The Heart of Home #3: Introducing the Watershed Wheel

Continued from The Heart of Home #1 and #2: Spatial Scale and Time Scale

About twelve years ago, a group of like-minded friends gathered by my fireside to reflect upon what it means to live in this place we call home in Dane County, Wisconsin, USA. We chose to think of the Yahara Watershed as our spatial (geographic) scale, and the series of seasonal events that occur in a typical year as the temporal (time) scale. We put a map of the watershed in the center of a large Wheel of the Year, with units of time of going around the outside rim, much like a clock, but using months instead of hours.  We then went round our own circle, each speaking of the defining moments in the natural world and in the lives of people enjoying it throughout the months of a typical year. The artist among us sketched the details onto the Yahara Watershed Wheel that you see here.

This was the beginning of an approach that I now call wheel-keeping that eventually grew into the Wheels of Time and Place a toolkit and set of instructions for making your own circular journal or mandala, using whatever spatial and temporal scales you choose – such as a year, lunar month, day, lifetime, and do-your-own blank shown below.

Of course, you don’t have to keep a journal to explore and appreciate your home place on earth and the home place in your heart. What are the dimensions of home in this moment? What marks of time’s passing do you observe?  The more playful you are with these questions, the more you may feel a part of your home place and committed to co-creating its well-being with others in your community. Welcome home!

Adapted from Cycles of Seasons, Sense of Place by Anne Forbes in The Yahara Watershed Journal, Vol. 2, 1997. Used with permission.

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The Heart of Home #2: Scales of Time

Continued from The Heart of Home #1: Spatial (Geographic) Scale

As I continue to notice my backyard on this day of winter sunshine, I easily find evidence of past and future seasons. Dried stalks of prairie plants push through the snow and hold up their variety of remnant flowers, evidence of the lush growing time of summer. The cut stalks of asparagus plants top off the compost pile, reminders of the last days of fall cleanup and the long-lived roots that lie in wait under the frozen soil. I notice that I am now allowing time to pass in my mind’s eye. Season passes into season and year into year – past, present, and future.

Here I am noticing temporal scale – the varying amounts of time for each living being to complete a life cycle from birth to death or for a landscape to change from one kind of ecosystem to another. In the years since European settlement, my backyard has changed from native wetland, to coal ash dump for a new city, to construction site for homes, to yard and garbage burial site, to lawn and vegetable garden, and now to a mix of plants that are native and non-native, edible and ornamental, living in a patchwork of my own design, modeled after the designs of nature. To an ecologist, temporal scale can vary from microseconds for a biochemical reaction to thousands of years for the development of an ecosystem. For geologic and evolutionary changes, temporal scale spans billions of years. For tracking our human lives, we often think of the days and months that make up a single year and grow into a lifetime.

photo by brewbrooks

Take a moment to come into the heart space of your own center and the center of your home place and ask:

How do you and your home place dance through time? How do you observe and celebrate daily, lunar, and seasonal cycles?

What is the current season of your lifetime? In the words of poet Mary Oliver, “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Adapted from Cycles of Seasons, Sense of Place by Anne Forbes in The Yahara Watershed Journal, Vol. 2, 1997. Used with permission.

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The Heart of Home #1: Spatial (Geographic) Scale

Today, I find myself sitting in shirtsleeves on my back steps where the rays of a strong noontime sun warm my skin and dance across undulating snowdrifts that cloak my garden. Tomorrow, we expect a blizzard. In this moment, I am able to bask with closed eyes in what is for me the center of my neighborhood. I have a strong sense of belonging here. It is where I nurture what I think of as the first circle of my life, my own health and that of my family, and where I practice what seems like unbounded stewardship for my yard, which is such a tiny piece of the planet.

From this spot, I cast a series of mental loops out across the landscape. Each one encompasses more area, a larger portion of land and community surrounding me. I wonder to myself, “What are the boundaries of what I call home?” As my sense of home place becomes larger, I include all of nearby Lake Wingra and its watershed, including the walking routes, trees, and open areas that are part of my extended family. As my boundary grows, I include places in the city that I frequent, the good friends and colleagues that draw me there, and the habitats that are home to the great diversity of plants and animals of our region, and it’s not long before my awareness extends into the farthest reaches of the Yahara Watershed, nested with the larger the Mississippi River watershed, and beyond. I push myself to cast my mental loops out to match the distances that my personal travels have taken me – eventually South American rainforests and Irish stone circles fall briefly within my definition of home. I marvel that I am able to contract and expand my image of home place to satisfy the curiosities of the moment.

I am relating here to spatial scale – the geographic area of a community or ecosystem and therefore, the boundaries we might use to think about home place. In the mind of an ecologist, spatial scale can range from a tiny site such as the microscopic world on the underside of a leaf on the forest floor, to an entire forest, to the larger regional landscape that includes the forest. The biosphere (i.e, the living planet Earth) might be thought of as maximum spatial scale, at least for life as we know it.

Take a moment to come into the heart space of your own center and the center of your home place. What are the dimensions of home place in this moment? What is the size and shape of the place on Earth where you are able to easily connect with plants, animals, and your human community?

Adapted from Cycles of Seasons, Sense of Place by Anne Forbes of Partners in Place in The Yahara Watershed Journal, Vol. 2, 1997. Used with permission. Watch for The Heart of Home #2 (Scales of Time) and #3 (Introducing the Watershed Wheel) coming soon.

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Trees as Temples

I will go out from home on foot today to wander and find a tree that speaks to me of holy ground. What will be difficult is selecting just one.

Natl Geo photo of the day - Jan 26 2010

Forests were the first temples of the Divinity, and it is in the forests that (people) have grasped the first idea of architecture.  – Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, Genie du christianisme, 1802 .

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Trees as Teachers: The Twins

Many thanks to Rebecca Power, my partner for the Trees as Teachers year long study program, for her permission to share this poster with its inspiring message for the New Year. Thanks also to the Twin Oaks for their example of graceful relationship.

 

Please visit Rebecca’s gallery at RPower Images

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Winter Twigs #2: Butternut, Juglans cinarea

Photo by Rebecca Power

Of winter’s lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer’s secret
Deep down within its heart.
~Charles G. Stater

The shape of trees against the winter landscape and winter sky reveals much of their character that is obscured by their leafy crowns during the growing season. Seen from a distance, we may think of their skeletal branching forms as lifeless. However, if we take time to look closely at the winter buds at the tip of each twig, we may connect with the “summer secret.” Consider this winter twig of the butternut whose downy bud contains the embryonic beginnings for future leaves and flowers.

During the time of winter’s call for you to rest and nurture your creative potential, what lies within the protected space of your tender hopes and intentions?

 

 

Please visit Rebecca Power’s gallery at RPower Images

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Reflecting the Winter Landscape

"Soliloquy" Rebecca Power

Breathe deeply and become still; feel deeply and hear the silence; let the space of the winter landscape hold your dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

Please visit Rebecca’s gallery at RPower Images

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Winter Twigs as Teachers #1: Witch-hazel or winterbloom

Photo by Rebecca Power, http://www.rpowerimages.com

As I prepare to bring you a series of posts on winter twigs, there is some unfinished twig business from the late fall that I feel compelled to cover first. It is all about the witch-hazel, a small tree or shrub also known as winterbloom, with the unusual habit of flowering after its leaves have dropped in October and November. The unique late-season flowers, with their skinny wrinkled green-gold petals, appear on the exposed winter twigs as early decorations for the holiday season. At the same time that the star-like flowers appear, last year’s fruits have waited a full year to finish turning from flower into seed. With the force of miniature missiles, they eject hard, black seed capsules to distances more than 20 feet away.

Around every corner in our neighborhoods, and around every bend in the trail in the woods or fields, we find exceptions to what our minds want to write as nature’s rules. Trees and shrubs bloom in spring, and offer their fruits the same fall, right? The late-season blooming and year-long ripening of the witch hazel reminds us – once again – to be on the alert for the diverse and clever ways in which lifeforms live among us – and to be ready with doses of curiosity and gratitude for what they teach us.

What issue or problem are you carrying today that the witch hazel might help you resolve by inviting you to think outside the box of your expectations and assumptions?

For those of you who live in and around Madison, Wisconsin, I hope that you’ll check out our year-long study program, Trees as Teachers: Connecting the Wisdom of Self and Nature.

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The Notebook: connecting people and trees

As I follow my passion to connect people and trees, and other living things around their home places, it is a pleasure to find a kindred spirit. Richard Murray is one who combines the science of his profession with the wisdom of his heart to encourage us to get to know trees, and the landscapes where they live, with respect, curiosity, and commitment to our common future.

The Notebook
By Richard C. Murray

Collection of information
for reference and for study.
Bits of something unknown or unclear,
but important enough to gather.
The purpose is to connect,
the note is the link.
When added together
they make subjects familiar.
Listing parts, outlining processes,
is just a piece of the story.
The discussions, the connections
or understandings, as you wish,
it’s the relationships of the systems,
steady movement, never still,
that’s how nature works.
From a layering of interests,
crossing paths,
explore new questions,
seek out where the answers lie.

Printed with the kind permission of the author. From the Tree Biology Notebook. This holistic work on trees and tree ecology was designed for the general public as well as professionals and is written from the tree’s perspective

I hope that you will find Murray’s book to be a handy reference for your own observations and consider using the Wheels of Time and Place to support your exploration. Please consider joining me and Rebecca Power for a year-long study program Trees as Teachers: Connecting the Wisdom of Self and Nature.

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Always in Season

This essay is reprinted with the kind permission of Mary Hufford, Center for Folklore and Ethnography, University of Pennsylvania. See more about this amazing project at Tending the Commons. See more examples of seasonal rounds at my gallery.

The Seasonal Round of America’s Mixed Mesophytic Community Forest:
A Resource for the Planet

The Central Appalachian mountains harbor the world’s oldest and biologically richest temperate zone hardwood forest. Spreading across the rumpled terrain of the Allegheny and Cumberland Plateaus, from northern Alabama to southeastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania, the ecosystem that E. Lucy Braun called “mixed mesophytic” (medium moisture-loving) evolved over the course of a hundred million years. Whereas most forest types are dominated by two or three canopy species, the mixed mesophytic system features nearly 80 woody species in its canopy and understory, including beech, tuliptree, basswood, American chestnut, sweet buckeye, birch, black cherry, white ash, butternut, black walnut, red mulberry, paw-paw, persimmon, four kinds of magnolia, and a variety of species of oaks, maples, hickories. Never glaciated during the ice ages, the coves and hollows of central Appalachia (see backdrop photo to seasonal round) sheltered this biodiversity from the freezing temperatures that extirpated species elsewhere. E. Lucy Braun theorized that the seed stock kept alive in the coves eventually replenished the forests of Eastern North America. Ecologists today reason that the coves could again protect biodiversity in a time of global warming. A widespread nickname for this system is the “Mother Forest.”
The soils of this region were so productive that Native Americans regarded much of southern West Virginia as commons, and traditionally warring bands suspended hostilities during seasons of hunting, gardening, and gathering nuts, fruits, and medicinal herbs. Communities living in the region today continue to prize the gifts of forest diversity, not only as economic and subsistence resources, but as templates for patterning life. The formula “plant corn when the oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear,” illustrates in a small way the integration of community life with the life of the forest. The environment itself stores memories, issuing the prompts to which generations of community forestry have responded.
The mixed mesophytic seasonal round is the linchpin of the community forest. Synchronizing gardening, hunting, gathering, and the marketplace, the round begins each year in mid-march with a trip to the ramp patch. Ramps, wild cousins of garlic and the first of the wild foods, are featured at spring feasts and community fundraisers. Forest bounty is always in season: hunting turkey, greens, and morel mushrooms in spring, fishing in creeks and berry picking in summer, digging ginseng, gathering walnuts, hazelnuts, chinquapins, butternuts, paw-paws, and persimmons, hunting squirrel and deer from August until December, tapping sugar trees, and preparing to drink sassafrass tea in the late winter when the need for spring tonic grows acute. Participation in this annual round integrates disjunct parts of the landscape: knowing where the old apple orchards are is vital to hunting for morels; knowing which species of bait emerge and when along particular creeks informs the practice of fishing in major tributaries; following fruits as they ripen later at higher elevations extends the berry season; following the cycle of ripening nuts is formula for success in squirrel hunting. Resting on the knowledge of elements of a system in relation to one another, the community forest fosters ideas about healthy forests that are less and less well-known: that healthy forests need multiple aged stands, including den trees, bee trees, and nut trees; or that depleting resources too rapidly is a form of “robbing the land.”
The mixed mesophytic community forest exemplifies what anthropologist Gregory Bateson called “the thinking system,” that is, the organism plus its environment. You cannot take apart the thinking system without destroying it. Violent technologies used to extract timber and fossil fuel destroy thinking systems all over the world, producing social and cultural dislocation and economic hardship. In the Central Appalachian region, mountaintop removal mining is destroying not only mountains and their communities but community forest systems that could be conserved to support local economies and societies while sustaining a carbon sink that could help to heal the planet.

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