The Spiritual Ecology of the Boreal Forest

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The Spiritual Ecology of the Boreal Forest
By: jgraf

Reporting on the spiritual ecology of any given arena of nature becomes a fairly daunting ambition. Consider, for example, the starscape of a boreal night, or the endless conifer forest, or the billions of songbirds celebrating residence through the light-steeped boreal summer. Any of these aspects, while enticing on a journalistic level, wordlessly fill the soul with an experience that transcends estimation.
And the depth and intricacy of nature reflects the nature-human interweave.

Boreal terrain typically has acidic, shallow soil over rocky shield, interspersed with rich peat bogs and permafrost - a landscape that underlies a high level of genetic diversity. Lichens, labrador tea, fireweed, lupines, mosses, kinnickinnick, cranberry, blueberry, and soapberry are predominant over 90% of the non-arboreal ground cover. Thus, the rich genetic diversity is counter-pointed by a small array of species.
Within the human profile, experience of the land reveals co-relations - counterpoints and minimalism, optimal diversity and verdant subsistence-survivors.

When Winter rules. . .

Creative streaming surges beneath Corona borealis and Polaris and Sirius. In the far north, one’s soul wakes starkly in the winter, more vividly than in southern locales, to counterpoint the prolonged darkness. Conversely, through the long sun-steeped summer, the sail of soul retreats deeper into reverie.
During the long winter that compels this inner wakefulness, much of nature’s physical community is in a somatic state - including plant life, and hibernators like the bear, chipmunk, and ground squirrel. Some residents - beaver, muskrat, and fish - are subdued beneath their icy ceiling. And subnivean beings eke out a living, with fungi, small plant life, insects, and tiny mammals coexisting under an insulating layer of snow.
Grouse, and even, on occasion, chickadees, during severe temperature declines, burrow into the snow, risking themselves even while seeking safety. And the doorway of death waits on either side - either by freezing or predation.
Within lake and river, oxygen arrangements under the ice present an interesting contemplation. Muskrats, beavers and otters exhale air at strategic spots in the plutonian under-ice realm, maintaining a “breathing account” - a caching of air bubbles, to provide a backup should they need it, numerous little pockets of oxygen against the icy ceiling (CO2 exits by osmosis due to the water’s draw, as lakeweed creates a CO2 “deficit”).

I watch the raven, lofting with ease over great spans of imposing forest, finding sustenance in diverse sources, defying the wind, playing in the face of its icy gust. Calling across the frozen lake, it voices both mischief and mystery, in a tone not unlike a place within that proclaims a hold on sky and crown of tree, an un-cage-able force unfolding its own bold pinions.

Back from the lake’s edge, where a steep rocky grade rises, there is a bright tree growing where little else takes hold. Here, where not even Tolkien’s Ent would choose to prevail, the birch thrives, flourishes, offers up sweet nectar, will not be subdued. And my own paper-bark rooting takes hold on the stony cliff-edge of an interior reach.

When I was in the jungle adjacent to Tikal, Guatemala - one could say the anti-thesis of the boreal realm - I was surprised to see 4 or 5 red squirrels in tandem, running as a pack. The tropical ecosystem, in contrast to the north, tends to go for larger communities of species. Here, in the boreal lands, one finds always a lone squirrel.
A solitary woodpecker drills. A solitary chickadee flits over, not stopping to eat, calling from tree to tree, separated from its merry band of cohorts.
I encounter other solitary beings - snowshoe hare, wolf, moose, marten, owl, grouse, raven, others.
Concurrently, a loneliness begins to pervade my experience. Within this solitude at every turn, an existential pain wells, and persists its way into the kind of force that can lead many to try anything to escape - substances, social conformity, or self-denigration - options chosen prematurely to bypass the silence and stillness in which the pain waits to be met.
In my case, I at first attribute the loneliness to my own issues, but then begin wondering how much of it is about me, and how much about this northern terrain? The boreal wilderness is certainly one of the key regions on Earth wherein profound solitude can be experienced. And, as the border between subjective and objective worlds gives way, all the solitary animals I’ve been encountering are beginning to feel like an auspicious communication.

I find the tracks of a ghostly being who has been nipping birch tips from a fallen tree - a snowshoe hare trail that winds its way through my underbrush yearning, sampling birch-like sweetness and frozen remnant rosehip. With the white-coated hare’s traits of near-invisibility and buoyancy across deep snow-pack, even the darkest winter can be endured.
The long-legged step of my winter’s end moose-roving finds me bedding every second mile to catch my ungulate wind. Watched closely by a keen-eyed interior wolf, yet holding strong of limb and antler against all manner of opportunism, I make my way toward newly budding browse. Powerful digestion forces to assimilate highly lignified browse, such as willow and alder tips, cause my ponderous thought life to re-order its conceptual browsing.
A luxurious-maned marten tracks my squirrel complacency, preying unrelenting upon all my rodent manner, upending the stock-pile of small account, an endless spruce-seed consumption. And all my clippings of needle and cone, scattered at the base of my conifer conquest, amass as so much backlog, of provision, of warding off existential hunger, of squirreling away an account of sustenance.

Spring wrests away the hold of Winter. . . .

The thrush is early to return from its southern home, ahead of everyone else, even before any overt sign of spring. On a March morning, its high reedy song - seeming delicate, but actually quite resolute - sounds its debut. A resonation rises within, as though a magical being was always there, biding its time, waiting to thrust its genesis into the midst of cold and oblivion.

Gradually the land thaws, the river opens, the snow becomes patchy. The sun warms its beam, and the magpie and junco find handier sustenance. Thick shards of ice lie stranded on gravel banks - and the slow thaw of a long-held winter-memory tableau within my contemplation is released. Riverine flow holds converse with the returning loon and merganser, divers familiar with deeper strata, fishers of newly-freed sub-aquatic consciousness.
Here in the north, the Earth opens an energetic flow in her communion with the Sun, as reflected in the light paintings of Aurora borealis. In resonation, through my own gateway, etheric pulsation choreographs itself, and for a few moments the dance of the auroral color seems to quicken, as if the Sun-Earth duo has become a trio.

For the whole version of this article visit the Earth Vision website.

J Graf is the coordinator of Earth Vision and Insight21 - doorways for the 21st Century - at Earth Vision and Insight21

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