The Bark of a Venerable Cottonwood

My name is Gail and I sniff bark.

Where this began, I can’t begin to know. Being a literal, as well as figurative, tree-hugger, it likely started while getting up close and personal. Regardless, one day I discovered the warm, syrupy, cozy fragrance of cottonwood bark.This led to me to check out the aroma of an ash tree–lighter and (not surprisingly) woody. Willow–astringent. Elm–lightly astringent, woody, cool. And so forth. Then I sniffed a dying elm–it carried the sour sad smell of illness.

Trees are corporately and individually precious, and not only within the context of their value to humans. In primary school, we learned that trees are important for shade, oxygen production, lumber, nuts, etc. Nowhere was it suggested that we can have a relationship with trees, or that they have a good of their own. Generally, they are viewed as utilitarian, inanimate objects.

Researchers are now discovering that trees communicate with each other in various ways. Healthy trees benefit ailing neighbors. They do better in forests, surrounded by other trees, plants, and fungal communities. Back when I studied forestry at the University of Minnesota, these relationships were little understood, if at all. The focus was on the management of forests for timber production and in some cases, wildlife production, meaning species that humans like to hunt and kill. Being a pacifist vegetarian, some of this didn’t sit too well with me, and eventually I switched career paths.

What is my point? Pick a tree. Sniff the bark, observe it through the seasons, get a sense of its energy, note the birds, mammals and insects that visit or inhabit your tree. Become friends. Your life will be enriched.

Life is But a Dream…

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.

The travails of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule are explored in the 2020 book, Eat the Buddha, by Barbara Demick. Covering the period of the 1930s to the present, we learn of of the destruction of Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhism and its monasteries, along with the murder and detention of countless people. Their suffering is reminiscent of what the American Indians experienced during the destructive westward expansion of the European invaders.

Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, is central to the story. An anathema to the Chinese leadership, he has lived in exile since 1959, ceaselessly traveling the world with a message of peace and non-violence. Ever-smiling, compassionate, he refuses anger and violence in the face of the destructive cruelty done to his people and his country. 

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Let’s say the boat is our body and our life is the stream. What are we to? Float passively? Flailing around bashing heads with our oars? Row in a gentle manner, says the song. Life isn’t a boat race or a war at sea,, but a uni-directional journey of peace and purpose.

The Dalai Lama is an active pacifist. He never stops rowing. He never stops advocating for his people, while teaching us the ways of peace. We can contrast his approach with those who approach injustice with anger and violence. There are no easy answers, but in my way of seeing the world, violence inclines to violence while kindness inclines to kindness. 

Row gently and merrily. Picture the Dalai Lama’s smile. He laughs often. Being perpetually outraged is corrosive to our body and soul. Live lightly. Be merry. Row gently. 

As the song says, life is but a dream. On the day when we truly awaken, this life-dream will fade into nothingness.. For now, with gentleness, row your boat down the stream. Trust in the flow. Pay kind attention to the dream of waking life, as well as to the dreams of slumber. All are one and the same.


Super-Sized Pink Moon

Rising this evening in the southwestern sky is the Pink Full Moon. Know as “Pink” not for the actual color, but for the season in which it appears. Spring. The time of blossoms emerging on trees, in gardens, and in the woodlands. The time when color returns after a winter of whites, grays. browns, and blacks.

Those who came before named the April Full Moon to honor the return of color. What a joy!

Looking out my South Minneapolis window I see emerald grass, chartreuse shrubs, and tangerine tulips. The ash trees, although always late to leaf out, swell with the promise new growth at the tips of each branch and twig.

As if the Pink Full Moon is not enough, this is also the first Super Moon of the 2021. Our beloved moon is passing slightly closer to earth, making the disc appear 12-15% larger than average.

My readers outside of Minnesota may get a chance to view this natural wonder. Here, clouds will likely interfere. But fear not! Twenty-eight days from now, the moon will once again be full, and will once again be super.

I encourage you to observe yourself month to month as the lunar cycles pass. Do you feel a difference in energy or focus as the moon moves from new to full? Personally, I tend to dream more vividly around the new moon. Around the full moon, I am more distracted, misplacing things and generally being klutzier than usual. Let me know what you experience. If the oceans are affected, why shouldn’t we, who are watery, salty creatures, also feel the pull of the waxing and waning moon?

Get out tonight and do you best coyote howl!

Worm Moon

The time has come, I decided, for me to pay closer attention the cycles of nature–the monthly waxing and waning of the moon, the equinoxes and solstices, the apparent movement of planets and stars, daily sunrises and sunsets, leaf unfurlings, floral bloomings, bird migrations, meteor showers, and so much more.

Since the beginning of humanoid existence, we lived in intimate relationship to our natural surroundings. Now that most of us dwell in homes with roofs, move from place to place in enclosed conveyances, and do our work indoors, that connection has loosened. And with that, we have lost a sense of true kinship with other living creatures of the myriad plant and animal varieties.

The March full moon is commonly known as the Worm Moon, presumably based on the emergence of earthworms. It is also referred the Sugar Moon, pertaining to the flow of maple sap. Coming up April 26 the Pink Moon will grace our skies as one of two 2021 Super Moons,, referring to an appearance of somewhat larger than normal sized disk. The designation of the April full moon as pink is said to relate to the blooming time of pink moss phlox.

Renewing a connection with the natural world reminds us that we are nothing more and nothing less than creatures among creatures, dependent on the earth for nutrition, water, and air. We humans have taken an extraordinary toll on the well-being of our planet and its denizens. Only we, person by person, can turn this dire situation around. We all know the steps–buy less, drive less, eat less (or no) meat, plant trees, lobby for the preservation and restoration of wild areas, buy organic and local, to name a few possible steps.

As you gaze at a sun-glinted lake, or see a tiny wild flower in bloom, give thanks for the beauty of the earth and for the opportunity we each have to effect healing of the environment we share with all other living beings..


Homemade “tat” or ballpoint? Hmmm…

If I had any inclination toward body art, two initialisms* would be permanently inked on my arm. One day on my morning walk, I mentally spun on something someone said which was not my problem nor any of my business.


NMP/NMB was born on lovely trail along Minnehaha Creek.

Let’s say we have 16 waking hours per day, 112 hours per week. Unless we are meditation masters, our mysterious, creative, beautiful, cruel minds are buzzing every second. We need filters, we need awareness, we need tools to use when the noise overwhelms.

In this crazy age of near-infinite interconnectedness, personal intrusion takes on new significance. The curated minutiae of individual lives crowds social media–vacations, vaccinations, personal milestones, random thoughts, selfies taken here, there, and everywhere. Pop-up ads, celebrity scandals, political machinations, twenty-four news stations intended to suck us in. To the degree we allow it, a non-stop bombardment of sound and images enters our consciousness.

NMP=Not My Problem and NMB=Not My Business. 

I find these little reminders very useful. I may be stewing over something that another person did or said. Maybe a friend or family member tried to drag me into a situation for which I have no time, or in which I have no interest. Definitely NMP! Or I be thinking about choices made by a friend or relative, or a political situation over which I have no influence. Or I find myself judging the lifestyle or political opinions of another. NMB! 

Do you resonate?

We need protection from chaos, cynicism, hatred, dishonesty, judgment, endless problems which can overwhelm us to the degree that we either shut down, find refuge in less-than-healthy coping mechanisms, or fall into the trap of negativity. By setting filters we can tone down the interference, find peace of mind, and become more effective where things are our business or our problem. 

Peace be with you. Please stay in touch.

  • I first typed “acronym” as in NASA, then realized that being unpronounceable, these are initializations. Yep.