots are powerful symbols of the cycle of life and death: we flow through, collecting and dispersing as our paths lead us from one world to the next, and back, again and again, and again.

This gorge was a twenty minute drive from our farm.
It's a tourist attraction, but still one of the most spiritual places I've ever been.


This post is an expansion of my last Pagan Blog Project post,
"Unobtrusive magic (under the bridge)." 
Let's consider it Part 2.


Image sources:

No comments:

Post a Comment