Saturday, July 9, 2011

Into the Woods: With author Shirlee Hall, composer Dave Glenn Alley and a few amazing treehuggers

Over the rainbow...into the woods

By Susan Parcheta
(Pub. May 15, 2011

I think I’m a Treehugger.

The notion has been growing in me in recent years; but it wasn’t until I became acquainted with Shirlee Hall and Dave Glenn Alley on Facebook, that I knew. I certainly wouldn’t have given myself that label.

Shirlee and Dave, however, have caused me to ‘fess up.’ When I heard about their recent collaborative effort to coordinate Shirlee’s book (My Own Tree) — combining a walking meditation with Dave’s music composition (Living Totem: A Walking Meditation) — the walker, would-be-meditator and tree-lover in me couldn’t resist. I’d found a couple of kindred spirits.

Together, their work helps bridge the gap I was feeling in my attempts at meditation, provides a  tool for working with color, and reflects my absolute love of walking among trees.

 I love to walk; I have difficulty meditating; I love trees. My walking forays among them often seem like a meditation experience. I just didn’t make the connection.

They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Enter Dave and Shirlee…just when I needed to kick things up a notch.

Well, I’ve always been an advocate for environmental issues and keeping our planet green.  I have always loved trees; and I thought I always appreciated their existence. Is it possible I’m evolving into a Treehugger, and not just a tree admirer? Could it be that I am actually taking this tree thing to a new level?

In retrospect, I can picture many favorite trees in my life. I suppose, as in the wonderful movie, “Avatar,” I’ve forever had my “home tree.” Many of us would probably admit to that. I think we gravitate to trees as children, when the spirit of play and wonder, and appreciation of Nature is fresh and familiar.

Then we grow up, and we think it’s silly to talk to trees anymore, sit with them, or climb them. Yet, we might secretly wish to have a tree house (and not just as a place where children and grandchildren play).

A couple of Facebook friends helped confirm my thoughts on this, when commenting on a post I wrote about a tree that had become a symbol for me, having been cut down. My lamentation sparked their personal memories of trees.

 Angi in England said, “Thank you for the memory of a tree which is long gone because its timber was considered valuable by the people supposed to be looking after the wood it was in. The ‘Loving Tree’ (a spalted beech) was the heart and spirit of the wood.”

Jaschenka, from the Netherlands, loves to visit her favorite trees, including 
this magnificent tree at the gardens of Blarney Castle.

Photo via artist Jaschenka Sarloos

Ruth, a retired teacher, responded: “My childhood favorite was an English Walnut which I used to sit in for hours. I do not think I have a picture of it – except in my head! I drove by my old house a few years ago and discovered it was gone…I love trees – am fascinated by their shapes and strong trunks.”

I especially loved Ruth’s memory of sitting in the tree for hours. It would make an interesting book to highlight personal favorite trees, along with memories. I bet we’d come up with surprisingly similar stories about trees, and their place in our lives. I’m not sure how many of us would admit to having a conversation with their tree, though.

This whole notion of talking to trees — you know, like in the popular “Over the Hedge”  cartoon with the “tree that knows things” – came to mind one day, when I found myself singing a favorite song from the musical  “Paint Your Wagon”: “I talk to the trees, but they don’t listen to me….”\”I Talk to the Trees\” – Clint Eastwood from \”Paint Your Wagon\”

My nostalgia turned up a bit of a crooked smile when I decided to look up the lyrics and found clips on You Tube.  Picture this: Clint Eastwood singing “I Talk to the Trees.” Well, you don’t have to picture it, you can view it.

There he is, a lot younger, ambling romantically along among a forest of trees, singing…to the trees. At the time that movie was made, you wonder what Clint Eastwood really thought about that role. Of course, in the film, no one is looking while Clint’s singing – only the trees.

Back when that movie was made, I don’t think the term “treehugger” was in the cultural vocabulary. In recent years, it’s become mainstream. Does the name Julia Butterfly Hill register in your consciousness?

Yes, she’s the one who spent a couple of years living in the giant thousand-year-old redwood tree, staving off the loggers way back in 1997-99.  If there are messages in trees, she must have downloaded huge lectures from Luna, the tree she made her home and her cause.

I recall being entranced by her personal mission, the strength of her convictions, her social consciousness, the love of Nature she lived out by inhabiting that tree for her cause.

Still, I would find myself wondering, how does one become so “at one” with trees to have that kind of fortitude, much as a mother bear protecting her cub from danger, to fight for its survival by becoming part of the tree?
In a different way, tree lovers Brian French and  Will Koomjiam  are making waves in  treetops with their mission (March 2011) to traverse an Oregon White Oak forest canopy over a five-day period, without touching the ground. Fascinating.  Here they are playing out a fantasy of living in trees.  They founded Ascending the Giants in 2007, an organization whose purpose is to research, document and preserve the world’s largest trees.

As pointed out on their website, “Trees around the world play a key role in human development and cultural progression. Civilizations have grown, prospered and fallen as a consequence of their relationship to forests. Even today, widespread deforestation still increases around the world.”

Their traverse intrigued me, as my husband and I enjoyed skimming the treetops in the Live Oak Hammock at Myakka State Park in southwestern Florida a winter ago. Only we did it the easy way, walking the awesome  wooden canopy bridge and climbing the stairway structure to a birds’ eye view of the forest below. I could have stayed up there for hours.

There are all levels of tree activists, I’ve discovered, to get you thinking where you are on the advocacy scale. I recently learned of activist and artist Franke James, who writes a wonderful blog: My Green Conscience.

Checking out the Treehugger site, I found her article about the Canadian forests conservation, in advocacy of using FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood  and wood products: Who Cares about the Forest? James has found a resonance with trees and her art.

She’s also found her passion as a motivational speaker and author to raise awareness of environmental issues. Her book is Bothered By My Green Conscience.

An easy way to become an advocate for our forests is to follow and support some of the grassroots petitions  to raise awareness, such as Care2’s Heritage Forests Campaign, whose slogan is ‘Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.”

A recent petition mentioned: “Our national forests are an irreplaceable resource that provides clean drinking water for roughly 124 million Americans and valuable habitat for more than 15,000 species of plants and animals, including those that are threatened or endangered.”

Most of us are familiar with the Arbor Day Foundation, dedicated to planting trees worldwide, and especially replanting our national forests, and the Save the Redwoods League, which buys land where redwoods grow, and working to restore damaged redwood forests.

Richard St. Barbe Baker (1889-1982) probably talked to trees. A pioneering advocate for sustainable forestry            he was passionately involved in the 1920s campaign to save the California Redwoods.

He would foresee the global impact of world deforestation that we now face. He started the international environmental organization “Men of the Trees,” and actively promoted forest conservation and tree planting around the world.  St. Barbe Baker was truly The Man of the Trees, and I’d say one of the first treehuggers.

I was struck by this passage quoting St.Barbe Baker, as he attempts to put words to his childhood experiences in the woods: “…I seemed to have entered the fairyland of my dreams… I had entered the temple of the woods. I sank to the ground in a state of ecstasy; everything was intensely vivid… The overpowering beauty of it all entered my very being …my heart brimmed over with a sense of unspeakable thankfulness which has followed me through the years.”

The world needs more men and women of the trees…like Shirlee Hall and Dave Glenn Alley. Their mission is meant to bring into our awareness, the spirit of trees, urging us to take trees to heart for health and healing.
Shirlee Hall's "My Own Tree"

“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way,” said naturalist George Washington Carver, “you will command the attention of the world.” Shirlee and Dave have created an uncommon combination — working with trees, color and healing. This idea of a walking meditation that combines the blending of color work and tree focus is fascinating.

Here, Shirlee outlines the meaning of the Tree of Life:   “The Tree of Life is one of the most profound symbolic representations of the Kingdom of God.

Looking at the roots of the tree, the seed is planted and life begins.
The seed/roots , trunk, branches, leaves, buds and fruit of the tree are all one. The image and likeness of man to God is contained in the distance that lies between the seed and the tree. The greater our spiritual awareness and activity, the less distance between the seed and the tree. The  perspective or ancient teaching, ‘As Above so Below,’ again expresses the hidden meaning of the Tree.”

“If you love color, the sun, the trees and all of Nature,” she says, “use the creative suggestions and tools  as an easy and playful way to enhance your daily life in body, mind and soul.” The Color Workshop, based on My Own Tree,“ she explains, “regenerates our inner and outer Tree, which involves all the energy systems from the base of the spine to the top of the head and beyond. The focus includes physical, emotional and soul healing using the power of the Sun and Its Rays, Nature, Laws of Spirit, Affirmations, a radiant Prism of Color and Sound from both an Earth and Sky perspective.”

I love the rainbow colors in Shirlee’s tree work. All colors equal a rainbow. Nothing is more beautiful to me, than a rainbow after a storm above the treetops. How do we see rainbows?

A question on “A marvelous gift of nature is the rainbow. Rainbows typically occur when the sun is low in the sky. The sun’s rays strike the raindrops of an approaching or departing shower. In turn, each drop acts as a prism, separating white light into the colors of the spectrum, creating a rainbow. The primary colors of a rainbow are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet in that order.”

In Shirlee’s world, the rainbow IS the tree. And, the journey, she speaks of in her workshops, is “toward being organically whole.” “Participants cross the bridge from ordinary life to living a magical one. Step by step they are led to a resting place – their own Tree House.”

You may find more about her work as author, healer, workshop leader, and about her book, My Own Tree, at her website Shirlee writes a blog, as well: A Sun Message.

Dave Glenn Alley works in the healing arts, as co-owner with his wife of a day spa and mobile deejay business in Charleston, West Virginia. “My true passion,” he says, “is music, art and of course nature. Last summer I had the rare privilege of recording the companion CD for Shirlee Hall. The book (My Own Tree) and CD (Living Totem) were designed to outline and enhance a unique walking meditation method.”

Living Totem: A Walking Meditation

“I practice the Living Totem Walk several times a week,” says Dave. Dave’s music will be heard throughout Shirlee Hall’s new radio show, Raw Spirituality…soon to be up and running under the umbrella of A Celebration of Women where Shirlee is a featured writer.

Dave and Shirlee team up on video meditations as well, such this We Are Trees.

As a living totem, a tree can be a symbol of hope for the future. Surely there was a global heart connection when viewers around the world saw the picture of a lone pine, designated “Tree of Hope,” in the aftermath of the Tsunami in Japan.

The beauty of trees as a symbol of life and hope came to mind again to me, while watching the April Royal Wedding of Prince William to Katherine Middleton in a majestic tree-lined cathedral, with Westminster Abbey being transformed into a “Fairytale Forest” – including a “Living Avenue” of trees.

Contemplating the power of trees as a symbol for mankind, I think back on my own journey.  I never had a tree house as a child. I loved climbing trees, though, and my first “home tree” was a tall lone pine in our front yard. I  – and my brothers and sister — loved to go up and sit in that tree.

So I guess you could say I’m going back to the future, finding my tree roots once again. Thanks Shirlee and Dave, Angi and Ruth for reminding me.

*Author’s Note May 15, 2011: Unbelievable… Just as I was wrapping this up to finally post, this article on the Care2 ezine came into my inbox today. California Will Close Up To 70 State Parks To Save Money

Links for Aspiring Treehuggers:
“Treeverse” – video clip of Brian French and Will Koomjiam’s film
Julia Butterfly Hill’s Blog at WordPress
The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods
Save The Redwoods League
Richard St. Barbe Baker — life story vignettes
Richard St. Barbe Baker Facebook page
Franke James’ Six Tools for Climate Change
Franke James’ Sparking Your Green Conscience
Fascinating Tree Lore at GardenDigest
We Are Trees — Video meditation by Shirlee Hall and Dave Glenn Alley

Update on Shirlee and Dave October 2011 -- Shirlee Hall's new DVD "Finding the Spiritual Gold Within: Will the Real Me Please Stand Up" (Shirlee's "workshop in a box" -- with music by Dave Glenn Alley - filmed in a beautiful natural setting in West Virginia)