Cultivating Connection: The Fairy Circle Model

“The Universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”

Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story

A fairy circle, or fairy ring, is a scientifically sound structure, but magical, nonetheless.  Just the presence of the colorful caps of mushrooms supported by sturdy stalks scattered across the dark forest floor, creating a community of kaleidoscopic canopies, leaves me awash in wonder.  Much like the fruiting bodies of flowering plants, these unmistakable umbrella-shaped designs are the sexual reproductive structures of these spectacular species of saprophytes. The fairy ring is brought to life when these prismatic parasols of fantastic fungi, originating from the far-reaching fungal network underfoot, protrude above the ground to create a circular pattern. This awe-inspiring arrangement begins underground as a single spore settling and spreading its small, hair-like filaments called hyphae outwards to absorb nutrients from dead and decaying matter in the soil. Soon, other spores settle and join this covert circle, creating a colony of connected hyphae, a mass network of root-like structure called mycelium. However, the magic of the fairy circle manifests only if the fruiting mushroom bodies of the fungal network appear above ground. These mushrooms are mesmerizing, but short-lived. The fascination of the fairy circle is not without folklore.

There is a myriad of folklore that follows the fairy circle. Most of the stories do not bode well for humans. Fairy rings are the gathering spaces for nature spirits and fairies. Although humans are forbidden to enter the sacred circles, they are a symbol of good luck if you come upon one. I honor and celebrate the fairy circle in my model design for cultivating an intentional and purposeful connection with nature.  If we look above and below the simple ring on the forest floor, we can imagine the 2-dimensional circle as a 3-dimensional sphere – a sacred sphere of life.  Within that sacred sphere, we immerse our whole body to connect to the natural world through stillness, silence, and solitude.  As we deepen our engagement, we explore and experience certain emotions and feelings – wonder, awe, love, peace, gratitude, beauty, and joy. They are the fruiting bodies of our richer relationship with our natural environment. It is in these emotions and feelings where we cultivate our deepest connections with nature, ourselves, and each other – kinship, belonging, purpose, harmony, and balance.  It is here in the sacred fairy circle where we embrace our life source, unearth our place and purpose, and celebrate our magic.

Join me here, as this is the BIG journey for 2023. We can connect in-person and via Zoom for those interested. Look for my podcast announcement as that is coming in the very near future! I appreciate your continued support and look forward to connecting soon!

Rosemary

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”

Doug Larson

Rosemary is the final plant in the series Pondering the Plants of the Winter Solstice. Rosemary is an easily recognizable, pungent herb often infused into our seasonal savory dishes. Its aromatic aura aids in memory and recall. It rouses our senses to remember, recollect, and reminisce.   Memories of by-gone gatherings may muster up a mosaic of emotions and feelings that we must maneuver through in the latter months of the year.  Where I reside, rosemary is a tender perennial and its presence in my winter garden is a fragrant reminder to be gentler with myself amongst my memories.

Ringing in a new year comes with a lot of expectations. Expectations of letting go of our old attachments and ideas, our tired negative self-talk, and our ancient patterns of worry. However, our genetic gifts of consciousness, creative thought, and nuanced, nostalgic tendencies rich in emotions and feelings, make letting go a much more complex construct than a calendar countdown to a new year.  We must wallow through our ego, fear, illusion, and a myriad of memories and muddled feelings – sadness, loneliness, anger, resentment, insignificance, and a loss of control and connectedness.

With some practice and in our own time, we can live fully and free ourselves from suffering, attachment, and mental and emotional fixation.  Engaging in daily mindfulness practice, grounding ourselves in the present moment, setting aside time for sacred self-care, and holding space for and fully feeling our emotions, wholly affirming that it is OK to not be OK.  As we let go of  what no longer serves us, honoring its place and purpose in our growth, we cultivate and carry forward a sense of wild freedom, unbounded happiness, limitless personal growth, and deep, engaging relationships with others.

Birch

..”When in that quiet aisle my feet have trod I have found peace among the silver trees,…”

Andrew Greeley

Although not all birch bark is white, in the winter season we often see the bark from the white or silver birch species wired into wreaths. The bark is perceptible as thin, papery plates of peeling layers with a distinct, horizontal, parallel pattern. Seemingly dainty and delicate, birch bark is strong, flexible, and water resistant.  Typically, birch is a pioneer, short-lived species that populates an area after a perturbation. They are widespread in the northern temperate and boreal climates of the Northern Hemisphere. The beautiful birch trees represent renewal, growth, and adaptability. They arise quickly and acclimate easily.

In this time of rest and inner reflection, we contemplate what we intend to cultivate and grow as we welcome back the sustaining solar energy and light into our lengthening days. In our acknowledgement of the Winter Solstice, we can rejoice in our renewal and release our regrets. As the birch, we can arise quickly and acclimate easily if we root ourselves firmly in our grounded center and reach toward the light. We can peel back our tender, fragile layers to expose the essence of our authentic self.  From here, we grow in our resplendent resilience, sensitive, yet strong and pliable, yet powerful.

Oak

“This oak tree and I , we’re made of the same stuff.”

Carl Sagan

As part of the Pondering the Plants of the Winter Solstice, I am reposting this essay that I wrote in 2021. It is published here on my blog page and in the Plants and Poetry Journal anthology, Plant People: An Anthology of Environmental Artists.

 Oak is the overseer of the lengthening light and is often burned as the yule log on the eve of the Winter Solstice. It represents long life, endurance, strength, and protection.  In my work, I have an activity in which I ask my participants, if you could be a plant, what plant would you be and why?  My participants are often hesitant to answer, so I begin – I would be a tree – never a specific species of tree, but strong, sturdy, wise, grounded, and deeply rooted, nonetheless.   After returning from a short respite in remote Alaska, I found myself living in a small cottage with a large yard surrounded by forest. In my front yard, grows a gnarled, old white oak tree, Quercus alba.  After observing the life of this time-worn tree over several seasons, I have decided that the queenly Quercus alba is the tree I would most like to epitomize.

Quercus alba, the white oak, is a deciduous tree native to eastern and central North America. Most grow to a height of 80-100 feet and live for 200-300 years. If undisturbed, some trees can reach a height over 100 feet and thrive for 600 years.  Although both its common and species name (alba means white) indicates ivory attributes, the names refer to the lighter, ash-gray color of the bark.  The bark of the white oak is its most distinguishing detail.  Its exquisite, exfoliating exterior is a pattern of imbricate, protruding plates, a thick, vigilant veneer encircling and protecting the vital, living, inner sanctum of this stately species.  This aesthetic armor acts as a shield, a physical adaptation to protect the tree from fatal fire damage.  The wood of Quercus alba is heavy, hard, strong, durable, and naturally water and rot resistant. Artfully used in the construction of ship hulls, wine and whiskey barrels, caskets, and furniture, white oak is a valuable resource that withstands the test of time both in structure and story.  In addition, its acorns are sweeter than those of other oak species, making them the most palatable and preferred food source for forest-dwelling animals, including white-tailed deer, black bear, squirrel, several species of bird, rabbit, and mouse. Native Americans ground the white oak acorns into flour.   The white oak is a species strong and persistent in presence.  Wrapped in its picturesque, protective bark, the white oak’s majestic form grows in grace and beauty. 

Like the worthy white oak, I stand strong and deeply rooted. My unconditional love, unremitting joy, and intuitive wisdom spread out from my sacred center to others, like the farthest-reaching branches of a tree. At 58 years of age, my exterior, a pastiche pattern of wrinkles, laugh lines, age spots, and stretch marks, is as exquisite as the beautiful bark of the white oak.  My silver hair is akin to the ash-gray color. Like the queenly Quercus alba, I am wrapped in a resplendent, but resilient skin. Grounded in gratitude, and sustained by self-love and compassion, powerful and persistent, I continue to age authentically in grace and beauty.  If we lean into our strengths, grow our self-acceptance, and surround ourselves with our protective support systems, we stand strong and endure like the time-honored oak.

Holly

Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.”

From The Holly and the Ivy , a song by Andrew Peterson

If conifers represent the peace and beauty of the winter season, then holly heralds as the protector.  It is the sanctioned species of plant in the time of lessening light. Holly’s glossy, green leaves and brilliant, red berries brighten the barren, winter landscape.  Often used in decorative, front door wreaths, holly gleefully greets guests with the classic colors of season. With sharp, serrated leaves, she entangles evil spirits before they can enter. Holly is the guardian of the nature spirits and fairies. If you have ever found yourself encircled by a bent, bowed, bulwark of holly tree branches, you have felt her placid, protective presence.

Holly’s protection is amiable, not armored. Her lancinating leaves let in birds and other wildlife, providing protection, food, and a place to rest. Like the pointed apex of the holly leaf, we have honed our habits to protect us from physical and emotional damage. In this solstice season of darkness, we contemplate our collection of self-preserving behaviors and safeguards.  Our we securing ourselves from a place of peace?  Rooted in peace, we grow in safety from our grounded center. We remain wholly exposed and engage with others more authentically. We surrender our shield of salient insecurities and smooth our sharp, jagged edges to welcome others in.

Pondering the Plants of the Winter Solstice

The pine stays green in winter…wisdom in hardship.

Norman Douglas

The time between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice is my favorite time of the year.  The days decrease in their duration of darkness until we celebrate the return of the Sun and the stretching of solar seconds, lengthening our lot of light.  My time living in remote Alaska was life-changing and being alone in the depths of darkness was a trigger for transformation. Darkness lends to our longing to slow down – restore ourselves in rest, reconsider our purpose, rekindle our passion, and root ourselves in the rhythm of nature through reflective time outdoors. Many of us bring the outdoors in, decorating our spaces with a selection of seasonal, celebratory plants.  Reconnecting with nature through these beautiful, bountiful botanicals can cultivate a deeper sense of discernment, desire, and direction as we depart from darkness to light.

Conifers, particularly pine, spruce, cedar, fir, and juniper, are symbolic of the winter season. Many of these species live in cold climates and their glorious shades of green are refreshingly restorative juxtaposed to the sleepy, surrounding scenery. Each are delightful in their scent and texture and can arouse a multitude of memories. Beautiful and sensuous, conifers are also resilient. Their needle-like leaves preserve water. Flexible branches bolster the ability of the persistent perennial to withstand the weight of snow, bending, rather than breaking. 

The holiday season and the ensuing winter months can be difficult for some. Colder days, a deluge of decorations, dollar signs, and other duties can weigh us down with worrisome thoughts and wavering self-worth.  We are brittle with burden.  In the season of lessening light, let us purposefully bring nature in. We can rejoice in her beauty, rest in her peacefulness, reconnect to her rhythm, and release the heaviness of what no longer serves us, restoring our resilience. Like a graceful collection of conifers, we bend without breaking.

Awaken

“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames”

Rumi

Most of my career has been spent in science and outdoor education. As an educational consultant, teacher, curriculum specialist, and program developer, I have had many incredible opportunities to design and execute a multitude of creative, science-based, experiential programs for a range of grade levels in an assortment of settings.  My goal is to inspire others, ignite their curiosity, creativity, and connection to the natural world. Since earning my Master of Science degree in 2015, something inside me has been smoldering. Like the continuous calefaction within a compilation of compost, I could sense a recalescent, re-ordered purpose. In the last few years, there have been experiences that have truly expanded my creativity and growth. Rising from my renewal is From the Outside, LLC, a series of plant and nature-based lessons and activities designed to cultivate connection and well-being. I invite you to peruse my newly designed website and ask yourself how can I, my students, my staff, my clients, or my patients, benefit from spending time with nature? How can I connect them more deeply to the natural world, themselves, each other, and the community? Please share this site with friends, counselors, teachers, mental health professionals, and others working in the field of human connection and healing. I will continue to write as it is the seed for From the Outside lessons. As always, I appreciate your continued support and would love to connect , so please feel free to reach out anytime. Be kind, be well, be wild.

Hidden Life

“Three things cannot long be hidden: the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth”

Buddha

Since November 2021, I have felt hidden away. My life has unfolded in moments of overwhelming joy, undulating uncertainty, quiet solitude, and a significant shift in the path to fulfilling my purpose. Life has been so busy and my seclusion has not been purposeful. It feels good to slow down and to have the time and head space to create, whatever your passion.

Recently, I spent some time hiking the Colorado Plateau region centered in the Four Corners area of the western part of the United States.  Living along the East Coast for the last few decades, I was delighted to discover the distinctively different desert flora.  The spectacular species of succulents, copious collections of cacti, and prolific populations of scented sagebrush and lush lavender were captivating.  Equally as engaging, was the curious, caliginous crust that conceals the colorful, terra cotta soil.  This biological crust, or cryptobiotic soil crust, is a complex community of living organisms on the soil surface that is a critical component in shaping arid and semi-arid ecosystems across the globe.  Cryptomeans “hidden” and biota refers to ‘life.” Surprisingly, this seemingly superficial surface is significant in retaining soil moisture and preventing erosion. It is often referred to as the Protector of the Desert.

Like other types of soils, cryptobiotic soil crust is created through the cooperation of countless, small organisms, including microfungi, lichens, mosses, green algae and bacteria. Its most bountiful biological life form is the ancient blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are dormant when the soil is dry. When it is wet, cyanobacteria move through the soil, stitching together an intricate web of sticky fibers and small soil particles that shape the crucial crust. This thick, continuous, cribriform, living layer reduces evaporation, resists erosion, regulates water absorption, and anchors an array of other organisms that promote plant growth. Young soil crusts are lighter in color, but mature crusts, often thousands of years old, appear darker, blackened and bumpy. Crust development varies in time and depends on soil structure, texture, and chemistry, elevation, microclimate, and disturbances to the landscape – including humans.  Cryptobiotic soil crusts are far-reaching and extraordinarily fragile. They shield and sustain the unique flora of the desert.  As humans, we are also tender. At times, we may conceal our true character under the depths of a dark, cryptic crust.

Often, our inky, heavy crust is a covert, convoluted web constructed from our tiers of unresolved trauma, stories of shame and guilt, layers of self-loathing, and the echelon of our enormous egotism.  Like the biological soil crust of the desert, our external encrustation should emerge from our unique, authentic expression.  Espoused by our acceptance, compassion, and creativity, our exquisite outer layer expands our resilience, encourages our growth, embodies our vulnerability, and enhances our relationships with others.  We remain tender, but grow more deeply in our kindness, gratitude, patience, and love, maturing into our unbroken, best self.

This essay is included in the anthology Gravity’s Grave, Volume 2 The World Beneath Our Feet published by Plants and Poetry Journal. Plants and Poetry has been so supportive of my work. Please check out their website and publications.

Sanctuary

“Allow nature’s peace to flow into you as sunshine flows into trees”

John Muir

In Latin, the word “solstice” mean “sun stands still.” On this longest night of the year, I pause to ponder the solemnity of the darkness and honor the sacredness of nature’s cycles.  For as long as I can remember, nature has been my sanctuary, my refuge, my sacred space.

Stepping into the forest is an exquisite exhale. The raw reverberation of nature. The saturation of scent and sound soothes my soul.  The collective calls of the forest birds beckon me into their world. Cocooned below the canopy cover, the bulwark of branches bolsters me in its being and beauty. The algid air is pungent and profuse with the earthy fragrance of fungi and decaying organic matter. With each breath, the vaporous veil of volatile compounds emitted from the trees as they transpire steeps into my cells, invigorating my immune system and strengthening my spirit.  The forest is a fortress to my well-being.

Originally Zion National Park, located in Southern Utah, was given the name Mukuntuweap, a Paiute word that means “straight canyon.”  In the late 1800s, Mormon pioneers bestowed the name Zion on the area, an ancient, Hebrew word meaning “refuge” or “sanctuary.”  Recently, I visited this picturesque park and stood solely in the sanctity of its scenery. A storm system settled in overhead, enveloping the enormous escarpments as it surrendered its superfluous contents, creating cascades of rifling water mixed with sanguine sandstone.  Through the vacillating veil of storm clouds peered the rock faces, respectfully referred to as the Watchman, Angel’s Landing, the Sentinel, and the Temple of Sinawava, named to honor the Paiute’s Coyote god, or spirit. Awash in awe and replete in reverence, I felt the protective presence of these prodigious peaks, like the cradle of an ancestral mother or the amorous embrace of a beloved.  My sense of self fell away as I stood in the presence of something bigger. 

My revered relationship with the natural world has substantiated my sense of humility and feelings of a smaller self as I am reminded of my interconnectedness to a larger sphere.  I am drawn out of self-interest into the concerns of the social collective and whole community. Exposing myself to awe-inspiring experiences, especially those in nature, big or small, leads me to focus on what is truly important.  We have the world at our fingertips, but many of us long for a more passionate, healing, engaged, and sacred connection to others. Be intentional in seeking out your sanctuary. Invite others into the reach of your refuge, experience awe collectively and stand in the bigness of it together. Embody your awe-inspiring moments to grow your joy, your creativity, and your community.

The White Oak

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.

Robert Browning

In my work, I have an activity in which I ask my students, if you could be a plant, what plant would you be and why?  My students are often hesitant to answer, so I begin – I would be a tree – never a specific species of tree, but strong, sturdy, wise, grounded, and deeply rooted, nonetheless.   After returning from a short respite in remote Alaska, I find myself living in a small cottage with a large yard surrounded by forest. In my front yard, grows a gnarled, old white oak tree, Quercus alba.  After observing the life of this time-worn tree over several seasons, I have decided that the queenly Quercus alba is the tree I would most like to epitomize.

Quercus alba, the white oak, is a deciduous tree native to eastern and central North America. Most grow to a height of 80-100 feet and live for 200-300 years. If undisturbed, some trees can reach a height over 100 feet and thrive for 600 years.  Although both its common and species name (alba means white) indicates ivory attributes, the names actually refer to the lighter, ash-gray color of the bark.  The bark of the white oak is its most distinguishing detail.  Its exquisite, exfoliating exterior is a pattern of imbricate, protruding plates, a thick, vigilant veneer encircling and protecting the vital, living, inner sanctum of this stately species.  This aesthetic armor acts as a shield, a physical adaptation to protect the tree from fatal fire damage.  The wood of Quercus alba is heavy, hard, strong, durable, and naturally water and rot resistant. Artfully used in the construction of ship hulls, wine and whiskey barrels, caskets, and furniture, white oak is a valuable resource that withstands the test of time both in structure and story.  In addition, its acorns are sweeter than those of other oak species, making them the most palatable and preferred food source for forest-dwelling animals, including white-tailed deer, black bear, squirrel, several species of bird, rabbit, and mouse. Native Americans ground the white oak acorns into flour.   The white oak is a species strong and persistent in presence.  Wrapped in its picturesque, protective bark, the white oak’s majestic form grows in grace and beauty.

Like the worthy white oak, I stand strong and deeply rooted. My unconditional love, unremitting joy, and intuitive wisdom spread out from my sacred center to others, like the farthest-reaching branches of a tree. At 57 years of age, my exterior, a pastiche pattern of wrinkles, laugh lines, age spots, and stretch marks, is as exquisite as the beautiful bark of the white oak.  My silver hair is akin to the ash-gray color. Like the queenly Quercus alba, I am wrapped in a resplendent, but resilient skin. Grounded in gratitude, and sustained by self-love and compassion, powerful and persistent, I continue to age authentically in grace and beauty.

This essay is published in Plants and Poetry Journal’s Plant People An Anthology of Environmental Artists (August 2021) and on their website, www.plantsandpoetry.org