On my relationships with trees and forests

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The next best time is now.
~ Chinese Proverb

The Balsamean; Scribblements from Balsamea contains 34 posts about relationships with trees or forests, out of 128 total posts in the ten years from September 2012 to May 2022.  This is the 128 posts remaining after many were withdrawn from publication.  (There were also many drafted and never published.)  Still, of the published ones NOT removed, 34 of 128 are about trees, forests, and human integration with trees, or immersion in them.  That’s 27% of the total posts.  It is not enough.

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
–John Muir

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Nuala’s Tree and Concordia

There are about 45 pictures on this page, including a few maps.  It may load slowly.  You can optionally open/download a PDF copy (6.24Mb) to read offline.

This is the only long post in this series on Concordia.  The rest have narrower topics and are mostly pictures and links.

Dear Nuala (NOO-lah),

I have less than two weeks before your visit, and too many other things to do, including figuring out how to fix the refrigerator that turned itself into a freezer today (M-m-m, frozen pickles), but I want to document something going on in the Balsamea woods that is about you, or because of you.  I want it to be on record, forever.  I also want to make sure you know about it, just in case your tour here doesn’t do this topic justice.

I’ve given you the pseudonym Nuala to protect you from the stigma of  associating with me, and to protect your privacy.  Even though only three or four other people will read this, if anybody, everybody on the Internet is a close neighbor with a fence to gossip over.

It’s a nice Irish name.  It came from Fionnuala (or Finnguala), notable in the popular Irish myth, The Children of Lir (PDF).  This presentation of the myth, with the art I added to it, a Thomas Moore poem, and extensive end-notes, may be the best treatment of the topic you’ll find.  Especially since you’re probably not looking anyway.  But seriously, it was a pile of work putting it together, and worth it.  It’s probably the best part of this post.  (It even has a naked picture of Nuala.)

Nuala (/ˈnuːlə/; Irish: [ˈn̪ˠuəl̪ˠə]) is an Irish female given name, derived from Irish mythology – being either a diminutive form of Fionnuala [or Fionnghuala] (“fair shoulder”), the daughter of Lir, or an alternate name for Úna (perhaps meaning “lamb”), wife of Finvarra, king of the fairies.  — from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuala

Fionnuala – In Irish mythology, Finnguala (modern spellings: Fionnghuala or Fionnuala; literally fionn-ghuala meaning “fair shoulder”) was the daughter of Lir of the Tuatha Dé Danann. In the legend of the Children of Lir, she was changed into a swan and cursed by her stepmother, Aoife, to wander the lakes and rivers of Ireland, with her brothers Fiachra, Conn and Aodh, for 900 years until saved by the marriage of Lairgren, son of Colman, son of Cobthach, and Deoch, daughter of Finghin, whose union broke the curse.[1] ‘The Song of Albion’, with lyrics by Thomas Moore[2] speaks of her wanderings.

The name is anglicized as Fenella. The shortened version Nuala is commonly used as a first name in contemporary Ireland.  — from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fionnuala


As you know, about ten years ago (maybe more, I’m not sure … the earliest photo I have is 2009), I dedicated a special maple tree to you, with your name.  Nuala’s tree (or just “Nuala Tree”) is now the centerpiece of a forest retreat with unique natural features and special relationships with many components of Balsamea’s trail network.

The place is called Concordia Park, or, as I’ll normally put it, just Concordia.

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Aranyaka – Part 4 (The End)

Continued from Aranyaka Part 3

Aranyani is a member of a family of forest goddesses and legends around the world.  Among many ways that Aranyani-like attributes appear, there is the goddess Abnoba, worshiped in and around the Black Forest

Abnoba by Günter Pollhammer -2016

I respect the way that Pollhammer depicts the goddess as she is in nature, herself, not just personified as a gorgeous naked woman as so many goddesses are.  Most modern artists miss her essence just to make a pretty picture.  Remember though, from the Vedic hymn, that she is elusive.  She doesn’t pose for pictures.

There are not many contemporary forest goddess paintings or digital creations that are more than whimsy.  The ones true to the ancient myths are rare, and it has been that way throughout the ages.  She is not one to be captured in pictures, neither in the Black Forest nor India.

It seems Pollhammer knew this.  How did he approach this elusive subject?

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Aranyaka – Part 3 – Thoreau, Shakespeare, Maharshi, Jung and Aranyaniism

Continued from Aranyaka Part 2.

Pine flower. Thoreau discovered them by climbing a big pine to the top. I got lucky. This one was on a tree bent low to the ground. I’m not sure, but I think it’s a scotch pine, of which we have very few at Balsamea. I’ve never seen another one of these “flowers,” so I feel lucky.

If I were to invent a religion, it would be centered on forest immersion.  It need not be a highly social alliance of souls, because silence and solitude are like vestments of immersion.  Other critical components of the Order would be creativity, play, liberality and education.

Religion that has lost its playfulness can be dangerous.from an article by Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn

This new religion is wrapped around a core understanding that there are not two natures, human and non-human.  There is one Nature and we are part of it.  Forest immersion can make this knowledge holistic, both visceral and intellectual, drawn from the primordial biophilia in human nature, and from burgeoning modern science on the topic.

Adherence to this religion calls for daily walking through forest or field, ideally twice or more per day, at least 40 minutes at a time, ideally 90 minutes or more.  That would be merely casual adherence.

You never know what may happen during deeper immersion, if you let go of the usual tight grip on yourself and let “wild mind” roll.  For instance, here’s Thoreau doing it (in one of a thousand possible ways):

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Aranyaka – Part 2

Aranyaka Part 1 ended with a description of the Hindu goddess Aranyani in Rigveda Book 10 Hymn 146 and my personal look at it.  Here is another interpretation, by a qualified authority:

David Kinsley, author of Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition, wrote:

One hymn of the Rg-veda (10.146) refers to a goddess of the forest, Aranyani.  From this one hymn we get a rather clear picture of the goddess.  She is an elusive figure who vanishes from sight and avoids villages.  She is more often heard than seen.  She speaks through the sounds of the forest, or one may even hear her tinkling bells.  She seems to make her presence known especially at evening, and those who spend the night in the forest sometimes think they hear her scream.  She never kills unless provoked by some murderous enemy.  She is sweetly scented, is mother of all forest things, and provides plenty of food without tilling.

To develop a special relationship with her, create trails!  She has a lot to say about how you do that, and she loves to change them for you.

In Part 1, I said that Aranyani is incarnate as forest; forest is the embodiment of Aranyani.  Maybe this is why she is so seldom depicted in human form by classical artists, unlike so many other deities.

Aranyani, The Hindu Goddess Of Forests by Bijan Pirnia, photo in the San Isabel National Forest, Colorado. Click for the larger source image at Fine Art America.

I was happily surprised to find this work by photographer Bijan Pirnia titled Aranyani, The Hindu Goddess Of Forests, with no anthropomorphic entity in it (that I can find).  It is just forest, the embodiment of Aranyani!

Enjoy browsing terrific forest photos by Bijan Pirnia.  Thank you, Bijan.

Back to making trails with Aranyani …

The following are not pretty pictures, just documentary, to show you one part of the Aranyaka Maze of paths, each a unique experience.  I’m starting with the path into Aranyaka Sanctuary from the west.

– – > Please click to continue reading … 1135 words – – >

Aranyaka – Part 1

George Gordon Byron


“The end of all scribblement is to amuse,
and he certainly succeeds there.”
–Lord Byron, Referring to Sir Walter Scott in a letter to Francis Hodgson, 1810

… even if I’m the only one amused
As I say, I blog for my entertainment.


In my Cadivus post, I quoted Natalie Goldberg’s book Wild Mind, where she advised writers to “sink into the big sky and write from there.”  (PDF of the full excerpt.)  In my layman’s rough terms, “big sky” refers to widened awareness and/or a Buddhistic meditation practice called “big sky mind.”

In context, I believe Goldberg is talking about unleashing oneself from the limitations of overly self-critical, self-confining, ego-based/fear-driven, creativity-stifling thinking.  It may also be distorted thinking that is out of harmony with things as they are.

Like me, for instance (to a degree).

Note the subtitle of this blog, Scribblements from Balsamea.  Maybe I should have called it Scribblements of Balsamea, referring not only to these words and pictures, but also to writing myself into Nature here, and herself into my little mind-body machine.  Cadivus is the latest significant example of that reciprocal, wordless writing process.  I’d like to talk about one of the early examples, a place in Balsamea that I named Aranyaka in 2006.

NATURE DOODLE at Aranyaka, 9/24/2007. Click to enlarge.

– – > Please click to continue reading – – >


~   ~   ~
“Enchantment is the oldest form of medicine.”
– C. G. Jung, as quoted by Meredith Sabini, Ed., The Earth Has a Soul; The Nature Writings of C.G. Jung, p. 4
~   ~   ~

If you have trouble loading all the pictures and YouTube music videos in this post, it may be that there are just too many, and the picture files are too big.  (They are big so that you can see them full-screen by clicking on them.)  Try waiting a moment or refresh your browser (reload the page).  Last ditch effort: clear your browser cache.  I’m working on alternate approaches at this end.

HERE’S THAT MOON I NEVER PROMISED YOU. The Balsamean and the moon shattering in the clouds over Moose Pond, August 2005. Click for full screen view, as with all pictures in this article.

If you want to write a song about the heart
Think about the moon before you start
Because the heart will howl like a dog in the moonlight
And the heart can explode like a pistol on a June night
So if you want to write a song about the heart
And its everlonging for a counterpart
Na na na na na na
Yeah yeah yeah
Write a song about the moon

– from Song About the Moon
Paul Simon 1981

Full lyrics on Paul Simon Official Website

Alternate YouTube link: Simon & Garfunkel Song About the Moon


When you write a song about the moon, or dance with it alone in the peaceful beauty of night, your heart may have a counterpart right there.  Mine does, and I thank the moon for never giving up on our blessed relationship, and for the fun of creating moonlit pictures, and its help engaging enchantment and fantasy for the health of my soul.

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A Meditation on the Company of Trees, Aided by Forest Nymphs

During a slow sylvan saunter, if I stand still more than move, in bodily senses and in palpable transcendent essences I find reminders that nature made me to thrive among immortal woodland spirits, in refuge from the illusory blessings of merely mortal society.  I cannot exceed the company of trees, nor regret deep solitude among them.

Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude … — Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 8, 1858

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The Best of Being

Silvanus, Roman god of woodlands and boundaries. Often portrayed with a hunting or watch dog.
Roman marble statue at the Museo Nazionale Romano in the Baths of Diocletian, Rome, Italy. Photo by mharrsch under Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

This is more evidence of how I entertain myself by blogging without a care for the poor readers.  It is three or four blog posts in one, because that’s the way I had fun.   If you don’t enjoy part of it, just scroll down.  If you don’t like any of it, please feel free to post a comment about that.  You might even just say, “What a waste of time.”  It has not been wasted on me.

It started out as a report on two more species of lichens at Balsamea — cousins of the British Soldier lichen that I wrote about recently, and about the taiga/boreal forest biome, including the usual pretty pictures.  It ended up here:

Research for my article on British Soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) — a type of reindeer lichen — enlightened me about two more species of Cladonia living here at Balsamea.

It seems that one of them is Cladonia stellaris.  The other looks like Cladonia rangiferina.  I have not seen common names specific to each of these (as in “British Soldier” for C. cristatella), but some sources refer to Cladonia in general as reindeer lichen.

Below are four more pictures from the May 12, 2012 photo inventory of fungi, mosses and lichens at Balsamea (long overdue for species identification).  This time, in addition to close-up pictures, I have views of their home turf.  I should remember to always get a shot of the surrounding biota when collecting specimen photos.  It’s nice to see where they live.

In the picture below, the Cladonia lichens are the whitish patches surrounded by dense, soft, green moss.  This little forest opening is surrounded by balsam fir, white pine and spruce trees, and the grayish white tree trunk clusters seen here are gray birch (very common at Balsamea).

Small forest opening near northeast corner of Aranyaka Maze containing lichens I believe are Cladonia stellaris and Cladonia rangiferina.  It is otherwise covered with moss, surrounded by Balsam Fir, Gray Birch and White Pine trees.

Below: a closer view of the two Cladonias; the pale green balls of stellaris and the white sprays of rangiferina.

They grow very slowly — 1 or 2 mm. per year.  They are dry and brittle, especially during the summer, and can survive on minimal moisture.

Closer views:

Cladonia stellaris.  As these "balls" range from about 1 to 5 inches across, imagine how many years they have been growing ... at 1 or 2 MILLIMETERS per year!  I should make a sign for the deer: "Please don't eat or walk on the Cladonia."  I have seen pictures of them in houseplant arrangements.  I my experiment with a little of that ... very little.

Cladonia stellaris

Sorry about the blurry picture.  I’ll replace this when the current snow-pack is gone.  As these “balls” range up to about 6 inches across, imagine how many years they have been growing … at 1 or 2 MILLIMETERS per year!  That information should make folks think twice about where they put their feet or picnic blanket.

Cladonia rangiferina

Cladonia rangiferina

Varieties of Cladonia grow in many places around the world, but these species prefer boreal and tundra regions.  Here on the northern edge of the Adirondack Mountain Region in far northeastern New York state, a short drive from Canada’s border on the Saint Lawrence River, Balsamea lies near the southern edge of the North American taiga biome (boreal forest), consisting of vast realms of boreal forest covering much of Canada, Alaska and some of the far northeastern United States.  Boreal forests also cover massive areas across the northern latitudes of the Eastern Hemisphere.  The taiga is the largest biome type on earth.

Boreas and Oreithyia, 1896 (oil on canvas), by Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919) / © The De Morgan Centre, London

Boreas and Oreithyia, 1896 (oil on canvas), by Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919) / © The De Morgan Centre, London

Boreal means “of the north or northern regions,” from the Greek boreas, meaning north wind.  Boreas is the Greek god of the north wind, shown here kidnapping Oreithyia, to become his wife after he wrapped her in a cloud and raped her.  Boreas is known for violence.  Later she became the goddess of cold mountain winds.  All this time I’ve been referring to our north winds coming from Boreas, but they may have been Oreithyia’s doing all along.

When I use a picture like this to illustrate someone or something I mention, it is usually just for the fun of it, to share something interesting or beautiful.  I usually learn at least some basics about the work and its creator.  I hope you don’t mind my sharing a little of what I learned about this artist, despite her biography being far off-topic.

Among many works of art depicting the abduction of Oreithyia, in various media such as pottery, etching, painting, sculpture, drawing and relief, the painting shown here stands out as the most attractive, to my eye.

The painter, English woman Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919) created dozens of renowned, prominent works among 102 oil paintings and over 300 drawings, during a roughly 45-year professional career spanning some of civilization’s most dramatic upheavals.  She had strong interests in social reform, spiritualism and music.  Sharing spiritualism with her husband, William (also an artist) they practiced automatic writing.  Combining her spiritual and social reform views led to many paintings of spiritually, mentally and sometimes physically strong women from throughout history, mythology and the Bible.  Throughout her work, I see the influence of her favorite Renaissance artist, Sandro Botticelli.

Here at Balsamea, nature is the only artist, and lichens are a series of amazing miniature masterpieces.

Near the start of this article, I said that I became “enlightened” to the nature of Cladonia lichens.  In learning about these lichens, and in direct experience of them, seeing, touching, and photographing them, I say sincerely that I am “enlightened,” at least a bit, in two senses.  First, I learned some things in botany, ecology, mythology and art.  (What I have shared here is only a little sample of things I explored.)

Second, the experience of learning a little more about the amazing diversity of the gift of Balsamea feels enlightening.  It is an enlightening experience of Balsamea.  It reminds me how, as I love to say, there is no solitude in a forest.  Thoreau agreed.

Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude … Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 8, 1858

Really?  Are these bony lichens companions to me?

People rarely offer the kind of companionship “in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude.”  If they do, it’s often when doing something like watching television or sleeping together, where, although you are conscious of each other to a degree that you might regard as companionship, the moment is nearly as good as one of solitude.

I have enjoyed moments of deep companionship with a person who did not detract from qualities of being in peaceful forest solitude, even while consciously together, awake, attentive to each other in a special way that is hard to describe.  The character of such an experience is neither  solitude nor companionship.  It is unity.

My forest companions at Balsamea offer me glimpses of my truly inalienable unity with nature, through attention to their companionship, and through being a companion to them.  Their relationships with me are portals to growing awareness of the unity, of my belonging, with them, to a magnificent something that is greater than the sum of its uncountable parts.

For me, the ultimate glimpse of unity seems like a loss of the sense of separateness, a loss of the feeling of barriers between self and other things, whether physical or psychological barriers.  It is an experience of self and other as the same, while still paradoxically radiant with diversity, which is fully within a kind of awareness that feels singular.

It is where my distinctions between companionship and solitude dissolve, as raindrops meld and disappear into puddles, yet remain of the same substance.  It is as if the consciousness I usually know releases its self-containment, like having a body made of everything.

It is a natural experience of the true nature of our relationship with nature.  It is not something to seek.  It is there already.  It is hard to imagine any human being not experiencing it from time to time.

I suppose that for someone who has never experienced it, or not enough of it, they truly know loneliness, in a forest, or anywhere, and it must be horrid.  Neither companionship nor solitude will satisfy that hunger.  They need that merger of companionship and solitude, dissolving into each other.

The companion offering an opportunity for a merger that retains the qualities of solitude could be a cloud, a flower, a pet, a snowstorm, a painting, a piece of music, a garden, an insect, a lover, a friend, an activity, a lichen, or some grouping or set of things, activities or people.  Ideally, it is found in all things and all people, but we think too much to experience it that much.

I open the doors not by thinking or asking or searching, but by simple presence of self with other, unlocking my way with keys such as attention, time, quiet, deep observation, fully experiencing the thing or the activity, with all the senses, and with thought, contemplation, and imagination, all the things I naturally do, if I take the time, and let go of the past and future and other places, to stay present.  Then the lichen becomes a portal to a glimpse or moment of realization of unity, and to the satisfaction neither solitude nor company can bring.

Yes, even without doing drugs!  It’s cool to get high on things without eating or smoking them.  Being in the woods would be no fun otherwise.  (Not to say there’s necessarily anything wrong with eating and smoking things.)

Usually having glimpses of unity are not good times to drive a car or go grocery shopping.  However, it is a practical experience for me.  I come away from it with a reassuring sense of knowing that the unity is always there, that I am immersed in it, gently swaddled in a manner or a kind of consciousness within which it is easier to operate this mind-body machine and its connections with others, something like a metaphysical amnion.

It makes a mother of the earth, a father of the sky, brothers and sisters of the mushrooms and lichens, without having to be a Pagan.  It banishes loneliness, melts fear, and brightens the heart.  It’s just an experience of the best of being, or, as they say, being as being.

I believe there is a natural basis for the experience, and that it is necessary to our nature.  It is too natural to need anything supernatural to make it real.  But if you sense some extra-real thing going on that I don’t, I guess it’s okay as long as you don’t step on the dry, brittle Cladonia stellaris.

What is one of the portals to glimpses of unity that opens easiest for you?  (Besides orgasmic intercourse.)  Drop it into the comment bucket below, or whisper it secretly to only me.

Okay, I’m done entertaining myself for a while.  I hope it was fun for you, too.

  • Emerging from the Snow (myeverydayphotos.wordpress.com) – by Teri J. Pieper, someone who really knows how to get close to nature, right down at ground level.  Wonderful photos of little things that take being fully present to notice them, and to capture such good pictures of them.