Part 1 was posted last week. You can read it here.
When I first came to this area 40 years ago I was ‘called’ to land about 15 minutes from here. That first summer I was out in the field picking blueberries when the field rose up around me and held me like a mother. For the first time in my life I felt loved. Shortly afterwards I visited an area that had been brutally logged. I had never seen anything like this and just the scent of weeping pines sickened me. That night I had a dream: the terrifying picture of dying trees and slash and then superimposed over it the image of my beautiful land. When I awakened I thought that the dream was telling me that loving my land was somehow helping the ravaged forest I had seen the day before.
Soon after this experience frightening tree dreams began… whole forests were being slaughtered all around me. The waters were receding in my brook and destructive uncaring neighbors moved in. Two were already living here.
I was stunned. I had no close neighbors except down the hill and they seemed friendly. I had a beloved relationship with my land and her brook was flowing, full and clear. I was happier here than I ever had been in my life. Why was I having these nightmares?
The next year the two pieces of property up the hill from me were sold. The first man cut down my trees and built a bridge over the stream on my land. Six months later the second neighbor moved in; she had a dog that bullied mine – for years. The nightmare had begun. The trees were stripped from my back borders. It took a few more years for the first neighbor to chop the crowns off all his trees. Hatred bullying, betrayal, unpredictable explosions became the norm. Another neighbor across the road created a huge pond lowering the water table permanently. The brook was no longer clear; I stopped drinking brook water. Meanwhile the logging machine was stripping whole mountains of their pines. Skidder marks carved up what was left of these foothills leaving ugly scars. Every time I mentioned the loss of trees to people they said “oh, our trees always grow back; Maine has more forest now than it did a century ago”.
Dismissed, I gave up, there was nothing I could do.
As the trees disappeared so did the bears that I had studied and loved along with foxes, barred owls, and cottontail rabbits. More difficult to explain was the increasing sense that the Spirit of this Place was receding. I felt it but I had no idea what I was responding to. What did I mean? Now I believe the Spiritus loci, the Spirit of Place was losing power. I am not certain a guardian ever watched over this land, just me, and I was not enough.
I believe that the loss of trees can affect the power of the Spiritus loci. Finding a protected forest that was rewilding itself helped me understand this truth long before groundbreaking science confirmed that the forest was a Living Being and all parts of it were connected, above and below.
Meanwhile, I gradually adapted to the sadness that pervades the air around my home. For awhile I believed I must be projecting my own losses outward but almost 40 years later it is clear that my sorrow and the loss of Spiritus loci are both parts of the same story. Every border of my land is stripped of trees. As more forest/land destruction continues this once stunning wild place has become a Shadow of its own Past.
I survive because I have learned how to live with what is. By appreciating each bird, each tree, my small field, my shrinking brook I participate in a greater round; one in which giving thanks and caring for this small oasis is all I can do.
I also advocate fiercely for the trees writing my way through the rooftop of hell.
It doesn’t escape me that my dreams forecast every single incident that happened to me on this land. The gift was that I finally found protected land and forest I could love. For years I wondered why I was called to witness such malign behavior and mindless destruction here. Sometimes the anguish was overwhelming. Today I understand that I live through an intergenerational pattern of loss and if I hadn’t lived it here it would have happened elsewhere. I believe the other reason is that Nature needs reciprocity. By this I mean that S/he needs humans to be emotionally present, to grieve losses with her and this was the place S/he chose for me to do this work.
Yesterday morning I discovered a little chickadee that had been mauled by something in my caged birdfeeder. After I extricated the dead bird, I shuddered. It was my mother’s birthday. Chickadees are beloved birds to me. Where should I bury him, I said to no one in particular. The place I chose was under thick needles and sticks of the Old Mother Pine. When I stood up after internment at least 40 chickadees were chirping in a nearby crabapple. Forty at least! That they were witnessing the loss of one of their relatives was obvious. I felt a deep sense of gratitude that we were together. The chickadees and I are one with the spirit of the land, what’s left of the Spiritus Loci, the shadow that remains…
Postscript: I think it’s very important to be clear that the Spiritus loci can manifest just about anywhere if the conditions are right. My experience is just one of a multitude of possibilities. Water and stones, flowers/ gardens and deserts are all possibilities. I don’t know enough about guardians to take a position. For me it’s always been the powers of place.
BIO: Sara Wright is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.