Saturday, March 19, 2016


White-tipped Lupine and Poppies, North Fork, March 14, 2016

      At the confluence of the North Fork and the Kings, an oak tree towers over two rivers and a one-lane road. Over a decade ago, I stood transfixed for ten minutes as an oriole trilled from one of its branches. Today, as I stare up into its canopy, I remember that its branches soared above me forty-five years ago when my father first brought my family, including my grandparents and uncle, to the confluence. We had parked by the road to search for a fishing hole, encountering bush lupine in bloom and a tranquil pool that suddenly swept around a curve to meet up with the Kings. That day forty-five years ago as I stood dwarfed by the oak tree, I was comforted by the belief that trees, no matter how majestic, are inferior to humans because they lack intelligence or a soul or even consciousness. I was eleven, too young and full of myself ever to have entertained the idea that other creatures are sentient, too young to have ever entertained the possibility that my grandparents and father and uncle would all, within a short period of time, pass away. My mother is eighty-nine now. With her dementia, she seems to be barely holding on, yet the oak is more magnificent than ever. My brother and I that day forty-five years ago hid behind lupine bushes, heaving rocks at each other. He now lives in another state, and no one else shares that memory. The oak now seems more open to the forces of the sun and the moon than I ever have been. For a moment, I want to believe that the oak remembers a few fleeting moments of my history, but I have nothing to confirm that feeling except a sense that living things are connected in ways that are impossible to comprehend. In one way, the oak is my judge, if only because it compels me to reexamine the past forty-five years of my life.
Poppies on the Slopes

      The Rough Fire last year charred the eastern slopes above the road, but now the slopes are vivid green, and most of the oaks look like fire has never attempted to molest them. Due to above-average rainfall and unseasonable warmth, flowers are blooming about a month early. The first white-tipped lupine crowds the grass near the road and poppies ignite the hillsides. Within huge orange patches, a few large patches of white stick out like blemishes, as if some pale cancer is spreading within fiery flesh. At first I think the white might be unusually dense patches of popcorn flowers, but then I find an abundance of bird's eye gilia along the road, and farther up the hills I see forces of blue and white and orange, lupine and poppies and bird's eye gilia, clashing with each other, the three species of flowers after the Rough Fire in this wet year vying early for dominance of the hillsides. The word lupine is based on the Latin word lupus, which means wolf. Like the wolf packs of old, lupine has the tendency to take over an area, but these two other species seem just as exuberant and aggressive and unwilling to give an inch of their territory. I am witnessing the battle of three brilliant armies from afar, a battle I have never witnessed before and might never again.

White-tipped Lupine on the Slopes, North Fork

      As I peer up the hillsides, I can see that this battle involves unequaled splendor, tempting me to scale the dangerous slopes. Since the road was carved out of the hillsides, the way up is far too steep or overgrown in most places, but I finally discover an incline gradual enough and open enough for me to climb, and I gain somewhere between five hundred and a thousand feet in elevation before I step into the battle of the three armies. There are times when one is forced to revise limited notions about nature, especially when confronted with a beauty that is arguably more ravishing and more tranquil than anything in human society. The individual flowers of each species might be struggling for a place in the sun, but these species share a niche that is no doubt far older than any human community in North America. I don't sense hostility in this niche, only freshness and unity. Soon I feel my mind tune to a vibration that induces a sense of oneness. I am once again connected to an order containing intelligences that are tuned to each other—that are less fragmented and separate from the Source than my own mind.
Three Armies: Bird's Eye Gilia, Lupine, Poppies

      As crazy as this sounds, my immersion in the battle of the flowers awakens an intelligence in me that I'm not accustomed to, an intelligence of the soul. I feel a different vibration emanating from each species, a slightly different frequency of the life-force. I feel an eternal spirit within each species that is not limited to its transient manifestation on this earth. I also feel a timelessness that makes modern ideas about human progress seem absurd, and the sense of loss that I felt so keenly under the towering oak vanishes. I sense that each human being is just as eternal but with a unique intelligence, whereas each flower is part of a group mind. I also sense that humans often feel fragmented and separate precisely because we have each evolved a distinct, individual intelligence. Yet humans, since we have evolved within nature, also have the ability to shift consciousness to experience a sense of unity and eternity within ourselves and other forms of life.
Lupine and Poppies, North Fork

     On the Tree of Life, this difference in consciousness is represented by Netzach, the sphere of nature and beauty and the arts, and Hod, the sphere of concrete intelligence associated with the intellect. (When I say sphere, I mean a state of being, or what might be defined as a type of energy.) Netzach is the sphere of the instincts and the group mind within nature; Netzach, according to the Qabalists, emanated the sphere of Hod in cosmic evolution. Hod is the sphere of distinct, individual intelligence represented so spectacularly, especially in modern times, by human consciousness. This evolution has enabled humanity to create amazing civilizations and technologies, but the sense of fragmentation and separation that accompanies individual intelligence has led to much conflict, revealed superbly by the suit of Swords in the Tarot. Once trapped in the sense of separateness and individuality, the human mind can fixate on prejudice and anger and hatred, which makes it difficult to feel the power of the forces of nature, represented symbolically by power animals and nature spirits and gods and angels. I know from experience that a person in this condition can no longer see with the eye of the soul that the physical is the dense aspect of the spiritual.

Ace of Swords


      Years ago in this river canyon, in a troubled time, I asked out loud what I should do next, and the answer came immediately, “Be free.” I did not expect this answer, but I am beginning to understand what freedom means. As I stand in the stunning flowers, without effort I let go of beliefs about my personality, about what should be or what should have been, about who has tried to destroy me, and simply breathe. At times in this canyon over the years, I have felt a great sense of loss because memories of my family fishing in the North Fork flood back to me. My father died when I was seventeen, and my sense of security and continuity died with him, so I also mourn the end of my childhood. As I breathe in the fresh air from the flowers, I feel free of loss. I feel a twinge of nostalgia when I recall those times, but the grief and sadness have vanished. Oddly, my sense of freedom is not about escape from my life or my responsibilities but is tied to my sense of spiritual connection, my ability to forget myself and shift consciousness so that I feel a sense of unity and eternity in the world.

Bush Lupine and Oak Tree at Confluence

          At one time I stood before a great tree and could not understand its significance. I ran through flowers without recognizing their splendor. I did not feel the peace within nature until I experienced much stress and conflict and fragmentation and separation. I did not know how precious and mysterious life is until I experienced many losses. I believed that my family and society would last forever. I was blind to the spirit within all things. Now when I gaze upon the tree by the confluence I simply want to know its history—the history of the river and the flowers, as well as the people and animals who have passed through, the history of the effects of fire and rain and the sun and the moon. Somewhere in that history, perhaps, my family searches for a fishing hole and my brother and I chase each other through the lupine bushes by the river.