Honoring the Forest Elder

by Jane Wulff

Sangre de Christo Range I feel liberated, I think to myself. It's the day after Christmas and the weather is so mild that I am following the inclination to take a road trip. Temperatures were above average and the mountains around Santa Fe had little snow. I decide to drive down from my home north of Denver to visit a friend, Ruth, for several days.

For all of the years I've lived in Colorado, I have loved the Rockies and have wandered in them all the way up into Canada. They lure me to raft the rivers and camp and hike in their forests. My steps bring me to herds of elk grazing near beaver lodges. I see red-tailed hawks eye a tasty chipmunk and sometimes the fleeting image of a mountain lion. The peaks quiet me and bring me peace. Each one offers its own story to walk into. Yet in all of these 20 or more years, I have spent little time exploring New Mexico's mountains.

My friend lives in a house just a couple of miles north of Santa Fe in Tesuque Canyon. Stepping out the back door takes me straight into a wooded area, with many big, old cottonwood trees, which create shade and sustenance to wildlife and people who share the canyon and the stream that meanders there. It is not pristine. There are several old rusted cars and disintegrating water pipes along the streambed. Yet the water supports vibrantly lush growth along the banks. Coyotes, raucous magpies, crows and ground squirrels share the canyon with the human community.

Ruth and I drive deeper into the canyon toward the higher mountains where she brings me to one of her favorite trails. We cross a stream next to the road and follow the trail in between and behind several properties. The owners are gracious in permitting the path to follow their property until it opens up to become National Forest land. The water rushes along the right side of the path, gleefully enjoying its journey. High foothills flank the stream and are dotted with desert scrub brush and juniper trees. Except for the area along the brook, the rest of the land is quite dry and rocky. The trail is fairly popular, especially for hikers with their dogs. My curiosity leads me away from the main trail and I wander up a hill and see many fossils in the stones that are scattered everywhere. I have not encountered others away from the trail so I am enticed to explore and to hike even higher, where I discover the magnificent views of some of the southern-most Rockies, the Sangre de Christo Range.

The land here exudes the energy of the Pueblo Tribes that have lived in this region for centuries, and still do. Occasionally pottery shards that are 500 - 700 years old can be found in the areas throughout this region. It is so dry here that disintegration takes a very long time. Hiking on a different trail a few days earlier, I found a shard on which the paint was still very visible and I could imagine the pattern that was created on the piece as it may have looked so long ago. As I walk, I feel a profound connection to the land. I know the deep reverence that the Native Americans hold for the earth that has long supported them in every aspect of their existence. I feel the opening of my heart and an expansion of love that encompasses all of the planet and her beings who live upon her. I am filled to overflowing with gratitude with every step I take.

I am drawn down the hill to the main trail again by a force not visible to me. As the canyon deepens, pine trees along the stream grow larger until I come upon a grove of giants. In their midst stands the most spectacular grandmother whose branches reach seemingly into the cosmos. Her girth at ground level would take three people to circle. At her feet lay many gifts that people have brought to honor her: heart shaped stones lean against her within a circle of pinecones. Gold-flecked rocks are carefully placed, each one feels like a prayer. As I sit down and lean against her, I feel her love travel up and down my spine and envelop me with an ancient wisdom. I know that all of the ecosystems are intimately connected and she is holding the experiences of all of the trees on the planet within her body. That energy is radiating to all who choose to come to her with an open heart. She is peace itself.

I have never seen anyone walking on the trail pass by without stopping to breathe in her grandness. I close my eyes and listen to the brook that flows nearby, singing to the grandmother and rushing on to tell stories of her downstream. Her presence has a profound affect that changes and expands people\'s awareness that we are, after all, all One. Supporting the natural world, as it supports us connects us to the cosmos and our own place in the world. The ancient grandmother and the other magnificent pines that surround her express the very spirit and substance of which we are all forged.

Reluctantly, I rise and walk back down the trail to our car. As we drive back I think about the creek behind Ruth's house. It's a waterway that doesn't express the same vibrancy as the one we just left. Years ago, people allowed the creek to become a dump. Though it has not been that for many years, it has yet to be cleaned up. Our responsibility for the Earth is not reflected here. The blight is a symptom of the disharmony that exists in the area. Not only is the land at risk, but so are the people. The diverse cultures often divide rather than unite as some fear that which is different from themselves. The reverence for the land is held within the cultural experience and is passed on for some. Not all. The opportunity we have now is to remember the guidance of the Grandmother tree - we are all One. Honoring the Earth and all of her inhabitants benefits everyone and has the power to create unity as we find, within, our mutual interdependence with each other and the land upon which we live.

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