Meditations in Cabin #6

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dbhguru
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Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by dbhguru » Thu May 06, 2010 2:52 pm

ENTS,

Yesterday Monica and I returned from a two-night stay at Cabin #6 in Mohawk Trail State Forest. It was the third time we had stayed at the cabin. However, this trip was to be about communing with the forest - sitting quietly under pine boughs, listening to wind, and soaking it all in. Our visit wasn’t slated to be another tree measuring fest for yours truly. Well, the best-laid plans of mice, men, and tree-measuring fanatics go astray, or so it is said. I can personally attest that lots of pines got measured or re-measured, but what was I to do? I could clearly hear them whispering in my ear: “Measure me, Bob Leverett, measure me. I’m important too.” So, I was yanked back into my usual role. By contrast, Monica held true to the plan. She meditated, gazing up into lofty branches that brushed the sky with each passing breeze. While I spewed numbers, she welcomed the transcendental. She even napped under the Council Pines.

Let me say just a few words about Monica’s connections to the trees. To my immense satisfaction, Monica has bonded with Mohawk and its treasure of exceptional trees. Her recognition of individual tree has grown impressively. She knows them by name, although she hasn’t yet fallen prey to the numbers game, and probably never will. Thinking about it on another level, I think Monica has developed sensitivity to the energy of the trees – an experience that awaits properly attuned souls. It is a human-tree connection that the most inventive descriptions and photographs cannot fully capture, but one that will continue to inspire myth, poetry, and prose. It takes large, mature trees to provide the experience, and Mohawk has plenty of those.

Greeting the place

Shortly after we arrived and got set up in the cabin, Monica asked to go to her private spot nearby. It is a collection of charismatic trees we call the Council Pines that form a circle. Going to the pines has become Monica’s way of connecting to Mohawk and feeling greeted by the forest and its denizens. There is a second way she connects - climbing nearby Thumper Mountain. Thumper is the little mountain with the big heart that presents rocks, mountain laurel, old trees, and a view to visitors organized in ways that speak to Tolkien forms. Thumper Mountain magic is the brief way I think about the gestalt.

After Monica visited the Council Pines, we climbed Thumper and then descended to the gateway, an opening between two large boulders that represents the interface between the worlds of the seen and the unseen. Monica sat in the gateway and completed the reconnection. We were ready to fully experience our third stay in Cabin #6.

The following image shows Monica standing within the circle of the Council Pines.
MonicaInCouncil.jpg


I think a lot, these days, about how we each relate to the forest. I search for the nuances. Over the years, for me, communing with the pines has become a constant process. When walking among the pines, I’m constantly straining my neck, looking up into the crowns. The patterns that the limbs and branches make against the sky can appear as abstract images, tree art., symmetry and asymmetry merged.

I expect that to my friends, I appear completely focused on my job of measuring and documenting trees. Of course, the measuring is a big part of any trek into inspiring woods. In pursuing the tree measuring, I set priorities for myself, not fully understanding what outcome I’m actually seeking. I seek to rationalize my compulsion. I tell myself that measuring is just my way of communing with a tree. I am honoring a tree by measuring it. It is my equivalent of saying hello, of admiring the beauty of a tree, of acknowledging the job it is doing in the forest. Or as I also tell laughingly myself, it’s in my genes – out of my conscious control. But how is it for others? I can only imagine the effect for any particular person. The question I struggle with is whether connections to the forest are forged entirely in the mind as a response to visual, auditory, and tactile experiences – or is there another dimension to consider? Over the years, I have moved toward a more mystical interpretation.

When approaching a grove of pines, I believe there comes a moment when the visitor enters, for want of a better description, the collective unconscious of the pines – a manifestation of their energy fields. I am constantly snapping images trying to capture the essence of the collective unconscious. For me, the following image communicates the presence of the field. For an upcoming PowerPoint Presentation, I have titled the image “The Three Knights”.
WeThreeKings.jpg

I seem to spend a lot of time these days photographing the soaring trunks of the Mohawk pines. As I have mentioned on other occasions, it is a pursuit I never tire of. But I also turn my attention aloft in search of photographic opportunities. In displaying their lofty crowns, the Pocumtuck Pines reveal their role as overlords of the forest. I am reminded of peacocks spreading their feathers in regal displays.

We of European descent think of the pines as connecting Earth to sky – figuratively speaking. The next image represents my effort at communicating through a two-dimensional image the connection role, a role that progressively develops. From tiny seeds the pines grow into seedlings, then bushy saplings, followed by a human teenage equivalent stage, gangly and awkward. But from these unimpressive beginnings, the monarchs of the New England forest slowly take shape. It takes the better part of a century. Eventually each pine reaches upward to connect the two worlds. Individual trees present themselves in all their finest, befitting the arboreal royalty they represent.
HighAbove.jpg
Trek up Hawks Mountain

After a good night’s sleep, we arose to a morning meal of oatmeal, embellished by Monica’s creative mind. We talked about what to do in what promised to be a warm, humid day. Ah, let’s tackle Hawk’s Mountain, I suggested. Hawks is a high ridge in Mohawk that forms part of the eastern border. The name Hawks is for the family that owned land in the area, dating back to the middle 1700s, I think.

Hawks rises from a beginning elevation of 600 feet to a respectable 1,883. The actual start of the hike to the top is at about 675 feet, and it is almost all off trail. The vertical rise of 1,208 feet is no picnic, but no challenge either. The western sides of Hawks were heavily logged and the top was cleared for sheep pasture. The mountain is slowly recovering from the many insults dealt it by the European settlers of the area, who knew only of methods brought over from England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The next image provides a look at Hawks from Todd Mountain. Hawks is the big ridge on the horizon.
HawksMountain.jpg
The route I chose took us along a delightful stream named Trout Brook. Monica is first and foremost a water person. Get her near water and she’s happy. She was delighted to listen the music of the brook. We stopped at a couple of spots along Trout Brook that for us are idyllic. The following two images show the spots.
TroutBrook.jpg
TroutBrook2.jpg

I wish I could paint an elfin image of the rest of our trek to the top of Hawks Mountain, but it is more a tale of battling forest gremlins. The black flies had decided that old Bob had come for lunch, their lunch, and I spent the entire climb up and back down swatting and cursing. The flies did swarm around Monica, but left her fairly blemish free. They decided my blood was to their taste and I forced me to do my duty and donate about half a pint. I hate black flies!

One sight did cause me to momentarily stop my swatting and take a photograph. It was of a beautiful hemlock, perhaps 175 years old. Its dimensions are respectable: height = 120.7 feet and girth = 8.9 feet. It is part of a grove of attractive hemlocks that appear to be in prime condition. The following image shows the Tsuga beauty with another beauty – Monica.
MonicaAndHemlock.jpg

Back to measuring

Once back at the cabin, I set out to catch up with my measuring. I launched into my work with fiendish determination, and guess what? I confirmed another 150-foot white pine, bringing the count for the Pocumtucks up to 18. I once thought there to be less than 12. The slender new 150 is hardly noticeable. Its girth is a skinny 6.3 feet. But once I looked up and contemplated what I was seeing as a vertical distance, I set about getting an acceptable measurement, made all the more difficult by the bright green leaves of the understory striped maples. And the closeness of competing pines. I finally settled on 150.8 feet for the thin tree. That makes number 106 for Mohawk before the growing season gets fully under way. I also measured several new 140s – new in the sense that I had not previously recorded their heights. There are so many, that measuring them all is not in the cards. However, one tree impressed me mightily, but not for either its height or girth – rather its height to diameter ratio. The tree measures 145.5 feet in height and 4.5 feet in girth. That gives it a height to diameter ratio of 101.6 to 1, the highest I’ve gotten for a pine in Massachusetts. I am still amazed at a white pine, so skinny, getting so tall.

The storm hits

While I measured, Monica decided to take a nap, but not in the cabin. She chose to go to the Council Grove and nap under the Council Pines. It was what reveries are made of, but hers was suddenly interrupted when we received notice of a quick moving storm descending on the area. High winds and torrential rains were predicted – not a safe place to be. So we jumped in our new Subaru Forester and headed for the Charlemont Inn to wait out the storm. Now here is a bit of information, I doubt many readers are aware of. Hot fudge sundaes are known in these parts as antidotes for severe thunderstorms. So we eagerly applied the remedy. In short order, the winds died, the rains ceased, and the sun reappeared. The storm was over as quickly as it had began and we headed back fearful that some of our pine friends had not faired well. But there they were, standing tall. They had taken what the tempest had tossed and had only dropped a limb here or there. Our beauties were dripping with fresh raindrops, needles glistening in the sun, which was peeping through large, billowing clouds. The pines would continue dispensing their forest elixir. All was well.


Around the campfire

But the passage of the storm had put a chill in the air. Monica requested a fire. That was my job. So I suspended tree measuring and busied myself making one for her. I had made one the evening before, and she was pleased with it. You see, Monica loves to sit before a campfire and either read or watch the flames do their dance. Flames are hypnotic for most of us, but Monica takes it further. She has learned to use flames as instruments of deep relaxation and meditation. It is the secret of one classical pianist, and it works.

The next three images show Monica and the fires I built for her at Cabin #6. The first image shows her through a curtain of smoke in fading light. Yes, I hear all of you saying: “great combination, Bob! Where did you learn photography?” Hmm, well, not at the hands of any professional who I can recall. The second image shows the same fire and Monica, minus the cloud of smoke. It takes me time to figure out how to do things right, but eventually I get there. The third image was taken in fading light and through the pines. A contemplative Monica bows her head. She has become one with the forest. I can only imagine her conversation with the pines, one carried on through the haunting sounds of flickering flames, and the rustle of needles, caressed by a linger breezes in the aftermath of the tempest.

And this was the way it was on our third visit to Cabin #6 beneath the Pocumtuck Pines in Mohawk Trail State Forest. Monica deepened her connection to and respect for the great whites. But there is one remaining short chapter.

After our return, to Cabin #6, Monica was visibly worried about the Americorp kids working on Mohawk’s trails. One of the Americorp crew is named Molly , who happens to be one of Monica’s piano students. Suddenly Molly walked up to pay us a visit. She had a wide smile on her face and I listened as they talked about piano lessons, techniques, practicing that a serious piano student must commit to. I silently slipped back into the green, content that all was well and that I needed to be about my work.

Shortly, Monica called to me to come and give Molly a brief explanation of what the Mohawk pines represented and a few facts about the old Mohawk Indian Trail. Brief explanations are not what I’m good at. Now, prolonged ones saturated with numeric information is another matter, but not wanting to break the spell of the moment, I restrained myself. Molly was visibly happy to know that the trail she was working on was so distinguished and that so much colorful history occurred along the trail corridor. My explanation, Monica’s contributions, and Molly’s appreciative ear were all witnessed by the standing ones, which looked wisely down on us. Their ancestors had witnessed the events of an earlier era. Now, somehow, I believe the imprints left by those early events are reproduced in the long, evening shadows of the tall pines that watch over Cabin #6.
SweetieInTheSmoke.jpg
SweetiePieAndFire.jpg
SweetieInMeditation.jpg
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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edfrank
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by edfrank » Thu May 06, 2010 3:38 pm

Bob,

Excellent Essay. We have had this discussion before:

About your changing perspectives of Old Growth over time:
Bob Leverett (Feb 8 2008)
When I encountered an old growth specimen of exceptional proportions, I increasingly saw the forest elders of the Berkshires as living connectors to both an ecological and historical past. The trees served as historical time and place markers, and as one with a nostalgic streak, the old trees gave me a palpable link to the colonial and pre-colonial New England past. I never get that in sterile museum displays presented in glass enclosures or even the most artistic recreations of early forests. But the connection goes far beyond historical connections. Most importantly, when in the presence of old growth, I feel a deeper connection to the Earth and its twisted evolutionary path that I do not experience in post-colonial woodlands, even second growth with large trees. http://www.nativetreesociety.org/projec ... growth.htm
You wrote this in 2006
Bob Leverett (Dec 13, 2006)
As we learn more about forest processes, and one by one, the mysteries disappear, often so does the magic and respect for nature. It doesn't have to happen that way, but sometimes it does. One way to regain respect and recover our sense of awe is through artistic rendering of forests. Members of the Hudson School of Art like Thomas Cole and Frederic Church were expert in translating the mystery of the forest on to canvass. Just some wandering thoughts. http://www.nativetreesociety.org/projec ... roject.htm
I responded thusly:
Edward Frank wrote (Dec 13, 2006)
I must disagree with you on this point. As you learn more about a particular subject, I find generally that as you discover more things you do not know about it. You become interested in details or paths you would not have even thought about previously. Knowledge broadens your outlook and the scope of things to be fascinated about. Second, I don't think knowledge lessens appreciation for things you do understand. Different types of music, artwork, or cuisine are often tastes that are learned. You can appreciate a good wine more when you learn enough to distinguish it from Ripple. http://www.nativetreesociety.org/projec ... roject.htm
After writing this essay, can you really say that your growing knowledge of the forest, and your obsession with measurement of these trees has not shaped and contributed to your appreciation of the subtleties of the forest, of an aesthetic appreciation of the intertwined branches, of the gnarled limbs indicative of age, of the small pockets of flowers and plants representing tiny ecological niches? Do you believe that greater knowledge of the forest detracts from an appreciation of the aesthetics found therein? Do you think Monica's connection with the forest has been lessened by learning about the tree heights from you, from explanations of what she was seeing in the ecology of the forest, or from earning the names of the individual trees? I am interested in your current perspective on this issue.

Ed Frank
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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James Parton
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by James Parton » Thu May 06, 2010 5:26 pm

Bob,

I love reading about Your and Monica's adventures. Monica seems to connect well to her surroundings. She has the ability to connect to the energies of the forest. Obviously you have that ability too as I do myself.

Camping in Linville Gorge last weekend it was so nice to go to sleep with the sounds of the forest and to wake up the same way. Also it's the feel of the forest. It's energy and essence surrounds you. It is so soothing. In the forest I feel so at home.

My camping partners took a radio. That is ok for short periods but I would prefer not to take one at all. To listen to the natural music of the woods.

James
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dbhguru
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by dbhguru » Thu May 06, 2010 7:26 pm

Ed,

Good question. You're putting me to the test. Actually, I must admit that the greater my exposure is to forests, the more I appreciate them. Yes, I do come to discover and appreciate the subtleties So, for myself, I have invalidated my original thesis. I think what I was getting at was something else. I'll develop the line of thought more completely instead of shooting from the hip. More on the subject in a day or two.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Don
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by Don » Thu May 06, 2010 9:15 pm

Bob-
The resistance to change in the light of new information is the purest definition of 'ignorance'...the corollary would be?
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center
Grand Canyon National Park

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edfrank
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by edfrank » Thu May 06, 2010 10:12 pm

Bob,

I brought this up, not to try to invalidate your original premise, but because I think the idea is one worth exploring. You suggested several years ago that some of the magic was lost as you learned more about forest processes. Maybe that is true to some extent. I think we must realize that we evaluate what we are seeing through the filter of our own thoughts, knowledge, intelligence, and capabilities. Everyone brings those elements to the forest no matter what their background and no matter where they are on the journey of life. Your perspective of the forest changes as you become more knowledgeable about forest processes, and also as you become more familiar with the setting. Superimposed on that are the other experiences you are experiencing in other aspects of your life. A painter brings his knowledge of painting to his perception of the forest. He will see the brush strokes and the varied colors found in the trees and forest setting. A musician might hear the symphony of the natural sounds and the rhythms of nature as they walk through the forest. I am suggesting that any persons view of the forest, that any persons discovery of magic within the forest does not come from a place of ignorance, but from the foundation of the knowledge and experiences within themselves. An individual's knowledge and personal experiences change over time, but that this does not make the magic found in a forest disappear. The magic is reinvented time and again and can be found anew on each and every trip based upon their ever changing foundation.

My corollary premise I suggested was that a greater knowledge would allow a greater appreciation of what was found in the forest. A person would be able to differentiate subtlety that would be missed by someone less attuned and less knowledgeable about the forest. A person would in a sense be able to see more of the magic present in the forest and a experience a deeper level of magic than someone less knowledgeable, or more oblivious, to what they were experiencing. I will expand on this corollary more in a later post.

Ed Frank

.
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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dbhguru
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by dbhguru » Fri May 07, 2010 6:30 am

Ed, Don, et al,

I definitely agree that an open-minded person's appreciation of a subject will grow with increased knowledge of that subject - especially if a thorough exploration of the subject's nature is what is being sought. In my previous comments, I realize I had allowed my thoughts to be influenced by the FFVP and exposure to three groups: (1) woods hikers, bikers, ATVers (recreationalists), (3) recreational property managers, and (3) people who relate to forests and trees as commodities. The long Forest Futures Visioning Process, and my concentrated exposure to the thinking of forest stakeholders, many of whom spend most of their lives in forests and profess appreciation for them has given me pause to reflect about the way we see trees and forests as members of groups (naturalists, recreationalists, lumbermen, birders, arborists, town planners, artists, scientists, etc.) - the lenses we peer through when we see and think about trees.

In our case, i.e. that of ENTS-WNTS, we're committed to the appreciation of forests and trees, regardless of profession or life experiences. We follow a path of common interest that incorporates appreciation. In my comments, I should have realized how much I was influenced by my recent exposure to the often strongly stated positions of the forest stakeholders. However, this brings back the topic of seeing the forest with an attitude.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by Larry Tucei » Fri May 07, 2010 9:08 am

Bob, Fantastic writing as usual. Bienville NF is my Mohawk it really gets me back in tune with the trees when I visit there. I should return there this fall and do some tree talking. That Council grove looks so cool! I can see why you and Monica are so happy there! Another 150 you never cease to amaze us with all these great trees. Larry

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dbhguru
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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by dbhguru » Fri May 07, 2010 3:32 pm

Larry,

If my memory serves me correctly, there's some wicked cool Sweet Gums in Bienville NF. Is that correct?

I am but the humble measurer for Mohawk. Hope you can make it up one of these days. You've got a tree in the ENTS grove, you know.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Re: Meditations in Cabin #6

Post by gnmcmartin » Sat May 08, 2010 12:21 pm

Bob, Ed, and ENTS:

I must chime in on the topic of whether greater knowledfge/experience, etc. increases appreciation or whether is removes some of the beautiful "mystery" of things.

I am very, very strongly with the former experience--the more I experience something and the more I study it, the deeper the mystery and the greater the appreciation. The two things I love most in this world, are music and trees. Let me talk a bit about music. First, by music, I refer mostly to classical music, which I love expecially because of its harmonic richness and extensive development of thematic and harmonic relationships. My mind can never quite grasp all of this richness, and works I discovered many, many years ago astound me more and more as my musical experience deepens. I would love to sit people down to listen to some of the most profound pieces of music I know and talk about this music and my feelings about it. But, unless I can find someone with a level of experience with music comparable to my own, I know it is difficult. Many of the beauties/mysteries I find in this music took me many years to begin to uncover--I can't expect to share this with someone who has heard little music that has real harmonic and thematic complexity. And many people simply don't have the ear for it, just as many peoploe have one degree or another of color blindness.

For me, trees are a kind of visual music, involving complex perceptions of space, form, and color. The more time I have spent in the forest, the more I see and the more beauty reveals itself. Every tree grows differently with different patterns, colors, textures. As for the scientific "explanations" and analyses, it is, in a way the same. Nothing is ever really explained--all that happens when the growth processes, or whatever, of trees is "explained," is that the mystery moves to a deeper level and its aspects are multiplied. The more I experience and learn about music and trees, the more the beauty and the mystery deepens. You young folks out there: growing old is no fun in most ways, but as you grow older and learn and experience more, your appreciatiion will deepen in ways you will ultimately never be able to explain or completely grasp.

--Gaines

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