By Steve Staniek
The forest has always been my spiritual home where I could feel safe and free. Perhaps it was my exposure to nature from an early age that raised my sensitivity to the energies around me, until I grew `into an environmental empath, that’s someone who can feel the presence of different kinds of natural energies.
As an autistic child, I would find refuge in the woods near our house whenever the tension, or unexpressed energy at home, school, ot church became unbearable. In a quiet spot beside a creek I built a fort out of branches, ropes, and boxes, and it became my Robinson Crusoe island of sanity. Away from all eyes, I could strip down to my underwear on warm days, and finally breath through my bare skin as a way of feeling free. I yearned to discover the secrets of the forest, but mostly I just explored my own thoughts and feelings, and made friends with any forest creatures who didn’t run away. I felt more at home in the community of trees than the community of people. My mother prayed that I would not turn feral.
While sitting in class, my wandering eyes and mind would travel out the window to watch the tall poplar trees outside. Observing patterns fascinated me, and I enjoyed watching the energy of the wind move through the passive leaves and animating them by twisting them from green to silver. I was more interested in what they seemed to saying than the person at the front of the room. I often paid the price for my lack of scholarly self discipline, and I struggled to keep up in school. But my relationship to trees survived into adulthood, and they were always in the back of my mind, figuratively and literally. I was thrilled to discover later in life that the white matter in our hind brain, the cerebellum, forms branches of communication within itself, and it’s called the Tree of Life.
When retirement approached we decided to leave the big city where we had spent most of our lives, to live in the country. One bright sunny day, as I was driving along Highway 401 to a conference in Kingston, I felt a sudden urge to pull off the busy highway and explore Prince Edward County. My mind was on auto pilot as I drove along quiet stretches of highway that wound through villages, vineyards, and farmlands. Like a hound following a favourite scent, I followed my feelings and noticed that my mood began to improve as I circled the bucolic island. I felt lighter and more together as I cruised the county roads.
After a couple of years of searching we eventually found just the right place nestled among trees, and overlooking the water. Here, the branches, boxes, and ropes of my childhood gave way to a comfortable bungalow suitable for our retirement years.
Our home sits firmly on the knee of a limestone escarpment, about 125 feet above the water, and provides us wonderful vistas of the Bay of Quinte below. After living on the property for about a year we began to do some landscaping in a low-lying clearing surrounded by trees, which we named the glen.
On a warm and blustery day, I found myself raking and leveling ground in the glen. The air was so full of moving energy that it became palpable. I’ve found that energy in motion often engages and influences other sources of energy. I used to love to visit the shore of Lake Ontario on stormy days, just to feel the powerful energy released by swirling wind swells, and great white and dark waves tumbling and crashing on the rocky shoreline.
Now, as I raked the dry ground in the glen I found the work hard and boring. Soon my eyes began to wander to the edge of the glen to a gnarly looking cedar growing there. My idle mind was drawn repeatedly to this strange looking tree as though I was responding subliminally to a subtle call from that direction that whispered: “Hey, look at me”. It was very much like being in a room alone with your own thoughts, and then another person walks in which triggers a sudden change in the focus of your awareness. Your consciousness immediately expands to engage the new consciousness nearby, and its presence seems to summon you from your thoughts. Out of curiosity, I dropped my rake and walked over to check out the source of my distraction.
The strange tree was the largest, and probably the oldest of three trees that formed a triangle on that side of the glen. I learned that they were eastern red cedars, a native species that survives dry conditions by going dormant. Closer examination revealed that these native trees have some quirky characteristics. Instead of a single solid trunk, it has a trunk comprised of multiple smaller trunks that come together to form a single trunk. In crowded conditions, it will send out a rogue branch that defies the normal branching pattern as it wanders great distances to seek out better sunlight. These trees often grow in areas unsuitable for other species. They’re related to eastern white cedars, the tree thought to be the tree of life, or arbour vitae, used by First Nations to treat scurvy, and which saved the lives of Jacques Cartier’s crew. The largest of the three trees appeared to be the mother tree with several rogue branches that twisted downwards. Unlike the other cedars in the area, its trunk was twisted in a clockwise direction, as though some force had shaped its growth.
As I stood in the triangle formed by the cedars, I felt soft tingling on my skin, combined with a sense of mental calming. When I conducted a dowsing survey of the area months later, my dowsing rods found several lines of energy traversing the land, and converging at the cedar triangle. I chose this nexus as my meditation spot in order to exploit the environmental energy available here. The glen also became my lab in other ways.
In a far corner of the glen a group of ash trees had become infected with the Ash Borer Beetle. Over a period of three to four years we watched helplessly as the trees slowly lost their battles against insects. Beetles had bored pencil holes into the thick bark, and tunneled under it, robbing the trees of vital sap. The second assault came in the form of tent caterpillars that decimated the ash leaves, and forced the trees to leaf out twice in the same season, draining their reserves.
The first tree to come down was a 60 foot specimen that was still mostly alive when we cut it down. It fell with a heavy thud that shook the little glen, and sent my son and me running for cover. We bucked the branches and left the trunk for another day.
Three nights later I awoke around 4:30 AM for a bathroom visit, and became wide awake afterwards. Since it was a mild October night, I put on my bathrobe and slippers, and decided to walk down to the glen to make a rare, early morning meditation. As I descended into the glen I hit something. I had forgotten about the felled tree laying in the middle of the glen, and though my eyes were dark adapted, I did not see the branches lying on the ground until I walked into them. As I peered into the darkness before me, my eyes took in a faint ribbon of light stretching away from me for many feet into the night’s darkness. I had to take a few steps back to catch my breath and regain my balance.
Puzzled, I walked back up to the rim of the glen from where I could see that there were no patches of low lying fog forming anywhere. The night sky above was clear and starlit. There were no clouds overhead to produce a skyshine effect, ie: reflecting light from nearby ground sources. I gave the long sliver of glowing light a wide berth so as not to disturb it, as I walked around to approach it from another angle to see if I could discover its source and extent. This time as I got closer to a wider part of the trunk, I could make out a soft grey-blue glow hovering over the full length of the carcass of the tree. As my mind took in the significance of the scene my head dropped intuitively out of respect for what I knew in my heart was a lifeforce leaving the dying tree. I said some words of regret, and my body started to shake with excitement or cold as I sat in quiet wonder.
The glow disappeared as the morning light entered the glen. I rushed to the house to investigate the strange light on-line. My cursory research suggested that the grey-blue glow fit the pattern for bioluminescence from decaying organic matter. The common name is Foxfire or Will ‘o the Wisp, and it was documented long ago. The usual sources are decaying matter and fungi, and the glow is so faint that it can only be observed if your eyes have been dark adapted. Apparently, the light is produced by a pair of special enzymes found in some types of decaying matter, and they combine to release biophotons of soft light. After discussing the tree’s eerie glow with an experienced woodsman and chemist, I chose the simple explanation that the light I had observed that morning came from rotting sawdust created under the ash bark by destructive beetle activity.
A few days later I started to dissect the trunk for firewood, and I noticed how thick the bark was, and how little sawdust had been produced by the beetle invaders. The amount of sawdust under the bark was trivial, and it just didn’t seem possible that it was enough to decay and produce all the light that I had observed. The bark was so thick that it would surely absorb the light photons completely. More compelling, was the sudden realization that the rest of the ash trees were equally infected, and still standing, but they did not give off any visible light emissions on that night. As the realization that the eerie glow over the dying ash tree was most likely its life force or spirit leaving the dying carcass sank in, it sent a chill up my spine.
Since the unusual phenomenon could not be explained satisfactorily by natural processes, I assigned it to non-ordinary reality. This compelling visual evidence has proven to my scientific mind that spirits live in trees. Why is there no documentation of this anywhere? Can only autistic eyes discern spirits and things that glow in the night? Now I see trees differently. They’re live fasteners that connect the sky with the earth. Because they live in both worlds, they act as a living conduit of communication between them.
FMRI studies reveal that consciousness is still measurably present after the brain/body has died, telling us that consciousness is not the result of biological processes. Science supports the theory that trees have intelligence, because trees have been observed to mount organized defences against a deadly threat. Planning and strategizing require creative thought.
When the rest of the ash group is felled this spring, they will hopefully provide more opportunities to study this undocumented phenomenon, perhaps with a night vision camera.
Shamanic and other spiritual cultures around the world honour and use sacred trees as: portals or gateways to hidden worlds, sources of wisdom, and even wish fulfillment. To name just a few, the Mohawks of Canada honour the cedar as the sacred tree of life. The Caribe natives honour the ceiba tree, and West African’s have spiritual relationships with the iroko tree.
The visible light emissions coming from the ash tree trunk 3 days after it was cut down, proved to me with high confidence that trees have a spiritual nature that gives them life, and it can be observed under the right conditions.
Steve is a lifelong community activist, who’s main interests are human rights and public safety. He found the shamanic path to be a natural fit, and believes that discovering our spiritual sovereignty and growing it, will heal and liberate us.