During the SCSA course, everything was dubbed a teacher, a carrier of knowledge and wisdom. Academia coupled with nature-based experience transported me into a realm of knowing that pushed boundaries, where curiosity served as a driving force. The venture to a new place means exposure to the unknowns (some visible, and others not) and as forever learners, we embrace the darkness with open arms (hearts & minds). Knowledge can come from any source, since meaning is always embedded within the seed of knowing. Nature is our greatest teacher and as I was shown time and time again, the land will tell you what it wants if you listen. If something in the ecosystem is hurting, it will be felt by all. 

I have decided to carry the teachings from this trip with the redefinition of what it means to know. Knowing is not absolute and understanding is always changing form (shape-shifting). I have found that a deeper sense of knowing comes from experience, from being deeply present in space and time. Our doings reify our intentions, making it critical to move carefully and with awareness. 

One teacher who shared this with me is water – the blood of life: all the plants, animals, humans, and soil… flow down the carved pathways left by water dance. Water management in New Mexico was a new thing to me. It was fascinating to learn about acequias and the correlating eco-social responsibility embedded within the communities that live beside them. The individual responsibility of a water steward then converged into this larger community of tenderness. Each person has the role of caretaker for their water and to be sure water continues to flow downstream. Being a part of a community means taking only what you need, it prioritizes sharing. It was heartening to hear from Katherine and Jake in Villa Nueva that despite the eventual drying of acequias as climate change inflicts its force, they will continue to care for the water while water is flowing. They treat the water with respect and the water cares for them. There was a stark contrast between how we heard about water treatment by stewards of acequias versus the large water-restricting structures built by the military at the Abiquiu dam. The dams that physically hinder the interaction between people (specifically Indigenous communities who have an extreme cultural connection) and water, or that at least alter the authenticity of it. Water teaches the lesson of communal flows, the reciprocal blood that travels through our soul streams. Gentle hands and compassion, water a symbol of unity (a binding agent between environment & environment, human & environment, and human & human). 

Another powerful teacher is fire – a naturally mandated ecological force uniquely positioned within environmental land management. Fire is needed to promote diversity and the functionality of many ecosystems. Several species, like the Ponderosa Pine, need fire to clean low debris and branches to support upward growth. Before suppression, forests in New Mexico would experience burn almost every 5 years and the beings native to these ecosystems adapted to fire. This destructive force that is said to be a danger, when let to roam, is a huge factor in supporting species diversity. Fire serves as a reminder that change is inevitable, fires will still burn. This burning opens new seeds of growth (like the ponderosa). Fire teaches the lesson that there is no innate villain in nature. There is great importance to deep learning, and for growth, there must be change. The coyote is another teacher who faces a bad reputation. The coyote is an extreme example of resilience, as they maintain an unbelievable closeness to their enemy. Despite all odds coyotes are ever present, scavengers with a high pain threshold. Their incredible intelligence aids in their resistance and their presence helps maintain species diversity. Coyotes are shape-shifters, masters of adaption, utilizing the conditions presented to prosper. 

Since we often practiced engaging with true presence, sound was another prominent teacher I learned much from in our course. This entailed an emphasis on breathing and listening to the beings around me, paying mind to the difference between being intrusive and inclusive. Listening actively to the role [I] played in the ecosystem, the sounds emitted from walking, the shuffling of clothes, and voices. When we sit with intention, my mind picks up on so much more life that is always there but is sometimes shielded. It was the art of not doing, it was simply allowing myself to be a guest, to be welcomed into the home of other beings. Sitting still and silently, more and more birdsong would begin. We could hear the laps of the flies zipping around each of our bodies. Or, the wind playing a tune through tree trunks and on blades of grass. A teacher closely knit to sound for me is wind, it served as a symbol for the invisible. A symbol of everything that is not seen by the eye but felt in another way. If the effects of our actions are not felt immediately, or even not during our lifetime, that does not mean they will not come. It is important to act with compassion and intention in the present as all action has consequences. We do not own the land, we are in relation. 

“We cannot have health in mind, body, and spirit if we don’t have health in relation to the land.” -bell hooks

For all was unknown and all that surrounded me harbored wisdom unimaginable. The undeniably rich experience shared in New Mexico cannot be dialectically summarized. Language in this sense is limited and cannot paint the full picture of the knowledge shared and more specifically, felt.

Ashes of Transcendence at Cottonwood Gulch

What does it mean to use noise to escape noise?
Or, embrace solitude to announce its departure.
The still unknown does not have to be ribboned to dark.
You may be able to see, but understanding is another realm.
Enter a space aware of your space.
Concentric circles of all being linked.
I wake as a companion of the sun.
The night stars are overtaken by day.
With constant motioning, my circle is now lapped with a bird.
I ran by this burnt forest in the morning.
The early running ritual was shared between Kerri and me.
Quick steps at over 7000 feet of elevation.
Trees are sparse and ash immense.
The space is loud.
Sighs from the wind through pine and birdsong filled the frame.
A seemingly unlively home, the perfect womb.
Truncated forms are the clandestine birthplace.
To bear witness to life in this state is a vantage point.
Charcoal sculptures are left behind.
Ash outlines of trees that once were.
I walked by this forest again. This time alone, a bag in my hand.
I sit a moment with the tree ghosts to feel what once was.
I gather a handful of ash and put it in a glass jar.
What is no longer with us takes on a new form.
Venture on and reach the fence.
The boundary between private and public.

 

I squeeze through the fence and am now in national park territory.
Trees surround me. Trees. Trees. More.
Too many trees. A whisper of competition.
This part of the forest has not felt the gentle touch of fire.
The dense, green forest seems uncomfortable.
The tension is tangible and the birdsong has faded.
I walk the path back with all the gifts from the forest.
We walked by this forest. Many steps carry beings with intention.
One tree could not be found.
The alligator juniper is stretching slowly.
A grandmother who has lived for centuries.
Time and time again she could go unseen.
The unknown is a lifelong friend to be hugged each day.
When the Juniper is found we all embrace her.
I walk the same path back to the campsite.
What does love look like for this place?
Burning love.
My bag is now full.
What is in my hands now is seed.
The memories from time immemorial are felt in my hands.
Not fully understood, but held.
Cradled within realms of splendor.

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