Forest Listening: Voices of the Pines
by Kate Gilday
“ Trees are the earth’s eternal effort to speak to the listening heavens” ( Rabindranath Tagore- Bengali poet 1861-1941)
I spent my childhood summers in the north woods of Maine, where the tall white pines whispered with every breeze. My family nestled in tents with other camping families amidst these fragrant evergreens and called it home for the season. The woodlands held secrets, wild blueberries, warm sunlight, and pines~ sticky with resin that we chewed as a kind of wild gum. Climbing into the pines was a way to find peace and quiet; to nestle up against the trunk on a large branch and simply listen. Chickadee and woodpecker, chipmunks rustling on the forest floor, children playing in the distance; waiting for the soft sound of the pine needle song that never failed to comfort and calm. Something touched me in these encounters with the pines; soothed and comforted and taught me how to be still.
Years later, I realized the pines had been my first teachers in learning about the Northeast woodlands. The pine-oak forest, maple-beech-ash forest and other forest types that occur throughout this part of the country each hold a unique pattern of trees, shrubs, flora and fauna. Each bio-region, with its specific habitat, has a special “feel” to it~ an essence that permeates the particular forest one is exploring or simply walking through.
Though the pines initiated me into a love of trees, I have found that every grove, every park, every woodland has much to share.
There are tree medicines in the barks and needles, resins and fruits of both hardwoods and evergreens. Wild cherry bark to soothe a cough; pine needle tea to clear lungs or simply enjoy as a tasty wild beverage; evergreen resins to heal a burn or old wound, calm inflamed joints or use as a fragrant incense to enliven the senses; wild cherries to eat in hand or prepare as an elixir to brighten a winter day. Even sap to sweeten our lives~ maple and birch; or pine pollen to enhance our energy, there is healing and magic in these wild places. Perhaps the greatest gift is in reminding us of our own wild nature and place on this gracious, beautiful planet.
Each tree, as each shrub or flower, insect or animal, stone or element has a place in the web of life. Each of us is a part of this intricate holy weaving, this miracle. I believe each has an essence, a unique gift, a particular “voice” that we can learn to hear. The way I have found I can perceive this “voice” is through a wakeful stillness. My initiation by the pines was rooted in my childhood experience, but deeply enriched by another encounter many years later.
One soft, autumn evening I walked with my husband and eight year old son under the full harvest moon. We were heading away from the “ Full Moon Coffeehouse” in the town center, as the sweet strains of a fiddle became softer as we walked on. We found ourselves approaching our home from the back pine woods, the full moon light soft on the golden needles spread beneath the trees. Enchanted by the warm evening, moonlight on the trees and not ready to go inside, we simply sat at the base of the pines and soon found ourselves lying in the carpet of needles looking up through the branches of these perfect trees. And slipped into a wakeful sleep~ a pine meditation that lasted a while. I felt as though I became a part of the forest floor, my body merging with the fabric of soil and roots of the trees holding me. I felt the strength of the trees, the complexity of the structure of the woods, along with a deep sense of peace and trust~ filled by the essence of the white pines. A slight breeze tickled the three of us awake, and as we slowly rose to continue home a special smile and knowing passed among us.
In the years since, I have used this simple practice to learn from and experience listening to the trees and other plants; also, when traveling I hear the land upon which I rest. My family may tease me about my “ sleeping tours” of wherever I roam, but I have felt heard and fed, connected with and blessed by each experience. Gathering shells from the seashore, I leave a shell or two at each place, tree or flower I visit~ a small gift from a grateful heart.
Whatever practice you find helps you connect with nature, may you be blessed with many sweet adventures in the wild places.
In listening to the White Pines, and preparing a flower essence, they shared the following:
White Pine essence carries a strong life-force and can be used in times when energy is depleted whether through too many activities, or when one has lost one’s sense of direction or purpose. It helps us remember how to “put the pieces back together” after experiencing a trauma, grief, loss, shattering of ego or core-identity. For times when one has been shaken to one’s bones.
This pine essence provides a Guiding light that serves to illuminate and support one’s re-membering- the core of what is most important to the individual, as well as the connection we have to our ancestors and extended family. It helps one to see one’s connection with the plant world, with Nature, the Earth and Life; to see that we are joined in a field of light or consciousness.
The essence is uplifting, encouraging a sense of optimism and emotional positivity. It helps bring peace and tranquility in times of doubt, angst, inner turmoil. Also to increase tolerance, heal discord and support renewal in relationships/ friendships that have been fractured in some way. Use when working to repair emotional/ soul injuries so that the occurring opening or fracture does not continue to deplete one’s vital energy. Use when feeling dull, heavy, depressed. Pine enlivens, awakens and inspires when there is fatigue, exhaustion, nervous debility. White Pine Inspires- improves inspiration- on the physical plane- the lungs/ breath/ clearing grief.
White Pine offers the human soul the strength to continue, light to guide the way, and a softness to dissolve the grief and pain of separation.