This is an ongoing US and global project to help enthusiasts, scholars, practitioners, and curious parties learn more about shamanic living in a contemporary culture. The space here is devoted to sharing info, experiences and opinions about all forms of shamanic expression covering shamanism's multiple permutations. Among subjects explored are traditions, techniques, insights, definitions, events, artists, authors, and creativity. You are invited to draw from your own experiences and contribute.

What is a SHAMAN?

MAYAN: "a technichian of the Holy, a lover of the Sacred." CELTIC: "Empower the people...by changing the way we think." MEXICAN APACHE: "Someone who has simply learned to give freely of themselves..." AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL: "...a teacher or healer, a wisdom keeper of knowledge... (who) takes people to a door and encourages them to enter." W. AFRICAN DIAGRA: "views every event in life within a spiritual context." HAWAIIAN: "...human bridges to the spiritual world and its laws and the material world and its trials..." QUECHUA INDIAN: "embodies all experience." AMAZON: "...willing to engage the forces of the Universe...in a beneficial end for self, people, and for life in general."

-- from Travelers, Magicians and Shamans (Danny Paradise)

Friday, October 10, 2008

How A Tree Shaman Lives

This is really worth the read...it shows how EVERY job can be a shamanic job...thanks to the Tree Shamans for all they do. Hugs, Walks In Two Worlds

Marking Timber
June 01, 2008
by Bob Perschel

We are easy to spot. Look for boots spattered with blue paint.

Blue paint dots our wool hats in the winter and speckles our hair and baseball caps in the summer. In the fall, because the accumulation of paint turns our once brightly colored orange vests into a strange camouflage, some of us tie orange marking tape to our clothes to alert the hunters.

We are foresters. Within the profession we are known as dirt foresters, and a great deal of our time in the woods is spent selecting and marking timber for harvest.

People everywhere endow trees with psychic energy and layers of meaning. Trees appear in our poems, our paintings, and our songs. When they live interdependently in groups known as woods or forests, they signify that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts, teaching us that when we live together as whole communities and nations, we can be more than what we are as individuals. What a responsibility, then, to choose which trees to cut and which to leave standing.

Among themselves, foresters acknowledge that they walk a thin line through the woods, paint gun in hand, straddling the opposing worlds of life and death. One friend calls his forester wife the angel of death when she picks up her marking gun and prepares for the days work.

I spent almost 15 years working in the woods of New England as a forester. There were long strings of days I spent marking timber sales. Alone. In the woods. I was there when the first snarls of snow fell out of the northern sky and softly filled up the woods. I was there marking trees when the first green shoots forced their way out of the wet mud and unfurled in a blanket of green. I was there when the first orange color etched itself on the edges of the maple leaves and I watched the first leaf let loose its hold on life and flutter to the ground. Through the marking of timber, we become a part of a natural system that can teach us how to live more fully and with greater awareness. Approached in this way, the task of putting paint on trees becomes a meditation, even as we acknowledge that cutting trees is at its heart an economic decision.

You spend all day weaving your way back and forth through the hardwood forest, examining each tree in turn and deciding whether it should live or die. You repeat this each day, considering perhaps 30,000 or 40,000 trees and selecting perhaps 300 of them to mark with a blue paint spot. Each decision involves factors such as age, size, health, soil, slope, aspect, economic value, competition, potential growth, wildlife values, and more. You calculate all these in your forestry-educated brain. You raise your paint gun to deliver the death sentence, and then something unnamable crawls up from your belly and asks: Is this the right thing to do? How well does this action fit into the natural flow of the forest? What harm is this causing? What does this have to do with me? What is the best way to balance your love for the forest, your desire to keep it healthy and functioning well for wildlife and other benefits, and your need and the landowners desire to earn money?

You squeeze the trigger, or dont squeeze the trigger, and move on to repeat the process again and again, thousands of times each day, day after day, season after season, year after year. This is work that can change you if you open yourself to the hard questions that are about yourself: who you are as a human being and what is your purpose, your responsibility, your role, and your relationship to the natural world.

If you are willing to do that, I guarantee you that each step through the forest will change you. Each difficult and complicated decision to mark a tree and alter the forest will alter you as well. But only if you are willing to bring your spirit the essence of who you are as well as your body into the forest with you when you mark timber. It is this very need to acknowledge and engage in the entire life cycle, including death, that makes marking timber such a transformative experience. After all, birth, growth, maturation, senescence, death, and rebirth are the way of the forest.

During my time practicing forestry in New England, I had the opportunity to train several young foresters. I remember one particular day I was in the woods marking timber with a young man just beginning his career. There were several inches of snow on the ground, and we were in a beautiful stand of oak. When you mark timber together, you choose a compass bearing through the woods, and the lead marker works his way forward along that line by marking trees in a swath thats perpendicular to that line and perhaps 100 to 150 feet wide. The next marker follows alongside and to the right of the first, using the last trees marked by the lead marker as the left boundary of his or her swath. So it is important for the lead marker to stay in front.

I took the lead marking position, but as we moved through the woods, I kept noticing my partner right on my shoulder. He was marking faster than I was and really pushing me to keep ahead. I watched him for awhile, and he was really moving through the woods marking one tree and then quickly moving on to select another. Finally, our marking paths came to an intersection point and I stopped him for a talk in the woods. Like anyone else, foresters take a break once in a while either to talk about this particular woodlot or about any topic that might normally occur around the water cooler or coffee machine. In this case we talked about marking timber. I remember getting right to the point, since I knew him well enough to take a risk. I asked him what he thought about when he marked timber. Did he just see trees as timber, board feet, and dollar signs for him and the landowner? We stood in front of a large oak tree. I pointed to it and asked, What is this in front of you? Is it just a tree? Is it only an object for you to mark and pass by? Its lived 70 years. What does that mean to you? What is your relationship with this entity?

I put my hand on the tree. I slapped it hard and asked him, What is this? I had him put his hands on the tree, and then I gently pushed his head against the tree until his red beard was flush with the bark and said, If you are going to do this job it is important that you know what this is. I stepped back and asked if he knew what I was talking about. When he turned to look at me, there was a different look in his eyes. He simply said, Yeah, I do. And, quite simply, that was that. Our feet were growing cold, and the light was fading, so we turned back to our work.

We continued marking along our lines and I soon was aware that he was no longer on my shoulder. In fact, now he was nowhere in sight. I came to the end of my line and turned to walk back through the snow in the now-darkening woods. Finally, I came to a place where I could see him. He was standing motionless in front of a tree. Then he looked up and then down. Then he looked to the sides and the adjacent trees, and then he explored the forest floor. Next he moved around to the other side and repeated the process. He was holding his marking stick in one hand and his paint gun in the other. Finally, I saw him shift the paint gun and tuck it under the armpit of his other arm. Then, with his free hand, he reached out in the dimming light to touch the tree.

Thats when I turned away and headed back to the truck. This was his moment and his own way of learning his craft. But there was also a selfish reason for my abrupt departure. I wanted to hold this singular image and etch it forever in my minds eye. The darkening woods, the long, straight oak trunks, the covering of snow, the blue jeans, the orange marking vest, the plaid shirt, the red beard, the orange cap, and the gray woolen gloves spattered with blue paint, fingers splayed reaching out to touch an oak tree.

I wanted that image burned in my mind so that on those days when things arent going so well when it seems like we are losing ground, and despair begins to creep in like a cold wind through a crack in the door I can call up that image of this young man in the woods, reaching out.

Bob Perschel is the Northeast Region Director for the Forest Guild. In his spare time, he is writing a book called The Heart and Mind of Environmental Leadership.

This story was first printed in Northern Woodlands Magazine

Thanks Bob for permission to reprint this story.

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