Speaking with Nature: Awakening to the Deep Wisdom of the Earth - Sandra Ingerman, Llyn Roberts 2015
Elk - Llyn
Elk and Snake
Imagine strolling through a magnificent dark forest and sniffing the fresh scent of conifers. The canopy of branches over your head is an intricate lacing of hemlock, spruce, cedar, and fir trees.
I love walking through forests in the Pacific Northwest, and as I do I notice signs of animal life all around me. For instance, whenever I see the telltale nipped tips of bushes, I look to the ground as there are often hoof prints of deer or Elk.
Picture in your mind’s eye the tan-colored body of an Elk, with its tufted, dark brown hooded head and white rump.
Can you envisage an Elk bull with antlers that weigh almost thirty pounds?
Sense for a moment what it would be like to wear a thirty-pound, three-foot-high sculpture of shapely bone-hair on your own head.
There is a rough inlet that veers off one of my favorite walking trails in the Hoh Rain Forest. Taking the narrow path I climb over a large log. The bark is stripped where the hooves of many Elk have scraped against the fallen tree.
Further down the path I come to a clearing with giant trees and prehistoric-looking ferns. When the sun streaks through the spacious canopy, its warmth coaxes a delicious smell from the earth. When sunlight penetrates this place, it also illumines flattened grasses where Elk sleep amidst the giant fern fans. It’s exciting to find Elk beds and aweinspiring to see Elk in the wild.
The Olympic Mountains are home to the largest unmanaged herd of Elk in the Pacific Northwest. This vast wilderness region also boasts the largest Elks in North America. Ten thousand visitors a year pass through the gates of Olympic National Park, tucked into the far northwest corner of the United States. Up to two thousand people a day can drive in when the rain ceases during drought season in August and September.
Some environmentalists guess that only 3—5 percent of original old-growth forest remains outside National Park boundaries in the United States.
At the same time I have heard locals say: “The Elk love the cleared lands; they are great places to graze.”
Elk do often browse in manmade meadows where great forests once stood. As they nibble, some Wapiti (Shawnee, meaning “white rump”) bend to the earth while others stand alert. The herd, whose primary threats are people, bear, and cougar, appears as a choreographed wave of bobbing heads in the open field and is a sight to behold.
Elk are gardeners of the forest. Wapiti hooves that dig into the earth aerate the land, and the health benefits that drive people to search out dropped antlers for medicines and dog chews, are meant for the soil.
Wapiti antlers enrich the earth as they decay. The seeds spread by Elk scat also spawn trees. Animals attracted to treeless meadows attract the trees back to these meadows and reforest the land. Nature knows what she is doing.
We are likewise designed to merge our own with the Earth’s desire. To do this we nurture nature and our own wild ways.
Regarding the trees much of the old-growth forest in the United States is either gone or preserved. In the 1930s and ’40s, 50 percent of forests in the western coastal states—including Washington—were old growth. Now it is less than 20 percent, and 80 percent of that 20 percent is on federal lands. But since many clear-cut areas are replenished with tree planting, people ask: “What’s wrong with clear cutting the land if the old-growth forest that remains is protected and new trees are being planted to replace what is cut?”
What these folks don’t realize (and I did not until I moved to the Olympic Peninsula) is that tightly packed rows of the same kind of tree are planted for reharvest a few decades later. Tree crops aren’t forests, whose hallmark is diversity. Animals are killed and displaced by tree cutting, and monocultures are not only subject to blight, even a dog would be hard-pressed to get through the thick tree stands, let alone a winter Wapiti herd sporting huge-antlered bulls traveling paths their ancestors forged hundreds of years before. In turn, those traveling paths opened the forest for other animals to roam and also drop scat for a hardy ecosystem.
Seeding the land with new growth is as vital as seeding our communities with new dreams.
In these shifting times the Earth has a lot to purge and renew and she is doing it. We are part of the planet’s evolution and also have imbalances to set right. Humanity is prodded to deepen; a new way of living wants to take root. Just as Elk shows up to vitalize barren fields, dropping scat that holds the memory of forests, in our lives circumstances, events, and people appear to restore our true nature.
“Take a breath,” says Wapiti. “Relax and lift your gaze. See what steps in to stand with you in this life meadow, your field of experience.”
Coinciding with the dismantling of the life we know is auspicious happenstance, an allure to the life we have yet to live—the life that dreams us.
Wapiti encourages, “Be open. Scan your field.”
What steps in may be a human, animal, or spirit presence; a provocative thought or memory; a stirring book or piece of music; a message in a dream or from the wind or from a favorite tree; an encounter or event; or something else.
This changing era is plentiful in soul direction; we simply need to open to and participate with it. The grace that floats in may be a miracle. The miraculous is more accessible as we remember who we are. Miracles are our human birthright.
Grace can also be a life lesson or a nudge to grow. As a simple example, a puppy showed up in my life quite by surprise last December. Three days after I took this puppy back to my cabin, my nineteen-yearold cat unexpectedly died. The timing was uncanny, as if beautiful black angora Katie had summoned a soft, furry black animal to take her place.
But Gabu-San was not Katie. A frisky Husky-Aussie, the puppy soon started to nip at me. Hard. Letting Gaby know I wasn’t an animal she could herd was an intensive undertaking that felt very demanding after just losing a gentle companion of almost twenty years. Yet grace has its own timing, which is perfect.
Gaby and I have our own sweet bond now and she pushes me to be tougher, a quality I need for the more rugged lifestyle I’m exploring.
Blessings have their own ways and are abundant in these times. When I assume this I see them everywhere, not only when I feel the need. Like little Gabu-San, they often arrive in forms I don’t expect and sometimes in those I don’t desire.
Ultimately, everything is blessing.
It’s good to consider this and also help others to open to and trust grace at play. Ask Wapiti to step in with you when you find yourself auspiciously in another’s field of experience.
You may ask, “But what of painful circumstances in nature and among people for which it feels impossible to find the blessings?”
At these times it’s up to us to bless, to activate grace. Ask Wapiti who seeds a forest as she walks through clear cuts to help you enrich this barren field and nourish whatever situation you encounter.
Compared to the hundred-head Elk herds I’ve seen in Rocky Mountain National Park near where I lived for many years, Elk groups in the Olympics are small in number with around twenty Wapiti to a herd, although two groups may come together for a time. One morning last winter I awoke to thirty-eight Elk outside my cabin in the Hoh.
The forest is full of life in winter, when I see many Elk, as on that morning, just as it teems with life in the spring.
It’s June now, and two evenings ago a huge Black Bear hung out in the meadow behind my barn. Little Gaby and I stood outside watching as it ate dandelion greens.
This morning as I was driving out of the forest, another, perhaps the same, large Bear lunged from the trees and into the road, right in front of my car. Black Bear enacted an extravagant twirl, then dashed into the woods on the other side of the road.
Less than an eighth of a mile before Black Bear spiraled into the road in front of me, I’d met up with the tail end of a modest grouping of Elk. Twelve elegant, wild creatures, large cousins of the deer family, stepped out from the trees, including a dark fluffy baby trailing a Wapiti cow. Despite the open car window, I barely heard a sound as the half-herd leapt into the forest on the other side of the road.
A cow, a grandmother perhaps, stopped scant feet into the trees. Her long glance in my direction made my heart pound.
Three bulls surrounded the grandmother, baby, and other cows. Their blunt velvety antlers, just growing, will shoot hard bony spirals three feet or more toward the heavens come winter’s first flurries.
Wapiti is a teacher of one of the most ancient symbols for the feminine—the spiral.
Antlers, like hair, are spiritual antennae. Elk bulls wield their branchlike antlers in figure-eight spirals when sparring in rutting season. This configuration builds and releases incredible power.
Wapiti channels this ecstasy into the herd. The awesome presence of old stags attests to years of harnessing the potency of the spiral. Cows, like mothers all over the world throughout all time, incubate that spiraling life force during pregnancy, then birth it into form—in this case baby Wapitis. It is no wonder early peoples identified the antlered ones with fertility and power. This regenerative power, not exclusively sexual, infuses us and all life.
The Elk drive this life power into procreation. So strong is this force that a bull can hurl another into a tree, snapping the tree in half. My friend, Monty, has told me that decades ago a neighbor’s horse met an ugly death when a rutting Elk spiraled out of control into the horse standing nearby. The animal was buried where it was knocked to the ground.
Humans describe rutting spars as displays to establish mating dominion. Although in essence this is true, it’s just a fragment of the whole scenario.
Wapiti invites us to appreciate the amazing energetics animals engage in and to embody these rhythms—reclaim the spiral.
In the Hoh River the water forms eddies at turns and where large boulders or logs lodge. The whirlpools can drive like power drills into rocks and sand. You would quickly get pulled under if you jumped into the water in some of these places.
Cone-shaped pieces of wood wash up on the Hoh River’s edge. These branches spiral out from the trees where they grow. The limbs are embedded in the trunks, like screws driven into wood. Thousand-year-old trees fall into and travel the lengths of these rivers, and the massive trunks often fall apart before their dense branches do.
The spiral is impassioned and strong. Ancient rituals from all cultures celebrate and invoke the power of the spiral. Many traditions, such as Tibetan and Sufi, include spinning energy practices. Spiraling snakes form the helixes of our DNA and entwine the axis rod of the caduceus, symbol for allopathic medicine.
Spirals are found everywhere in nature and in us.
Elk follow the same paths their ancestors trod hundreds of years before them. What it means to be a Wapiti is imprinted in the land; the energy of their collective and ancestral memory can be shamanically detected in the paths that the animals create and follow on the earth.
In walking the antlered ones’ pathways, I spiral into Wapiti consciousness, feeling the hunt in the land and ancient rhythms of the run in my body.
People and animals have walked, crawled, and run the land for thousands of years, to flee, fight, seek food, find water and shelter, and wander. Wandering was first nature to original nomads of all cultures. Anthropologists and historians say that many early peoples wandered all over the world. As just two examples of walking cultures, to this day there are Bedouin desert walkers, as well as lowland and highland walkers in Wales. Like the Elk, as these folks walk and run, they embody, and also release, the spiraling force.
The word walk is Anglo-Celt for “water,” and in their travels humans likely used their bodies as natural dowsing rods to guide their search for water. We are 70—90 percent water—walking water. Aimlessly wander and see if you walk (water) the land in a spiral. As water and life move in spirals, it makes sense that one eye, one ear, one foot, and so forth is larger than the other and also that our legs are different lengths.
Semicircular fluid-filled canals in the inner ear, called labyrinths, balance our vertical bodies when we are walking. Labyrinths attach to spiral shaped cochlea, which look like soft nautilus shells.
Everything about us says “spiral.” Wapiti reminds us that we are the spiraling force.
Shells and galaxies spiral, plants spiral as they grow, smoke swirls and spirals in the air just as our breath spirals into our nostrils and through our body, then out again to the air, the wind, which spirals tornadoes and whirlwinds and dust devils. Water spirals into vortex spouts in the ocean and seawater chisels stones into beach sand, just as rivers make whirlpools that sculpt rich places for habitat, and so on and so forth.
We take in as well as release the spiraling force as we walk (water) the land. This enlivens us and the earth. That good feeling of having our bare feet on the earth is nature calling us home.
Wapiti encourages us to engage the field of our experience and welcome the grace and growth opportunities that step into our life meadow as introduced by story and suggestion above.
Wapiti also invites us to reclaim the spiral. Just as a washing machine applies spiraling action to clean our clothes, the whirlpools in natural bodies of water cleanse the water, whirling wind whisks the air clean, and swirling flames purify forests.
Here are some simple suggestions for engaging the sacred feminine spiral:
Gaze at spiraling starlight and muse on the Milky Way and other swirling galaxies. As you do, feel how these reflect your own spiraling nature.
Look at, dream on, play with, and move as the spiraling patterns of water, wind, and fire; circular plant designs and those in pinecones and tree rings; whirling flocks of birds and the swirling forms of clouds; the twirling flight path of a honeybee; and so forth.
Walk a labyrinth or trace one with your finger.
Envisage the labyrinths and spirals in your inner ears. Look at photographs of ear spirals and labyrinths.
Hold a glass of pure water and swirl the water into a vortex with a wooden chopstick. Then, as you drink the water, feel and imagine the fluid spiraling through and brightening every cell—your internal waters.
Instead of walking a straight line, skip like a child tracing circles and spirals on the earth. Also do this in cities to juxtapose sharp urban angles and lines with fluidity and curves. Those who see you may drink in this watering and catch the spiral’s power. You will know it by their smiles.
Enjoy doodling circles and spiraling shapes.
As you call in the spiral, watch how it shows up in your life field. For instance, while completing this chapter I stayed at a cabin overlooking another glacial river. A silt-foam ball the size of a human head appeared in the water below my deck. It formed in an eddy among three large stones. A clear mirroring, it was astonishing to watch the white foam-head continuously rotate in the water.
Invite the spiral by writing, telling, and imagining stories, including your own life story. Instead of knowing what you will write or tell, muse into the tale and see how the story spirals through it.
As an example, instead of planning every detail of my life, I muse with it, see what shows up in the meadow of my experience, and then sense how to dance with what appears.
As you tell a tale and muse with it, the story may circle round and again, though it never comes back to exactly the same place. So it is with spirals, and life. Reflecting this, indigenous people naturally speak and teach in spirals and circles via storytelling. When we open in these ways, it is awakening to see what channels through to us.
The spiral cleanses as it circulates stale waters. As we put a new spin on our stale stories, we will brighten, just as the spiraling kundalini snake and the electrical information in our spiraling DNA strands light up our spiritual bodies. This can happen in an instant, as the spiral is not linear and our stories (and we) are not solid, as we think and have been taught.
Allow ample room for the many stories that may make you cry. Allow your inner waters to spiral up to release feelings so that their expression and tears may cleanse you. We may also cry as we touch into—and in so doing cleanse—the Earth’s soulful stories, which are our own. Her deep waters are our deep waters. In musing on the Earth, we recover who we are.
Let yourself explore. Participate with what shows up in your life field and be sure to spiral the gifts out to the world, to brighten it and make it fresh.