The Majestic Oak: A Model of Endurance and Wisdom

This is a “Bur” oak, a massive tree that grows upward of 100 ft. tall and just as wide. Oaks can live more than 300 years. The name derives from “Burr,” the cup of the acorn which resembles the spiny bur of a chestnut. The species extends farther north than any of the other oaks. Out West, it’s considered a “pioneer tree” because it often borders and invades prairie grassland. It was planted there specifically to rescue future travelers who would need to make new wagon tongues, wheel hubs and spokes. Lewis and Clark held council with Native Americans under a 150-year-old bur oak in Sioux City, Iowa. Today, that tree is known at the “Council Oak.” Oaks only blossom every three to five years.

The bark on oak trees is robust. There’s a saying in German: “It’s no skin off in old oak’s back if a wild boar wants to use its bark as a scratching post.” The tree can survive lightning strikes and deep cracks because the wood is permeated with tannins that discourage the growth of harmful fungi. These substances fend off most insects, and the tree will broadcast—through the helpful fungi at its roots—a signal to all the oaks in the area, prompting them to pump tannins through their veins as well. They also improve the taste of wine that’s stored in barrels made from the wood. Native Americans used bur oak leaves as medication for heart problems, reducing fevers and improving circulation. Curiously, scientists have observed that the blood pressure of forest visitors rises went they are under conifers, whereas it calms down and falls in stands of oak trees.

There are at least 100 different species of helpful fungi that operate in various parts of a tree’s roots. By breaking down rocks into disparate minerals, the fungi bolster the nutrition of the soil. Because they strive for stable conditions themselves, the fungi support all species of trees for many miles around protecting them from complete collapse. It’s a prime example of symbiosis and how diversity among the parts of a living system provides security for the whole—in this case, a forest. Perhaps because oak trees are robust, stable and long-lived, they’ve become a symbol of strength, stability and wisdom. 

Strength

Even when a tree becomes severely damaged with broken branches, it will grow a replacement crown and live hundreds of years longer. In this, I see the lesson of persistence—continuing to grow regardless, perhaps because of, the trials that life presents. We often hear stories of people who have overcome childhood trauma or adversity. My own experience has convinced me that in each of us there resides the truth of who we are and what we can do, despite what anyone else may say. Eventually, our true nature prevails.

Storms make the oak grow deeper roots.

George Herbert (Church of England priest)

Stability

Here’s a quote from Jacob Israel Liberman, optometrist and author of Luminous Life: How the Science of Light Unlocks the Art of Living—a book I highly recommend. “A grain of sand irritating an oyster creates a pearl. Whether we are discussing physics, chemistry, or human interactions, disruption is the catalyst that often brings change. Electrons jump to a higher orbit when they are perturbed. Chemical reactions occur when homeostasis or stability is disturbed. And human beings often transform themselves when they are stressed.” Today, the stressors are coming at us continuously and from all directions. Whatever the disruptions, disturbances or breakdowns, our survival and growth individually and collectively will be determined by the manner of our responses. And there are two fundamental options—fear-based or love-based. 

The path prompted by fear results in a spectrum of self-centered behaviors which, unlike trees that look after each other for the well-being of the forest, create instability and chaos that eventually results in the breakdown of the whole—family, community, nation, planet. Because love is a binding and unifying force, the resulting behaviors produce increased strength and stability. The more we come together and give our unique gifts, the more fully we make ourselves, the nation and planet whole. This isn’t just a feel-good perspective. Sharing the best in us with the rest of us is a fundamental operating principle of evolution, a refinement of what Darwin called “survival of the fittest”—not necessarily the physically strongest, but those who adapt well to their environment.

Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground.

Henry David Thoreau

Wisdom

One of the most important and obvious lessons we’re learning from the Coronavirus is how interconnected and interdependent we are—globally. It comes at a time when the world is being stressed due to increasing climate catastrophes, national trends toward exclusion and fanning the flames of materialism on a finite planet. Isaac Asimov observed that “the saddest aspect of society is that we’re gathering and exchanging information and knowledge faster than we are gaining wisdom.”

Systemic challenges cannot be resolved by old methods. What they require is a shift in perception and thinking. According to Gary Zukov, author of The Seat Of The Soul, “Our species is again being given the chance to choose how it will learn, how it will evolve. This is a time for us as a species and as individuals to choose again. It is an opportunity for us to choose differently, to choose otherwise, to choose this time to learn love through wisdom to take the vertical path of clarity, of conscious growth and conscious life.” 

Currently, “The vertical path of clarity” requires the activation of knowledge encompassed by wisdom—how best to act in crises that are grounded in biology and exacerbated by social interaction. Evolutionary biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris, informs us that “Evolution protects what is stable and works well, yet is open to change when instabilities arise, using change to create both new unity and new variety—that gives nature the resilience to survive disasters.” Oak trees are “resilient,” even surviving lightning strikes because they have multiple and diverse defensive and symbiotic relationships. Dr. Sahtouris continues: “It is Gaian (Earth as a living system) wisdom to balance variety and use it creatively in forming highly stable ecosystems. The greater the variety is, the more stable the ecosystem is as a whole.” So instead of building walls to reduce or eliminate diversity, the wisdom of evolution—demonstrated by nature—is to build bridges, put up welcoming signs and work on improving relationships across the board. Globalization isn’t a phenomenon, it’s emerging as an evolutionary necessity.

This oak tree and me, we’re made of the same stuff.

Carl Sagan

When we come out of quarantine, as challenging it may be at times to shift our perception and engage people who are different from us, the way to build resilience for the known and unknown crises ahead, is to begin to emulate nature by putting into practice the wisdom of evolution. The lesson of the trees, for instance, is that they must interact symbiotically with every member of the forest for it to survive. Self-centeredness, exclusion and discrimination are unhealthy relationships, whether between people and nations and between human beings and the environment. Concerning diversity, the general population needs to learn what scientists have known for a long time—that diversity is the principal evolutionary driver. Without it, living systems—individuals, nations and civilizations fail. 

We must now look to living systems as our teacher, for our survival depends on discovering new ways of living — and making our living — that embody life’s wisdom.

Joe Kresse

Wanting to better understand the specific benefits of “cultural diversity,” I researched some of the most respected sources and found that “it nurtures social cohesion,” “diverse people communicate more, socialize more and provide mutual help and support, all of which decreases stereotyping and discrimination.” “It opens minds to new and exciting experiences and new ways of thinking.” “Diversity promotes cultural enrichment, improves local economies, enhances the robustness in complex systems. And biologically, “populations possessing wide variations of alleles (a variant form of a gene) are more likely to survive and reproduce. Diversity allows natural selection to increase or decrease the frequency of alleles already in the population.” Physically speaking then, sameness and exclusion optimize entropy—decay and death. 

You can’t see wisdom, but you can see its reflection. Its reflection is happiness, fearlessness, and kindness.

Silvia Boorstein

A final observation about wisdom is prompted by the capacity of trees to intercommunicate for the health and well-being of the forest. It has been my experience that when we engage each other in meaningful (as opposed to trivial) conversations, we call out their wisdom, and they in turn call it forth ours.

The wise writers who inspire me are united in observing that consciousness is fundamental, that the universe derives from a “field” of consciousness, and that we tap into it by “tuning” our minds (like a radio receiver) to the frequency of our interests and concerns. If that’s the case, it would account for the addage that “Whatever we think about we make more of.” In speaking the truth—wisdom—we make more of ourselves, each other and the world. 

The Wise Old Oak

His is a noble presence,

this wise old oak.

Nearly three-hundred years old,

besieged by lightning strikes,

insect attacks and underground menaces,

with the help of neighboring species,

woodpeckers who dined on hole-boring beetles,

roots that went deep and broad

and an underground network that spread the news,

he stood his ground.

Blossoming every three years,

he provided acorns for wood ducks, wild turkeys, 

white-tailed deer, rabbits, mice and squirrels,

wagon wheels and shade for pioneers,

healing remedies for the First Nations. 

This storehouse of wisdom,

living example of how evolution works,

improves the taste of wine

and lives as a reminder that all great things

begin with a seed.

David L. Smith


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The Pansy Flower: A Reminder To Remember

Perhaps because Pansies are annuals and small, those of us who aren’t gardeners can easily miss the beauty and the message they carry. I only became aware of them when, beginning many years ago, Linda began to plant them in her garden and in a long flower box on our front porch where they greeted us every time we left the house and returned. Because of their saturated colors and varying “faces” depending on the light and weather, I often photographed them.

The flower gets its name from “pensé,” the French word for thought or remembrance. The blossoms were sent to someone, ostensibly to say “remember me” or “I remember you.” First bred from the Wild Pansy in Victorian times, the flower was considered a love potion. Shakespeare, who once described it as “Love-In-Idleness,” cited it as the reason why Titania fell in love with an ass in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Pansy blossoms have five petals. They’re a member of the large Viola (violet) family native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere, including Hawaii, Australia and the Andes. They like moist and slightly shaded conditions and are relatively disease and pest free. 

One type of blossom, particularly the yellows and some blues and purples, have thin black lines called penciling. It’s said that the pansy’s delicate aroma is more pronounced in the early morning and at dusk. This is especially the case with the yellow and blue blossoms. Both the pansy leaves and the flowers are edible and high in vitamins A and C. They’ve been used to make syrup and dyes. And the Greeks cultivated several of the viola species, including the  pansy, for medicinal use.

Because the word and the gesture of giving pansies relates to rememberance, and considering that gardeners speak of the blossom as a “face,” I’m reminded of ancient Maya stelae, carved and erected in large part to depict a ruler so he would be remembered. In cultures that venerate ancestors, when a person dies it doesn’t end their relationships or influence within a family or the community. This is because the spirit of the person lives on, just in another world. And they continue to have influence in the world, as long as they are remembered. By continuing to have conversations with the deceased and offering them gifts—for example, as Mexicans do on the Day Of The Dead—the deceased ancestors can appeal to saints and others in the spirit realm on behalf of petitioners to keep them safe, healthy and so on.

For indigenous people, to “re-member” is to maintain the spirit of a deceased person as a member of a family or community. The faces of Maya kings are prominent on monuments, buildings and artifacts because being remembered kept them alive and extended their influence beyond the grave. Just as the faces of kings had power, so the faces of pansies can have power—if we take from their faces the memory of someone we lost. 

After gaining this insight, I decided that the face of a particular yellow pansy in our flower box will, every time I see it this Spring, will remind me of Joanne, my deceased sister. Yellow, because her smile and  hearty laughter brightened the day for everyone she met. Indeed, she has been re-membered by many. And she is contributing.  

Pansy

Every Spring,

the black lines

on her colorful five-petaled face—

a floral megaphone—

call us to remember a loved one.

David L. Smith


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Willow Tree: Model of Flexibility, Adaptability and Growth

Willows are graceful and easily recognized by their long thin branches that sometimes reach the ground. Their green leaves are also long and narrow with  finely toothed edges. They grow well near water, especially where the soils are acidic, loamy, and well-drained. They grow fast, more then 24” per year, reaching heights up to 80′ with a spread of  50’.  In April and May, they produce yellow flowers born on short catkins. Producing brown fruit 1/4” in diameter, male and female flowers grow on separate trees.

All trees have defenses mechanisms. For willows, it’s the production of salicylic acid, a precursor of aspirin that’s on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, those safest and most effective. A tea made from willow bark can relieve headaches and bring down fevers. Salicylic acid is a key ingredient in topical skin care products, and it’s used as a food preservative, bactericide and an antiseptic.

To reproduce, willows use their colorful blossoms and olfactory signals to draw attention to themselves and attract passing bees. Sweet, sugar-rich nectar rewards them in exchange for the dusting the bees receive during their visit. Other willow species—poplars as well—send fine-haired seeds adrift on the wind for long distances.

Native to China, willows are mentioned in texts from ancient Egypt, Sumer and Assyria. The Celtic nations used their wood in ceremonies to enhance psychic abilities. The Cherokee and other Native Americans use an infusion of the bark to reduce fever and inflammation and treat rheumatism and headaches. It’s also a symbol of inner wisdom for them, a reminder to keep an open mind with the stability and the strength of age and experience.

For us, because willows are one of the few trees that bend without breaking, they can provide a model of flexibility, the ability to go with the flow of life—hold ideas, conversations, opinions and news lightly and adjust to change appropriately always eager to explore greater truth, expand awareness and act with empathy.

Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.

Bruce Lee

Another quality of willows that we can learn from is their adaptability. They can survive in challenging soil and weather conditions, sometimes taking root from a single fallen branch. As I write, the world is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic. All of a sudden, humanity is waking up to the fact of our interconnectedness and interdependence. I find it curious, instructive actually for the future, that although the Federal government has been and continues to be slow to respond—more in an “It’ll be alright” mode than “All hands on deck; here’s the information and this is what needs to be done”—the public and their local affiliations are assuming the responsibility for rapid and appropriate responses. I think we’ve all gotten the message: In a whole-systems crisis, the way through is best managed by the parts (members), each adjusting to change according to his or her circumstances. Those at the top of the social pyramid need to be prepared to provide those in the middle and bottom with the resources they need to help them help themselves. In the case of a pandemic, that means ensuring that test kits are immediately available and testing sites widespread, fully supplied and prepared. 

We are not to be forced into a choice between uniformity on the one hand—everybody exactly alike—and alienation on the other hand—everybody divided into different groups antagonistic to one another. We can behave like an ecological network. Currently, we are shifting and adjusting, mutating and suffering extinctions: the human ecology is in motion, groping for adaptation.

Fritjof Capra

Because willows are prolific growers, they can also remind us that, irrespective of conditions and  circumstances, we can grow as persons and family members right where we are. Especially, we can grow in consciousness—by developing our self-identity and improving the quality of our relationships with others, the planet and God—however we perceive that and by whatever name we prefer. I specify the development of consciousness because growth for its own sake is the ideology and methodology of cancer cells. Professional growth is a different challenge. For many, it requires a move to another city. And while that complicates family matters physically, it’s equivalent to the willow seed blown in the wind far from the parent tree. Wherever it lands, it puts down roots and begins the process of reaching to the sky. 

Human society can no longer afford behavior that is selfish, arrogant or separative. The time has come to mobilize every major discipline in human affairs — psychology, sociology, philosophy, theology, economy, art, writing, drama, science and technology, business and industry and all that our electronic age is able to offer — for an all-out effort to inquire into those human characteristics that are growth directed, future-oriented, species centered and globalizing, altruistic and open-ended, and that includes love and faith, trust, courage, humility, creativity, empathy, sharing and a sense of community, human potential for change, growth and maturation and many other constructive human characteristics.

Janus Roze

Willow isn’t weeping.

Her head’s down, pondering,

contemplating, humbled

by the exquisite sunlight

streaming through her leaves;

water quenching her roots.

Reflecting,

Willow’s inner powers of healing

are strengthened by her awareness

of Self, an expression of the Ground.

Content and in place, she remembers

when, as a sprout, 

she dreamed of being just as she is.

David L. Smith

 

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Tree Roots and Anchoring Principles

From Peter Wohllenben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, I learned that the roots underground are more involved in a tree’s survival than anything growing above it. They withstand severe changes in climate, regrow trunks from time to time and it’s there where centuries of experience are stored. While trees don’t appear to have a central organ like a brain for storing information, it has been established that they learn.

Frantisek Baluska and his colleagues from the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Botany at the University of Bonn discovered brain-like structures at the root tips of trees. “When a root feels its way forward in the ground, it is aware of stimuli.” Measuring electrical signals, they found that when a root encounters toxic substances, impenetrable stones or saturated soil it analyzes the situation and transmits the necessary adjustments to the growing tip. It then changes direction and steers the growing root around the problem areas.

We have learned that mother trees recognize and talk with their kin, shaping future generations. In addition, injured trees pass their legacies on to their neighbors, affecting gene regulation, defense chemistry, and resilience in the forest community. These discoveries have transformed our understanding of trees from competitive crusaders of the self to members of a connected, relating, communicating system. There is a burst of careful scientific research occurring worldwide that is uncovering all manner of ways that trees communicate with each other above and below ground. 

Dr. Susan Simard (Professor of Forest Ecology, University of British Columbia

Trees feed each other at the roots in a process called “equalization.” Serving as a gigantic redistribution network, when a tree is running short on sugar, a nearby tree that has an abundance will provide it—one of the reasons why trees of the same species are packed together in a forest. Another reason for proximity is that nutrients, fungal networks and water can be easily divided among the trees so each can grow to be the best it can be. According to forester, Peter Wohllenben, “a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it. Its well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single unit. Even strong trees get sick over the course of their lives. When this happens, they depend on their weaker neighbors for support. If they are no longer there, all it takes is what once would have been a harmless insect attack to seal the fate even of the giants.” Nature favors proximity, sharing and helping.

 

Tree roots can extend more than twice the spread of the crown, so the roots of neighboring trees intersect and grow into one another. Again Peter Wohllenben: “Usually, there are fungi that operate like fiber-optic internet cables. Their fine filaments penetrate the ground, weaving through it in almost unbelievable density. One teaspoon of forest soil can contain many miles of these hyphea (a kind of fungus). Over centuries, a single fungus can cover many square miles and network an entire forest. The fungal connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought, and other dangers. The fungi are pursuing their own agendas and appear to be very much in favor of conciliation and equitable distribution of information and resources. So trees communicate by means of olfactory, visual and electrical signals.” Nature favors symbiosis and integrated networks. 

A study found that it was the loose uncompacted soil around cracked sewer pipes that attracted tree roots in cities, not so much the water in the pipes. When the soil is hard as concrete, the roots get desperate and as a last resort, they find a way into a cracked sewer pipe or into loosely backfilled trenches. In both instances, the roots can’t get a secure footing. What’s more, roots have to deal with fertilizers, dog urine which can burn the tree’s bark and kill the roots. Similar damage is done by winter salt. The stresses are so great on urban trees, most of them die prematurely. Wohllenben offers one consolation. “Because streets and pathways are often planted with rows of the same species of trees, at least they are able to communicate with other members of their species.”  Nature favors community.

Roots serve as anchors. They grip the earth tightly, dig deep and spread out to form a symbiotic union with the earth. Drawing up nutrients and water, they keep a tree growing and stable. By analogy then, what are the things that anchor us in the ground of our being; the ground of all being? For me, they’re the invisible forces or “principles” that guide our lives as we navigate meaning, the world and other people. In particular, psychological stabilization occurs as we begin to find at least partial and satisfying answers to the perennial questions—Who am I? Why am I here? What is the nature of reality? Is there a God? Do we have free will? How should we live and treat others? Is there an afterlife? The extent of our confidence in life is in large part a function of how deeply we dig into these questions. Some of us are inclined to dig deeply, others not so much. But even the prospect of an answer can provide some stability. Whatever our approach, the principles that anchor us in everyday living are both personal and social.

The principles that apply to us personally are those that, when activated, provide confidence that we’re growing and our lives are meaningful. We find them in the Faith Traditions—the principles taught and demonstrated by the founders of religions and other holy persons. These include love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, healing, humility, toleration, respect and kindness. 

Some find their root is Science, the process of seeking empirical knowledge of the physical world and universe through the principles of direct observation and testing, truth-seeking, curiosity, exploration, information sharing, debate and rigorous analysis. Those more inclined toward addressing the fundamental questions concerning reality, existence, knowledge, values, aesthetics and language find their footing in the process of rational argumentation.

Whatever the medium and whether the process is mental or physical, the act of creation itself can anchor a person in realities both actual and imagined. The operating principles in Creative Expression include heightened perception, aesthetic investigation, trust, connection (to the subject matter), inventiveness, divergent thinking, constructive imagination, social analysis, caring and sharing. Another anchoring endeavor is Contribution. Like the roots of trees that spread out to neighboring trees, many people find their stability in outreach and helping, providing service to others. Their  energies are grounded in principles of caring, responsibility, empathy, citizenship, cooperation, collaboration, respect, tolerance, empathy and goodwill. 

Above, I quoted Peter Wohllenben who said that a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it. In another chapter of his book he writes that the goal of the trees is the survival of the forest, so I looked into it and identified some of the fundamental principles that anchor us in the ground of nature socially and as a species. Diversity is what gives living systems resilience to survive disasters. A forest is enriched by many species of trees. Neither they nor their roots fight for space, sunlight or nutrients. Instead, they are constructal, meaning they’re flexible—taking the easiest path to work around blocks. 

The greater the variety, the more stable the ecosystem is as a whole. Reducing variety creates instability and vulnerable situations. Elisabet Sahtouris (Biologist)

No living creature can ever be entirely independent. All living systems share the same physical roots. All are holons within larger holons. Life is Interconnected and Interdependent at all levels. Health and growth at the social level derive from the sharing of energies and information.

Were we to understand our fundamental interconnections, we would recognize that our own well-being or the development of our soul and consciousness is totally dependent on the development of every other human being on the planet. Michael Lerner (Rabbi)

In addition to being interconnected, living systems are Coherent, they integrate their diverse qualities, relationships and values. The whole is sustained in a growthful mode when the members of a living system relate to one another in ways that are nourishing and mutually supporting. 

Everything we do either promotes or counters coherence and thus our and our environment’s evolution and development; it is either healthy or unhealthy and is either constructive or destructive. Ervin Laszlo (Systems theorist) 

Living systems are autopoietic—self-making. They maintain and renew themselves by regulating their makeup and conserving boundaries. Examples of Self-Regualtion are individuals and organizations that take responsibility for themselves rather than relying on family, social pressure, peers, professionals, companies or governments. These systems also set limits on their exposure to and acceptance of products and energies that are toxic or counter to their growth.

Autopoietic structures have definite boundaries, such as a semipermeable membrane, but the boundaries are open and connect the system with almost unimaginable complexity to the world around it. John Briggs and F. David Peat (Physicists)

Trees communicate to other trees. Through Information Sharing they and we gain understanding and concern for self, others and the world. There could be no life without communication. As a principle of growth, the nature and quality of the information that’s shared are critically important. For instance, false information is destructive. And communication designed solely to persuade can be both a distraction and destructive.  

The reality of how we’ve changed as a species involves not the genetically driven evolution of our brains, but the mental evolution of how we collectively pass energy and information among each other across generations. This is the evolution of the mind, not the brain. Dan Siegel (Psychiatrist)

As noted, when a tree is lacking nutrients—for instance, sugar from photosynthesis occurrng in its leaves—other trees of the same species will come to its rescue. Wherever it occurs and whatever the system, context or level of activity, Helping is an indication of caring. Help is often provided when there’s a need for it, but it can also be given without need or expectation, as when we help another to learn, reach a goal or by the simple acknowledging their achievement.

We rise by lifting others. Robert Ingersoll (American writer and orator) 

Anchoring principles, singly or in combination, provide an individual with mental and spiritual stability. And along with it confidence. We feel teathered to someone or some ideal that’s enduring and dependable in a world of rapidly changing conditions and increasing complexity. Without an anchor or teather, we’d feel adrift with nothing to hold onto. 

Whatever the cause of despair and attempts at suicide, I think the lack of a deep connection to someone or something meaningful can be a contributing factor. When in serious trouble or when life is threatened, as happens with trees, it’s the depth and extent of our roots that can see us through.   

Newly planted,

my fingers extend and grow.

Ever so slowly searching deeper, farther,

groping in the dark below

for sustenance and water.

Where there’s a block, a wall,

I easily go around.

With the roots of other trees I entwine and share,

in appreciation of our common ground,

for the strength of the tree is the strength of the forest.

Older now by hundreds of years,

my fingers are sprawling and integrated braids.

Surviving blustry winds, lightning strikes, 

punishing rain and insect raids,

I look up and see my purpose fulfilled.

David L. Smith

 

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The Tolerant American Beech Tree

Trees provide the very necessities of life itself. They clean our air, protect our drinking water, create healthy communities and feed the human soul.                                                        Arbor Day Foundation

The word “Beech” derives from the Anglo-Saxon boc and German boko meaning “book.” In Northern Europe, early manuscripts were written on thin beechwood tablets and they were bound between beech boards. Also, it’s said that the earliest Sanskrit characters were carved on strips of beech bark.

In Native American lore, the beech tree symbolized tolerance, past knowledge and the softening of criticism. Today, symbologists add patience, insight from the past and lightness of spirit. Used medicinally, the leaves can help the digestive system and they’re used for healing wounds, sores and ulcers. 

For the early settlers, American Beech trees were a sign of fertile soil. And with fairly shallow roots, they were easy to remove for plowing. At that time the trees were home to migrating Passenger Pigeons who fed on their nuts. One report said the birds were so numerous they broke off the limbs “from the sheer weight of their numbers.” And there’s a story about a tree on the old stagecoach road between Blountville and Jonesborough, Tennessee. It bore an inscription carved into the trunk that read “D. Boone cilled a bar on this tree in 1760.” When the tree fell in 1916 it had a girth of 28 feet. The Forest Service estimated its age at 365 years, “making it fully two centuries old before Daniel Boone inscribed on it.”

Researchers in Europe found that beech trees in a forest, although situated in a variety of conditions—stony or muddy, little or lots of water, nutrient-rich or poor soil—synchronized their rate of photosynthesis between them. Strong or weak, thick or thin, all members of the same species were using sunlight to produce the same amount of sugar per leaf, a process of equalization that was taking place underground through the roots. Entire beech groves—communities—have often grown from the roots of a single tree. And they can live for 300 to 400 years.

Properties

Pollinated by the wind, beeches have male and female flowers on the same tree. Their wide-spreading canopy provides shade in the summer and bronze coloring in the fall. They’re often found in parks, golf courses and cemeteries. Although they only grow 12” to 24” per year, they can reach a height of 80 feet and their girth can spread to about 70 feet at maturity. Beeches like six hours of direct sunlight each day and soil that’s acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, silty loam and well-drained, making them very drought sensitive.

The leaves are 3–6” long with sharp, incurved teeth on the outer edges. They’re dull green on top and lighter green on the bottom, and they turn yellow or brown in the autumn. The trees are easy to spot because they retain many of their leaves through the winter. Beeches produce an edible, hard, brown beechnut that’s a half to one-inch in diameter, which is a favorite of squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, bears and larger birds. Native Americans ate the nuts in small quantities, raw and cooked. And early settlers extracted oil from the nuts for food and lamp oil, using the dried leaves to stuff mattresses and pillows. Because beeches retain their smooth bark as they age, kids often carve their initials onto their large smooth trunks. Many trees are partially hollow and provide excellent den sites for various wildlife, including squirrels, raccoons and opossums. 

In the above image, a young beech tree in winter holds onto his leaves, perhaps not wanting to let go of them in spite of the fact that the sugar they provided from photosynthesizing sunlight through the summer had been internalized. By retaining his leaves in this way, he shines brightly as the sunlight rakes through the forest. Enduring strong winds, rocky soil and dramatic shifts in temperature, he stands straight on the hillside, his growth dormant until a pattern of warmer temperatures signal the time to wake up, take in more water and initiate the growth of buds and leaves, surfaces to absorb sunlight so his process of photosynthesis can begin again producing sugar. 

His lesson—tolerance—is that despite the  conditions of place, threatening winds and patience, uniqueness will shine within the diversity that surrounds us. When the climate is harsh, the airwaves foul and the forest threatened in so many ways, we can stand our ground and know that a more growthful season is ahead.  

 

The tolerant beech,

retaining his dried-out leaves through the winter,

sharing nutrients with others at the roots,

softening criticism of his diverse neighbors,

passing on the knowledge of being,

stretching arms to the sky,

sighs an ancient prayer of gratitude

for slow and steady growth. And sunlight.

David L. Smith

 

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The Aspen: A Model Of Interconnectedness

When I began using a camera creatively, I approached trees and forests mainly as objects to facilitate the development of my aesthetic eye. Recently, Peter Wohllenben’s book The Hidden Life Of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate expanded my appreciation by describing their acute sensory and communication processes. After reading that book I discovered that the aspen have much to say about the current political and social climate worldwide, and I’ve been amazed at how my aesthetic and life has been enriched as a consequence of better understanding the marvelous capacities of trees.

Aspen trees grow 24 inches per year to a height of 50 feet or more. Because they grow in stands (called clones) and reproduce by sending up sprouts—individual trees—from their roots, they’re the largest living organism on the planet. Virtually all the trees in a clone are connected, so while the lifespan of an individual tree is normally 100–150 years these days, there’s a clone in Minnesota that has been estimated to be 8,000 years old. And in Fishlake National Forest, Utah, there’s a clone of interconnected aspen roots that researchers consider to be a single tree with one massive underground root system over 80,000 years old covering more than 100 acres and resulting in a forest of approximately 47,000 individual trunks.

More generally, German scientists discovered that most individual trees of the same species growing in the same stand are connected through their root systems, and they exchange nutrients in times of need. The researchers regard such forests as “superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.” What’s more, all trees distinguish their roots from those of other species, even the roots of related individuals. And they work together. An individual tree is at the mercy of changes in the weather, but together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates the extremes of heat and cold, stores water and generates humidity, allowing individuals to live to be very old. 

Typical of all living systems these scientists say, the goal of a forest is to keep living no matter what. According to author and forester Peter Wohllenben, “If every tree were looking out only for himself, then many of them would never reach old age leaving gaps in the canopy, making it easier for storms to get inside, uproot more trees, allow heat to reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.” This is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished—through the roots—until they recover.

Of cultural interest, Druid’s took their novices and initiates to aspen groves for a taste of transcendental bliss. They believed that in watching the trees and listening to the quaking of their leaves a trance could be induced in which they would journey to other realms of consciousness where special knowledge could be gained. The Onondagas of Upstate New York, one of five nations in the Iroquois Confederacy, called the aspen nut-kie-e, meaning “noisy leaf” because of the sound the leaves make in the wind. And many First American tribes regarded the aspen as a symbol for clarity of purpose, determination and overcoming fears and doubts.

Interconnectedness

Contemplating the interconnectedness of aspen, I backtracked to the roots of that phenomenon and realized that fundamentally, all of life is interconnected by virtue of the Big Bang. While living systems diverged and proliferated exponentially since then, every cell, organ, individual and species retains its dependency upon all the other systems—elemental, physical and social—for life to continue. As in the aspen grove, the existence and quality of life of each member of the human community depend upon the condition of the greater wholes in which it functions—family, community, organization, nation and planet. Putting the mathematics of chaos theory and the reality of interconnectedness in  terms that were understandable, a meteorologist commented that a flap of a seagull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. This idea then gave rise to the “Butterfly Effect,” the observation that the flap of a butterfly wing in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas. The point was that even the smallest change in any part of a system affects the whole. Because the Earth is so large and heavily populated with human beings, it can be difficult to see the truth of this. But now, due to everyone’s personal experience and reports in the media, it has become obvious to most that one person’s behavior—for good or ill—has large scale consequences.

Every living creature must get materials and energy from its environment to form itself and to keep itself alive. This is why no living creature can ever be entirely independent—it is always a holon within larger holons, including ecosystems, depending on them for its very life.

Elisabet Sahtouris (Biologist)

That we are interconnected can no longer be denied, not when a single pet vendor in China doesn’t wash his hands after handling a bat creating a global health and economic crisis; when vegetables, poultry and seafood spread disease and affect the economy because of errors in sanitation; when a nation or company fouls the water or air in order to reduce costs; when the cost of medicines greatly exceeds the cost to develop and produce them; when a parent neglects or abuses a child and that child becomes an active shooter sending waves of fear throughout the world; when ethics is violated in the interest of profits; when dictators murder their people and destroy cities in order to retain power; when democratic leaders turn a blind eye to science that warns of impending health and environmental disasters and when nations decide to go it alone in a world where survival and growth will increasingly depend upon their collaboration.

“Nationalism” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.” Basically, it’s national self-centeredness. Although it may be understandable, in part, when relations with other nations have not been particularly beneficial, a more appropriate and constructive strategy would be to do what nature does—work on improving the relationships. Symbiosis.

Evolution and history demonstrate that Nature does not respect individuals. It safeguards and promotes the continuation and increasing complexity of whole systems—species in our case. At all levels, living systems arise and fall. Individuals, nations, planets and galaxies are born, grow and die. What remains is the cosmos, driven by the universal constants of change and increasing complexity. Although we may not think about it, every day each of us experiences change and increasing complexity personally, professionally, socially and globally. Without change there can be no life. 

From the perspective of the community of nations, those that place their emphasis on self above others are thinking and acting like cancer cells in the human body, striving for as much growth as possible in any way they can regardless of the consequences to the whole. In living systems, individuality is a destructive illusion. When these systems attempt to grow in isolation, the result is increasing stress and eventual breakdowns in functionality.

One of the motivating forces behind my fascination with indigenous cultures and the ancient Maya in particular was their common understanding and experience of all things as alive and interconnected. Most such cultures, if not all, didn’t have a word for “I.” The individual reference was either a name or the collective “we.” There was no ownership of land or objects. A member of the tribe had the use of a horse or garment, perhaps even for a lifetime, but if someone else needed or wanted it more, it would be traded. And because the world was perceived to be alive, possessed of a spirit that had to be dealt with in order to maintain balance, everything was accorded respect. And out of respect, the rule was to take from nature only what was needed and waste nothing. Of course, there were other principles of indigenous people that we would consider barbaric. But on the positive side, they acquired the knowledge and wisdom of how to live in harmony with nature.

In our case, having inherited “Enlightenment” philosophies that separated matter and spirit, body and soul, science and religion—and divided science into specialities—we’ve grown accustomed to the illusion of separation to the extent that materialism has become the unqualified means for an individual to secure comfort, success and security. However, a grave consequence of separation is fear. “Everyone else is grabbing the good stuff; I need to get my share.” “The more I have, the bigger and better my experience, the happier I’ll be, and the better off my family.” Where there’s fear there’s a need to possess and control. So without thinking, acquisition and accumulation became normalized in Western culture and the mass media continuously ramps up  the desire for more, better, faster and newer. 

As noted, the consciousness and behavior of self-centeredness in society equates with a cancerous cell. In anthropology, this kind of thinking derives from “the belief of limited good.” In societies where the good is perceived to be finite, not enough to go around, the members hoard and eventually give away everything they have in order to be respected. In psychology, a contributing phenomenon is the “mentality of scarcity,” the need to acquire before things run out. Whatever the name, evidence of enflamed materialism operating in our culture today is seen in television commercials and the Black Friday stampedes on stores that offer dramatic sales after Thanksgiving Day. Never mind that much of that material—transformed  sunlight and earth—will likely be discarded or replaced in a matter of months or years, ending up in a landfill outgassing CO2.

Given the way human beings are raised and enculturated around the world, seeing ourselves separate is natural. It’s only when it occurs to us—through personal or perceived tragedy or being taught otherwise—that we are inexplicably interdependent and interconnected, that we come to grips with the fact of inexorable change and its consequences. Once we see that independence is a fantasy, that the “self-made man” and “rugged individual” were images created to generate wealth for a few, and that having money, goods and grand experiences are distractions from what really matters in life—health and well-being, personal growth, creative expression, loving and empowering relationships to name a few—we can put the fear of change in perspective. 

With respect to change, we each have three choices: 1) Ignore it; 2) Go against it—fight to maintain the status quo (existing systems) at all costs; or 3) Make the best of change as it approaches or occurs by attempting, through collaboration, to steer it in a constructive direction.  Ignoring change just puts it off. Fighting it has resulted in the polarization that humanity is currently working through worldwide on its way toward realizing that the illusion of separation—with its consequent unbridled materialism—is leading our species to the brink of extinction. The way through our fears and challenges, of course, is to unite and create fresh solutions that are in harmony with Nature and each other.  

Easier said than done. When members of a living system choose to be led by an individual who openly and consistently communicates falsehoods—who is ego-centric, unapologetically ignorant and reluctant to consider the voices of experience and wisdom, who is lacking in empathy, values the making of money for the privileged over promoting quality of life for all, who denies his inadequacies and exalts his regressive decisions, who builds by exclusion, denigrates those unlike himself, demeans his dissenters and whose modus operandi across the board is to separate, deceive and disconnect—they are seriously out of step with nature.

It is not enough to remove and replace the offending leader. In a climate of increasing  stress and breakdowns with collapse on the horizon, those who would restore harmony and promote the health of both the members and the social body, recognizing their interdependence, will want to take responsibility for the parts and the whole through mutual respect, creativity, inclusion and collaboration—the modalities of nature that insure more and greater life.  

Is that possible? Can the awareness and understanding of Nature’s law of interconnectedness be accelerated in time to save the nations and planet? I believe it can by educating ourselves, bringing the reality of our interconnectedness into discussions whatever the topic, shifting personal habits that respect all of life and voting for individuals who understand that the health of the forest depends on the health of all trees. What about people who don’t understand the dynamics of interconnection and can’t be persuaded? Sometimes it takes a tragic experience to wake up and adopt a deeply heartfelt sense of responsibility for the whole. Many, I believe, in their heart-of-hearts already know that we’re one and interconnected at the roots.   

Were we to understand our fundamental interconnections, we would recognize that our own well-being or the development of our soul and consciousness is totally dependent on the development of every other human being on the planet.

Rabbi Michael Lerner

Knowing where we came from,

that we are not alone,

members of a grand forest,

we can weather any storm.

Arm-in-arm,

we stand together in love

enjoying unbounded distinction, 

glorious uniquenesss

and freedom.

All for one and one in all,

roots intertwined,

golden glory quaking in the wind,

we are Aspen.

Along with our neighbors

in uncountable forests,

we remember that

we are all rooted in the Earth.

David L. Smith


 

I welcome your feedback at <smithdl@fuse.net>

My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My photo books: <www.blurb.com/search/site_search> 

(Enter “David L. Smith” and “Bookstore” in “Search)

For a weekly appreciation of: Ancient Maya Cultural Traits

Emergence and the Universe Story

 

In considering this image for contemplation, the theme that first came to mind was “immensity.” However, in keeping with my propensity to trace subject matter back to its origins, I observed that every human being and before that, critters with eyes who ever lived, has seen skies like this. Curious to know when an atmosphere developed on the early Earth, I turned to my science database and found that it occurred about three billion years ago. While there, I came across a statement by cosmologist Brian Swimme that made me decide instead to reflect on the theme of  “emergence.” He wrote—

The universe is not a place, it’s a story or an irreversible sequence of emergent events.

It’s an ongoing creative event.

The universe as a whole, and each being within it, is permeated with the power of emergence. 

                                                                                                                                          Brian Swimme

As a consequence of this perspective, he said the challenge for each of us is to find our personal story within the great “epic of being—the universe story.” This struck a cord because one of the dominant reminders of the past year has been the realization that our personal realities are a construct, that we are the authors of our experience, particularly in how we respond to what’s happening around us, and also in the choices we make in terms of exposure to the realities of others. The first couple of months in the new year are an especially appropriate time to reconstruct and recognize what’s authentic and core to our being, and then to re-write the story that emerges from it.

Within the image of the clouds, on the left-hand side, a tiny jet-trail brings to mind an image of the Earth and its biosphere as an incubator wherein each life that emerges creates and contributes an individual story to the greater stories of community, nation, species, planet and universe. I highly recommend  The Universe Story, which Brian Swimme coauthored with one of the great ecological minds of our time, Fr. Thomas Berry.

If the individual stories of human beings going back 40,000 years ago were represented by blips of light, and the intensity of each was determined by its contribution to the whole, an animated video of this process would begin with dim flickers in Africa that accelerate, spread, and burst into a globe of bright, pulsating light. From an evolutionary perspective, the individual human lifespan is so short as to appear insignificant. But from a personal perspective it’s quite the opposite. That every individual is unique and precious, urges me to consider the significance of story and storytelling. In truth, we live and breathe in an atmosphere of stories. And each, like the dust and water particles that form clouds, contributes to the quality and movement of that atmosphere. Sometimes calm, other times turbulent. Always, vibrant and alive.

In whole-systems science and positive-change theory, innovators are sometimes referred to as “emergents.” These individuals literally emerge from within the status quo but are not satisfied with it. Having experienced the dysfunction of no longer workable ideas, emergents dream of better ways to live and work. And as soon as possible they adopt them. They write a new story for themselves because they want their presence and actions to matter beyond a paycheck, status or notoriety. They are their own people, authentic to the core, the modern-day equivalents of the “rugged individuals” who settled the American West. Among them today are innovators and social engineers—agents of positive change and social development. In business and industry they’re working on alternatives to carbon-based fuels, sustainable ecology, responsible forest management, animal and watershed conservation, health promotion, nutrition, applications of nanotechnology, energy-efficient transportation, and the exploration and commercialization of space. These and others like them are the visionaries, authors, life-coaches, globally-consciousness, motivational speakers and teachers who champion improvements in every field. And they’re easy to identify because they live principled lives and walk their talk. Integrity trumps financial gain.

Less dramatic but equally deserving of the label emergent, are family members and neighbors, everyday people who are quietly living moral and ethical lives, people actively looking for ways to work more creatively, smarter and kinder with consideration for all. They do a good job and take pride in it, no matter how menial the work may seem to others. They’ve opted out of popular culture, preferring the more quiet and substantive values of personal enrichment, fulfillment and service.

Because the contributions of emergents have survival value for the planet and all its inhabitants, I see them as paving the way toward a positive and more sustainable future. Many of them were either the founders of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) or are current leaders in them. They deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported—by all of us, including the mass media. Many are subscribers to this blog.

Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.

Jean Houston

About This Image

I’d been photographing an ocean of corn fields all day around Blunt, South Dakota. Walking back to the car I looked up and took this shot of the clouds. Only weeks later, when I zoomed in on the image to eliminate some dust spots that were on the lens, did I notice the little jet trail. This is an instance where the image wasn’t what I would consider a “stand out,” but as I was reviewing my files, looking for something suitable for contemplation, it caught my eye.

It’s becoming clear to me that to be evocative, an image doesn’t always need to be a photographic Wow! What gives it value has more to do with where the subject and presentation take me when I give it some serious attention.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography

Authenticity And Home

Geese In Flight

As these geese take flight, returning to the places they were born to find food and mates, my thoughts turn to the place we call “home.” For some, it’s where we were born, the house we lived in the longest or where we live now. If “Home is where the heart is,” it could simply consist of thoughts or memories of people living together. What is it that makes a home? Is it the place? The house? The people who live there? All these things? Something else? Something more?

I notice that as our location changes we make new homes. And I wonder about those who have several houses. Are they all considered home? Or is there one place that has priority? And do different members of the family consider the same place home? Sometimes I hear people talk about “Home-home” and “Home away from home.” So what constitutes home? Is it where the heart is? I think for most of us, it’s the household where we felt or now feel most connected and comfortable, the place where we can be our most authentic or true self.

The image of these geese, particularly their reflections on the water, has me pondering what it means to “return home.” Many of us go home for the holidays, perhaps to reconnect with our roots, relatives and friends. Whether or not this involves travel, we return to the places where we found or currently find comfort, hopefully, acceptance and the opportunity to be ourselves with other people.

I also recognize that there’s an inner home, the place where the deepest truth of myself resides. Returning there, reconnecting with my true Self, I am inspired to live as I ought, not just as I want. Yasuhiko Kimura, a mystic and author who integrates spiritual philosophy and science, defines authenticity as “The clarity of being in which there is no self-deceit.” Putting this into practice, living authentically, is the expression of thought, word, and deed with integrity to purpose rather than social norms, circumstances or the expectations of others.

Going home in this sense is reconnecting and recommitting to a life of focused purpose. One of the ways I do this is by reading through my Meditation Workbook, a collection of my own and other’s inspirational thoughts, poems, prayers, meditations, contemplations, essays and information—writings that have been important to me. As with photographs, they reflect back to me certain qualities of identity and aspiration. By reconnecting with my “family” of beliefs and values in those pages, I can better act deliberately in ways that reinforce them—always with an open mind and a willingness to modify them as consciousness evolves. As a source of inspiration, these materials always re-energize me and call me to center.

What a blessing it is to have comfortable and enriching homes, both in the world and in consciousness. The temptation is to think that these are due to circumstances. But just as a house is not automatically a home, both domains require continuous work—physically, mentally and spiritually.And like migrating geese, to get there we have to go there.

The light that shines farthest shines brightest at home.

Rhoda and Homer Slabaugh (Amish)

About This Image

I got up around 4:00 a.m. so I leave the motel and could reach Ohio’s Lake Logan by sunrise. This photograph was made around the same time as the masthead for this blog. Walking the shoreline, a flock of geese flew over the water. Quickly, I raised the camera and clicked off about five shots. Because I was using a zoom lens that had been set on “wide-angle,” by the time I zoomed-in and focused, the moment had gone. Previewing the shots instantly, I saw that they were all out of focus.

Figuring (hoping) that another flock might come along, I zoomed the lens to “telephoto,” set a faster shutter speed, and focused on the water—about where the geese had been. I didn’t have to wait long before another flock of birds did come along. As the saying goes, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” And a ready camera.

I invite you to visit my portfolio of images: David L. Smith Photography

Symmetry

Train Trestle Symmetry

According to Nobel laureate Phil Anderson, “It is only slightly overstating the case to say that physics is the study of symmetry.” The word “symmetry” comes from the Greek, synnetria, meaning “Agreement in dimensions, due proportion, arrangement.”

I’ve chosen this theme for contemplation because, somewhere along the line, having gotten into the habit of noticing symmetries and associating them with the aesthetic sensibilities of harmony, proportion, and balance—touchstones in my everyday thinking and doing. Symmetry sightings have been increasing over the past several days, so I thought I would put in writing—and share—some of my experiences with to them.

Whenever I’m made aware of something symmetrical, whether in a garden or grocery store, on a digital clock or distant highway, I experience a little A-ha!, a twinge of harmony. I’ve come to think of it as a sort of attunement to the fundamental patterning of the universe. The experience seems to say to me, “What you’re thinking or doing in this moment is in harmony with your purpose—and all is well.” I reached this conclusion because, over the course of many years, the feeling that “all is well” occurred consistently in association with sightings of symmetry. These subtle experiences are rarely talked about, yet imagination and pattern recognition are among the features that distinguish us from other members of the animal kingdom.

This is not to say that symmetry is the only or even primary arrangement of the universe. It’s not. Asymmetry, for instance in many trees and the solar system, is the other side of the coin—and just as significant.

To show the pervasiveness of symmetry and help us know where to look, I offer the following domains.

Accounting: (Balance sheets)

Aesthetics: (Symmetry in faces has been shown to be physically attractive)

Architecture: (Every civilization. Cathedrals, temples, mosques, pyramids, White House)

Art: (Pottery, jewelry, quilts, sand-paintings, carpets, furniture, masks)

Biology: (The DNA spiral. Bilateral animals: humans, plants, starfish, sea urchins)

Chemistry: (Symmetry underlies all specific interactions between molecules in nature)

Communities: (Certain suburbs, streets, city grids)

Consciousness: (Yin/Yang. Logic: If Paul is as tall as Karen, Karen is as tall as Paul)

Food: (Fruits and vegetables cut in half are all symmetrical)

Games: (Chess, Chinese Checkers, Playing Cards, Hop-Scotch, Jump-Rope)

Geometry: (Drawings and transformations, scaling, reflection, rotation)

Language: (The words—“Mom” “Dad” “Pop” “Nun”)

Mathematics: (Algebraic equations. Even and odd functions in calculus)

Music: (Canons, permutations, invariance, pitch, scales)

Nature: (Rainbows, raindrops, leaves, sand dunes. beehives, bird, birds, insects, reptiles)

Physics: (The symmetries of the laws of physics determine the properties of particles)

Roads: (Right & left lanes, cloverleafs, tunnels, overpasses)

Social Interaction: (Reciprocity, empathy, dialog, respect, justice, revenge)

Spatial relationships: (Vertical or horizontal. The photograph of the above train tressel)

Time: (Expressed in numbers: 9:09am , 10:10pm, 6:36pm, 1:41am, 3:33pm)

Transportation: (Cars, trucks, trains, airplanes)

It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.

Henri Poincare

About This Image

Whenever I examine a contact sheet made from negatives and come across an image that has strong lines of light, I explore the possibility of making a symmetrical image. The original negative of this photograph, obviously made by available light at night, only contains half the image that you see. Cover the right half of the photograph and that’s what the original, un-manipulated photograph looked like.

To make this new image, I exposed the same negative to one piece of paper twice. The first exposure had the tressel on the left. With this piece of paper tucked away in a lightproof box, I removed the negative from the enlarger carrier and turned it over. Then I drew the brightest lines of the tressel onto a piece of scrap paper in the easel. With this, I could align the image so together, the lines would be symmetrical. Getting the alignment and exposures correct required several trials, but finally, it turned out the way I wanted. The location was 3rd Street in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography

Gratitude

Farm And Corn Field

I grew up in the city. My grandparents lived in the country, about thirty miles from us. We visited them most Sundays, year round, from the time I was born through high school. Although this is not a picture if their farm, it brings back vivid memories it.

Topping the list of the downside of going to grandma’s house was the two-hole outhouse (Who ever thought two holes was a good idea?) with pages of the Sunday Supplement covering the walls, spider webs in the dark corners and, well, the odor. When I was little, I had to be convinced that I wouldn’t fall in and nothing would come out of there to bite me in the butt. Because the house was heated by a wood stove in the back room, aided at times by the kitchen stove, the downstairs was warm enough in the wintertime with sweaters on, but I froze upstairs, napping under three or four blankets with my clothes on. With the exception of my father and me, the men in my family were very much into sports and cigars. So while they were watching “the game” and the women played cards around the kitchen table, it fell to my dad and occasionally my aunt, to keep my sister and me occupied. And that leads to the upsides.

My dad took us on walks to the nearby Clermont County Fairgrounds, where we would wander around the empty livestock stalls and climb the steps of the grandstand that overlooked the oval buggy track. In the summertime we would go to the corner market where, out in front, there was a bin where we reached in and fished among the blocks of ice for a bottle of pop.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas the main event was, of course, the meal. The scene in the dining room was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Grandma was known for her cooking, so the long table was pulled out even further to accommodate all its leaves, and extensions were added as needed. There could be fifteen or more people seated around the table, passing turkey with stuffing, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, corn, peas, carrots, cranberries… Then came the pies, always cherry, apple and pumpkin. Years later I realized that grandma had been making everyone’s favorites on those occasions.

I took a lot for granted when I growing up. I thought everyone did what we did and had what we had. Now, I’ve grown to respect farmers especially. It took a long while for me to realize that food doesn’t come from grocery stores. I’d like to think it comes from fields like the one in the above image, planted, nurtured and harvested by people who respect the land and care about the health of the people they will feed. But I understand the “business” of farming is very different now. I read and observe that small farms are on the rise and increasingly trending toward more healthy and sustainable practices. And greater numbers of people are supporting them. For all these folks and their initiatives, I am grateful.

My daughter, Jennifer Miller, has a blog for parents who are actively supporting kids’ social and emotional development. Below, are quotes from it. For more, visit: <confidentparentsconfidentkids.org> I recommend the site, not just because I’m her dad. But because the content is always insightful and practical. She has over over 20,000 followers and has just published a book on the subject by the same name: Confident Parents Confident Kids.

Research shows that grateful people have better physical health, less stress and depression, better sleep and a greater sense of well-being. The Templeton Foundation found that 90% of people say they are grateful but only 52% of women and 44% of men express it on a regular basis.

One of Jennifer’s colleagues

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy

About This Image

I like to photograph after a heavy snowfall. It affords the opportunity to shoot in high key. Particularly exciting is to shoot in bright sunlight when the ground is covered with fresh snow. It’s a challenge in two particular ways. First, it’s a race to shoot while the snow is pristine. And second, all that whiteness tricks the exposure meter whether it’s built-in or separate.

Exposure meters interpret what they “see” as middle gray—in order for the image to contain the full range of values from black to white, even in color photographs. That’s what meters are designed to do. So if you point your camera at a field of snow, it will render it gray in the photograph. Of course, this can be fixed in editing, but that degrades the resolution somewhat. Better instead, on location, to determine the exposure by using a standard photographic Gray Card, or set the camera to “Manual” or “P” for professional mode and point it at something that’s neutral gray. That way, the snow comes out white.

This photograph was made in Sabina, Ohio toward the end of the day when I “lost” the light. I was disappointed at the time. But now I think the gray sky with only a hint of blue adds to the sensibility of the cold that day. I was wearing gloves and a hat. Sometimes, when conditions aren’t optimal, it can be a good thing.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography