Birch Tree: Symbol Of Adaptability

Renaissance Oasis Paper Birch

Birch trees belong to the Betulaceae family, found wherever the climate is temperate. There are about 60 different species that can be white, yellow, silver and black, recognizable by their bark which peels off in strips. Having shallow roots, they thrive in moist soil with full sunlight. The typical lifespan of birch trees is 40-50 years, but under favorable conditions, they can live as long as 200 years. Some trees grow to 40 feet tall; the “paper” and “yellow” birches can grow to 80 feet tall. Birches were among the first trees to appear after the glaciers receded. Male and female flowers bloom on the same tree, the male catkins bloom in clusters during the late summer or fall, and the female flowers bloom in the early spring. The trees produce a fruit that disburses about one million seeds each year. 

The name is thought to have derived from the Sanskrit word bhurga meaning a ‘tree whose bark is used to write upon’. One source said that when the poet S.T. Coleridge called birch the ‘Lady of the Woods’, “he was possibly drawing on an existing folk term for the tree.” Birch figures in many anglicized place names, such as Birkenhead, Birkhall and Berkhamstead, and appear most commonly in northern England and Scotland. In 1842 J.C. Loudon in his Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs wrote that “The Highlanders of Scotland make everything of it.”

Being tough, heavy and straight grained, birch wood is used to make handles and toys and it’s good for turning. The essential oil derived from the bark has a balsamic, some say wintergreen aroma. It’s not used in aromatherapy, but is used extensively in chewing gum, root beer and toothpaste in small amounts. Twigs and leaflets of the white birch were tied together and used in saunas for skin toning in Scandinavia. 

Because it contains oils, it burns well without popping. Split into sheets, the wood will ignite with even the smallest of sparks. Birchbark manuscripts have been traced to 1st century Buddhists in Afghanistan. The oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain are Roman period Vindolanda tablets, written on birch bark. The bark is used for tanning leather, and the sap can be tapped as it rises in spring and fermented to make birch wine, a process still practiced in the Highlands of Scotland today. The Druids made it into a cordial to celebrate the spring equinox. It’s a traditional drink in Northern Europe, Russia, and Northern China. And in these countries, it’s used to make birch syrup, which is poured over pancakes and waffles. 

Because the wood is water-repellent, lightweight, flexible and easy to work, the Native Americans used it to construct strong, waterproof and lightweight canoes and bowls. When used for the center pole in wigwams, teepees and yurts, the birch symbolized a new beginning. Being a highly adaptive tree able to sustain harsh conditions with casual indifference, the wood was  considered by Celtic cultures to be a symbol of adaptability, growth, renewal, stability and initiation. The Siberians considered it sacred, viewing it as an invisible ladder that spanned the distance between Earth and the celestial afterlife. The Chinese honor the birch tree for its qualities of protection, communication and rejuvenation. It’s the national tree of Russia, Finland and Sweden, and it’s the state tree of New Hampshire. According to Scottish Highland folklore, a barren cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile, or a pregnant cow would bear a healthy calf. Baltic birch is one of the most sought-after woods in the manufacture of speaker cabinets. It contains betulin and betulinic acid used in the pharmaceutical industry and is an old folk remedy for stomach ache. Extracts of birch are used to make leather oil, and the cosmetic industry uses it in the production of soaps and shampoos.

Because birch trees are quick growing, relatively immune to disease and hardy survivors, they’ve come to symbolize both adaptability and the ability to create new beginnings, even after catastrophic events. Given the current, second round of spikes in Covid-19 infections, I think it’s important that we take a lesson from the birches. When circumstances change, especially those that threatens the health, well-being and survival of species—human and otherwise—they present the choice to adapt. Or not. The long and consistent record of evolution is clear: species that adapt live to reproduce. Those who don’t, do not.

Evolution works by a process of lifting, through adaptation to selective challenges, and then gifting the resulting innovations to the next generation. Individuals’ efforts (and sacrifices) enable the community to progress. This lifting and gifting narrative of our evolution and the current situation is a more constructive beacon to guide us through treacherous waters into a bright, increasingly collective future.

Bruce Damer

Typically, individuals tend to resist change unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Even then, certain members of a species will prefer to die rather than change. It’s why paleontologists are digging up the remains of dozens of two-legged homo sapiens, including the Neanderthal, who for whatever reason didn’t or couldn’t adapt to their changing physical and social environment. In the much narrower timeframe of the early 21st Century, homo (creatures who know that they know) are again confronting changes in these areas, with one big difference—we created the crises that are calling for change.

A two-year-old article in The Guardian warned that a sixth mass extinction event was already underway. Since my postings are intended as appreciations, I won’t present the facts that support this perspective, but if you’re interested in staying current with the science on the changing climate worldwide, I highly recommend NASA’s Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. It’s a beautifully illustrated, interactive site with a wealth of information, maps, charts including projections of future rises in sea level all over the world.

To survive, living things must continually learn from and adapt to their environments.

Ken Baskin

The positive side to the Covid-19 pandemic has been cleaner air, lower carbon emissions, a respite for wildlife and increased awareness and appreciation for many of the privileges we enjoyed before it struck—shaking hands, hugging people, eating in restaurants, attending plays, movies and concerts in halls and massive crowded events outdoors, being together in workplaces, being with loved ones when they’re gravely ill or dying, not having to wear a mask, traveling by car, train or airplane without concern for cleanliness and so on. 

Currently, we are shifting and adjusting, mutating and suffering extinctions: the human ecology is in motion, groping for adaptation.

Fritjof Capra

The big question now is whether we can capitalize on this moment. Systemic crises are only resolved at the individual level. The quality of life in the future rests on the shoulders of each one of us. It took only one person to contract and then spread the virus worldwide. To eradicate it takes a species-wide adaptation, basically a rewind where every person in the world does what they can to assume responsibility for neither contracting nor spreading the virus. Taking the message of the birches, we can embrace this period as an opportunity to begin making the changes in lifestyle and consumption that will stave off the sixth extinction. Business leadership teacher M. Scott Peck observed that “What distinguishes most humans from other creatures is our extraordinary adaptability and variability, our flexibility to do the different and often seemingly unnatural thing.”

Bright and beautiful trees, the birch is a pioneer, courageously taking root and starting anew to revive the landscape where no other would before… The birch asks us to take root in new soils and light our lives with the majesty of our very presence. The birch sings to us: ‘Shine, take hold, express your creative expanse, light the way so that others may follow.’

Avia Venefica

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Daisy Flower: Reminder To Stay Positive

Depending on the species, daisies can be white with a yellow center, purple with a brownish center, red with a yellow center, orange with a yellow center, pink with a yellow center, yellow with a dark red center or blue with a green center. Part of the sunflower family and more than 4000 years old, daisies are vascular plants. They circulate nutrients and water, and they’re attached to the ground via a rhizome. Technically, the daisy consists of two flowers: the petals taken together, and the central disc or “ray” secured by a base called a peduncle which holds the composite together. 

Daisies grow everywhere on Earth except Antarctica. The most popular are the Marguerite, Gloriosa, Shasta, African and Gerbera—shown here. The name daisy derives from the Old English “daes eage,” meaning “day’s eye,” referencing the way they close their petals at night and open them again at dawn, the beginning of a new day. Scientists refer to this periodic process as “nyctinastic movement.” Bees are the primary pollinators of daisies. In the process of procuring nectar from them, they pick up thousands of microscopic pollen grains and redistribute them from the male anthers to the female stigmas. Moving from flower to flower, pollination is repeated hundreds of times each day. Some daisies are annuals, lasting only a year, while others are biennial blooming every other year. 

Closely related to the artichoke and being high in Vitamin C, daisy leaves are sometimes included as a garnish in salads, soups and sandwiches. They’re also used to slow bleeding, relieve indigestion and ease coughs. In homeopathy, the “garden” daisy is known as the gardener’s friend due to the leaves ability to ease an aching back and accelerate healing after surgical procedures. In traditional medicine, the leaves were sometimes taken internally to treat laryngitis and bronchitis, and used topically to heal scratches, open wounds, hemorrhoids and bruises. Today, some cosmetic companies include them in concoctions intended to reduce wrinkles.

Daisies were first cultivated around 2,200 B.C. They’re depicted on Egyptian ceramics, were grown in gardens surrounding temples and were used to treat illnesses. According to Celtic legend, whenever an infant died, God would sprinkle daisies across the land to console the grieving family. In Norse mythology, daisies symbolized love, fertility and motherhood. Because they were the sacred flower of the Freya, goddess of love, fertility, and beauty, daisies came to represent childbirth, motherhood and new beginnings. In a Roman myth, a nymph turned herself into a field of daisies to avoid hurting the feelings of Vertumnus, the god of seasons. The English used daisies to cure eye problems and stomach ulcers. King Henry the VII was known as the King of Daisies, and the flowers are often depicted in Medieval paintings of meadows.  In some places, Christians consider the daisy a symbol of the Virgin Mary or the Christ child. In Native American lore, the daisy is considered a sun symbol representing joy, life and truth. And throughout the world, people pluck daisy petals to determine if “He Love Me; He Loves Me Not.” On record are 331 people in Milan, Italy who played this game all at once.

The symbolism associated with daisies includes purity, innocence, loyal love, beauty and simplicity. Oxeye daisies symbolize patience, and gerbera daisies are gifted to send the energies of happiness, cheerfulness and a positive outlook. Considering the preponderance of negative happenings being reported in the news these days, my thoughts turn to this latter feature—to maintain a positive outlook.

George Leonard, author of The Transformation, a 1973 book that predicted a worldwide shift in consciousness due to a confluence of breakdowns in government, health, corporate greed and consumerism. It was the first book I read on the subject of social change and I will never forget it, even kept several quotes from it. Relevant to staying positive he wrote, “History has shown that the success of cultures and even of great civilizations is measured by the way they deal with crises; the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity for positive response. The same is true for individuals.” 

Reading that quote got me thinking about some of the opportunities we might find in the crises that are confronting us at the moment. Leonard’s basic insight was that crisis precedes and precipitates transformation. He says a positive outcome requires a shift in consciousness because the former ways of seeing, thinking and acting resulted in a crisis, and to get beyond it with a positive outcome requires a new way of thinking and acting. Here, I reflect on four specific crises currently making news and what we can learn from them—to create a positive outcome personally and socially. In each, I observe that it’s the stress-points—what’s not working—that point to the necessary shifts in perception, thinking and behaviors that open the gate to a positive future for all. 

The Covid-19 Pandemic

The stressor here is not the virus. In the first place it’s a lack of worldwide understanding and precautions relating to sanitation in all phases of dealing with living systems (the vegetable and animal kingdoms). Secondly, it’s worldwide lack of foresight and preparation against the potential spread of lethal viruses and substances, however they occur. Lacking these, the virus  quickly went global and the stress continues to grow exponentially as individuals separate themselves into mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers, those who want to protect others as well as themselves, and those who either don’t care about the situation or choose to set their personal freedom above the safety of others. 

The evolutionary imperative is obvious: Worldwide we need to replace intuitional and leadership reticence with understanding and become proactive in research and preparation concerning potential threats to the health of citizens. And the opportunity for individuals is to stay informed about the crisis, appreciate the social freedoms we once enjoyed, participate in and create new forms of communication and protective engagement, discover new ways to offer or express our unique gifts to the world, model and teach our children how to respond safely to the threat and especially, act in ways that safeguard the health and well-being of the whole—society, nation, world—as well as our own.   

Evolutionary change takes a looooooooonnnnnnggggg time, even to learn the lessons of survival. And relatively speaking, the human project is still in its infancy. The positive perspective is the realization that as soon as a person takes advantage of the opportunities just enumerated—by living them within his circle of influence—that person’s transformed perspective  creates a more viable mindset that will keep growing, because it’s in alignment with the direction of life. For these individuals, being alive at this time is both a privilege and a responsibility. In one generation, by modeling and passing on right responses to crises—positive outlook and productive perspectives and behaviors—to our children and grandchildren, we help to shorten the duration and lessen the severity of evolutionary lessons. When crises occur, we need to let them blow past, bending in the wind like palm trees in a hurricane, confident that “the sun’ll come out tomorrow.”      

Systemic Racism

Here too, the stressor is not race (which biologically is a defunct category). The stressor is fear prompted by feelings and thoughts of insecurity. Skin color is just one among many signs of difference that separate people. Whatever the difference, the prejudicial mindset says in effect, “I can’t tolerate the idea that someone different from me could have more power than me—heaven forbid power over me, have more of the good than I have, be as good as me at anything or make more of himself than I can.” In everyday living, the conscious or unconscious assumption among those who foster separation is that “Whenever someone different from me—by skin color, nationality, religion, political or sexual preference—talks or acts in ways that express their difference, they validate my perception that they’re ignorant, inferior and dangerous. Where would I be if they became the majority?” 

Insecurity is an inherited trait, coming from many thousands of years when homo sapiens were in competition with their two-legged cousins struggling for survival. We couldn’t tolerate their differences, so we killed them or starved them out. Fast-forward to today, global growth is closing the field, pressure due to proximity is mounting and killing is prohibited by law. Those who break it will effectively forfeit their freedom and quality of life for a very long time. Overcoming a species-adaptive trait is difficult and takes time. But one of the encouraging features of the evolutionary process is “punctuated equilibrium.” After a long period of stability or status quo, a shift occurs suddenly, almost overnight. The cause is usually a crisis, a change in the environment that requires adaptation. It transforms the way we think and act or we will die trying to preserve ways that are no longer viable. 

Currently, the physical, social and global environment is changing rapidly. The Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, conservative vs liberal polarization, nationalism vs globalization, self-indulgent leadership and climate catastrophes can all be seen as breakdowns—or responses to breakdowns—calling us to wake up to the reality that we really are in this together. Failure or success as a nation depends on whether and how quickly we adapt. And everyone is needed. 

I think it’s no accident that the U.S. Constitution laid the groundwork for initiating a relatively swift social transformation by proclaiming, “That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The claim is that all men and women, irrespective of gender, cultural heritage, beliefs, preferences or socioeconomic status are created equal and entitled to these rights, and not just Americans—every human being on the planet, no exceptions. 

That we stand by this declaration and will give our lives to defend it is what made America great in the eyes of the world. Now, given the pressures of everyday living under the cloud of racial atrocities, our personal opportunity is to defend this claim—as we can, right where we are, with as much or little as we have. And teach our children, through historical examples and personal modeling, that all living entities at all levels are to be valued and respected for the spark of life common to us all and those we engage to become their best selves. 

Social Polarity

How Americans became so polarized along political and social lines is a long and complex story that could be debated and interpreted in many different ways. Whatever the facts and beyond speculation, the essence of polarity—including racism—is the illusion of separation. From the beginning, human beings have seen themselves as separate from one another for the obvious reason that we have individually distinct bodies and minds. That alone created competition in  the quest to survive and reproduce. “My wife, my cave, my tools. Go away. Go get your own—or die trying to take what is mine.”

Fast-forward to today and the division is less about possessions and more about how we think and survive as a group. “I know what’s right and best for the group. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. I’m smarter than you, and my group is better than yours; we know what’s best for everybody because we know what they want. And you don’t. Your values are misplaced and your methods are corrupt, misguided and unworkable.

The stressor in the social polarization is not differing points of view. It’s again, fear motivated by underlying feelings of insecurity. In this instance, it stems from a desire to gain or hold onto personal and corporate power. Often both. What’s at stake is ones status, job security, worldview and sense of purpose, even the meaning of life. Combine this with the defensive posture characterized by certainty that prevents open-mindedness, and you have a room full of deadlocked barking dogs. It’s deemed essential for the members of a club to hold on to and defend its power while attempting to increase it. What suffers in the tug-of-war between two clubs chartered to accomplish a common task is the collaborative engagement of minds seeking the best method among alternatives to optimize the success of their shared commitment. 

The obvious opportunity relating to social polarization in the political arena is to vote for representatives at all levels who are openminded, intelligent, empathetic and collaborative as well as champions of the issues we care about. In this regard, a red flag should go up whenever anyone speaks in language that puts the club first. Staunch loyalty to a group, any group in any setting, tends to block consideration and collaboration. 

Another opportunity, arguably the most effective and positive one personally, is to affect a shift in perception by dispelling the illusion of separation. This is accomplished by noticing the many ways in which we’re interconnected and interdependent, and importantly, living its implications, for instance not judging and complaining about others or their situation, acknowledging successes, sharing information and resources, helping where help is needed and offering advice when requested. And a crisis of any kind always provides an opportunity to respond virtuously, for instance to practice such things as patience, kindness, generosity, friendliness and compassion. Globally, important outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic include  appreciation for those in the health and helping professions, and the realization of just how interconnected and interdependent we are. 

Climate Change

The stressor here is not the changing climate. Not enough of us have experienced it. Evidence of it in worldwide catastrophes can be disregarded by some as anomalies. “And even if it’s real, I’ll be long gone before it happens where I love.” And there are people who don’t make the connection between the weather and the quality and availability of the food they eat. The stressor here is the prospect that laws will be enacted that will restrict freedoms and negatively impact life and livelihood. “I won’t change my ways until it becomes necessary, and that day’ll never come.”

The opportunity for the rest of us is to become aware, to read and understand how species are dying and what is compromising the health of the planet as it responds to human activity. Then, to act on behalf of all living systems by doing what we can to reduce our consumption of non-renewables and cultivate habits that contribute to life enhancement, diversity and sustainability. 

Instead of striving for “zero impact,” which is negative, in Climate: A New Story Charles Eisenstein advocates a positive approach in relating to the environment. Instead of leaving no trace, he says, “Leave a beautiful trace or leave a healing trace. (And ask) What is our proper role and function in service to the health, harmony, and evolution of this whole of which we are a part?”

As noted, we are not separate from each other. Neither are we separate from the Earth. What we do to the planet we do to ourselves. In writing this, I notice that the pressures we’re facing stem from the same root—we don’t yet know who we are, why we’re here and how deeply interrelated we are. I could elaborate on other crises such as nationalism vs globalization, cybersecurity, terrorism and poverty, but the lessons they’re trying to teach us—and the transformative opportunities they present—are the same. Currently, the great human divide that evolution is trying to break is the question of meaning. Are we in this world solely for our personal enjoyment, advancement in status and wealth so we can have varied and exciting experiences? Or are we here to learn, grow and contribute to the health and well-being of all living systems as we follow the paths that give us joy? If we look closely and with the heart, I suggest the answer can be found in the face of a daisy. 

The most powerful thing you can do to change the world is to change your own beliefs about the nature of life, people and reality to something more positive… and begin to act accordingly.

Shakti Gawain

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Mangrove: Symbol of Strength and Support

The genus name for mangrove is Rhizophorais, which comes from the Greek word rhiza meaning “root” and phoros meaning “bearing,” a reference to its stilt-like roots. The trees are highly adaptable, being the only ones that are salt-tolerant. They literally breathe through their roots, which take up the salt water and excreate it throught thick waxy leaves.  

Mangroves are located along river and ocean coastlines in tropical and subtropical locations. Their roots and branches rise from the mud, sand and water like long and sturdy fingers that  support the trees against the battering of the sea and changing tide. Higher up, thick waxy leaves filter out and excrete the salt from the water. Worldwide, there are between 50 and 100 different species of mangroves, the most common being black mangroves, buttonwood mangroves, white mangroves and red mangroves. They can grow as small shrubs or reach heights of 40 feet, depending on species.

Indonesia and Brazil have the greatest number of mangrove forests, and Australia comes in third with nearly 18% of its coastline (14,000 square kilometers) covered in mangrove. In the United States, mangrove cover about 2,500 square kilometers (about 1,500 square miles), most of them in southern Florida.

Mangrove forests provide many benefits. It’s estimated that two-thirds of the fish we eat spend part of their life in mangroves. This is because the underwater roots provide an ideal protected environment for young fish. Because their roots hold the soil in place, they prevent erosion and degradation of the coastline during hurricanes and storm surges. They store 10 times more carbon in the mud than land-based ecosystems, which is a major defense against rapid climate change. And they reduce ocean acidification, which helps to prevent coral bleaching. A case has been made by some researches that mangroves do more for humanity than any other ecosystem on Earth.

Increasingly, mangroves are being threatened by rising sea-level, water pollution and in some cases being cut down to provide better ocean views. They’re battered by wave-strewn trash, goats eat them and barnacles choke them. Of native mangrove around the world, 35% have been destroyed, mostly due to shrimp farming. Once gone, the land erodes and tides and currents reshape the coastline, making it nearly impossible for them to grow back. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines’ coastal communities the government planted a million mangroves, but because the trees were planted without regard to locating the right species in the right places, many of them died.

I saw first-hand what I’d read about the method of mangrove propagation. After touring Cerros, a Preclassic Maya site in Belize, my guide took me a few miles down the New River to show me an enormous lake covered in lilypads—so beautiful I’ll never forget it. Coming back, he cut the boat’s engine and steered into the treeline where there wasn’t an inch of land. I helped him push several branches aside and we entered a tiny lagoon where we were surrounded by thin and very tall trees—red mangrove—that converged overhead like the dome of a cathedral. 

I was in awe of the place. So quiet, only the sound of birds.

All around, bobbing on the water like upright string beans, were many dozens of 10-12 inch long seed-pods. Researchers refer to them as “propagules” because they grow high up on the parent tree. The guide pulled one of the pods out of the water and explained that they fall and float some distance to disburse, “looking” for water of suitable depth. Eventually, they become waterlogged and sink to the bottom where they germinate the roots of another mangrove tree. He explained that over many years of growth and decay, the mangrove forest expands and actually creates new land. The water in the lagoon was crystal clear, three-to- five feet deep and there were hundreds of tiny fish swimming around the roots. The experience was so moving, I made it the setting for an important scene in my novel Jaguar Rising: A Novel of the Preclassic Maya.

My guide backing the boat out of the mangrove temple

Mangrove trees symbolize strength and support. The image of their intertwined roots evokes several questions relevant to the human situation. For instance, who and what anchors us in the ebb and flow of everyday living, including the emotional storms that threaten to topple our dreams,  desires or decisons? Who comes to mind as the person or persons who provide regular and ongoing acknowledgment, encouragement or inspiration? Who can we count on when the going gets tough? What can I myself do to stay grounded in purpose? And how can I support the people in my circle?  

In a world moving at hyper-speed, where so many of us are anxious because of the rate of change, the soulful move is the move toward contemplating the source of things deeply rooted in eternity, the things that always are.

Phil Cousineau

One of the privileges of having close connections to family members is that they’re usually the first responders when we’re in need of serious support physically and emotionally. I specify these only to suggest that they’re the bottom-line supporters in times of a crisis, and to note that  there are different kinds of support and people differ in the kinds and frequency of support they can offer. For instance, a close family member or loved one may not be able to offer substantial support to someone whose career or interest is highly technical or top secret; their support comes in the form of caring and empathy. So support can be physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual in nature. Whether it comes from a person, group or institution, we always appreciate it because it builds confidence. And it suggests that “We’re in this together.” 

Like mangrove trees, we can’t grow alone. Individual trees and people need the support of others, particularly those in close proximity. The roots (a metaphor for purpose) of those in our circle are intertwined with ours, each making the other stronger, more stable and secure in who we are and what we’re doing. In times of crisis, such as Covid-19 pandemic, there’s strength in numbers, in particular the people who wear masks and practice frequent hand washing and social distancing. In the tree world, whatever the species, trees that have been infected by a virus or insect sound the alarm throughout the forest so the other trees can protect themselves. And they collaborate in healing the infected tree(s) through the secretion of helpful fungi at the roots. Always, their ultimate concern is for the health of the forest. Offering support to others is not only comforting and confidence building, but it also has survival value and improves the health (quality of life) of those involved.    

A new experience of being, a new rootedness in the universe, a newly grasped sense of higher responsibility, a new-found inner relationship to other people and to the human community — these factors clearly indicate the direction in which we must go.

Vaclav Havel   

On the other side of the coin is the consideration of how we support others. At the very least we can acknowledge them whenever they express the joy of accomplishment, no matter how small it may seem to us. It recognizes them as a success in achieving a goal, and minor successes, when acknowledged, snowball into huge successes because of the confidence they build. In my experience, it was commonplace for academics (not so much business professionals) to pass on resources such as books, articles and websites to others, even when the information was outside their interest area. There was a constant and frequent sharing of information, not to gain points or reciprocity, but to support someone’s interest. 

Bottom line: The message of the mangrove is to build our strength by establishing roots that go deep and anchor us in purpose, to support others and show our appreciation for the support we receive, to spread the energies of courage and confidence by standing firm against the headwinds and hold the health of “forest” (society and planet) as the ultimate consideration.     

The roots of violence:

Wealth without work, 

Pleasure without conscience, 

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality,

Science without humanity,

Worship without sacrifice, 

Politics without principles.

Mahatma Gandhi



NOTICE: The 2nd edition of my novel, Soul Train, is now available on It’s about the family life and happenings off and on the train, particularly conversations with passengers, that constitute a black man’s journey of spiritual inquiry.

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The Allium Flower: Symbol of Unity And Strength

Within the Allium genus of 800 there are about 1250 species of perennial bulbous plants, notably the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. “Allium” is the Latin word for garlic. The species name—Allium sativum—means “cultivated garlic.” Native to Southwestern Asia, the plants are grown throughout the world. Because of their beautiful globe-shaped heads, they’re mostly planted in flower rather than vegetable gardens. One of the benefits of being in the onion family is the warding off of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals. Some gardeners purposefully plant allium and daffodil bulbs in their lily beds to keep these critters away.

Blooming in late spring and into summer, allium flowers range in size and shape with globe-shaped clusters that can be purple, pink, blue, white or yellow. Researchers found the onion variety to be among the world’s oldest cultivated plants, particularly in India, China and the Middle East. Ancient Egyptian inscriptions refer to the spherical bulb as a symbol of the universe. Cut in half, or hung on a string, Eastern cultures used allium to keep away bad luck, sickness and even witches. Russian botanists discovered alliums in Central Asia and brought them to the Imperial Botanical Garden in St. Petersburg. When the British learned about them they began a breeding trend, and one of the “new” varieties is named for Mount Everest where it  grows today.

In addition to the Allium representing strength, patience and prosperity generally, married couples and long-time friends sometimes include the flower in a bouquet as a sign of unity. The latter because the Allium cluster displays the union of many blossoms that together constitute a whole more beautiful than its parts. The dynamics of union is sometimes misunderstood and underappreciated, so this—and the aspect of strength—prompts my consideration for this posting.

Dystopian movies such as 1984, Brave New World and The Hunger Games have painted a picture of human unity as a condition where individuality and free will are suppressed or lost, and people are ruled by dictatorial overlords. The perception of individuality and freedoms lost is bolstered by the image of beehives and other insect colonies where this appears to be the case in nature. In the human context, the capacity to self-reflect, imagine, create and choose, which is largely the function of consciousness, tells a different story.

In the first place, no lives at any level could exist or function without the underlying unity of life.  Celebrated in the movie The Lion King, every living thing has it place within “the circle of life.” The proof of this is the food chain; to sustain, all life feeds on life. Those of us who place a high priority on the quality and sustainability of the environment and the climate challenges ahead, recognize that all human beings are dependent upon the need to eat to survive. It’s so obvious its easily forgotten—if all life forms other than ourselves were to die or become toxic, we would all die. That’s why environmental and health issues transcend all other issues, including jobs and the economy.

As the world population has grown and the availability and quality of food, resources and goods have been disproportionately distributed between nations, our species is becoming more vulnerable and stressed. We see it in the rise of gun violence, terrorism, internal dissension, social polarization, the trend toward nationalism, the widening gap between the wealthy and poor and the Covid 19 pandemic. What each of these crises has in common is an underlying pursuit of the individual good without concern for the security and health of the whole body. And it’s the defining characteristic of cancer. 

The solution to vulnerability and escalating breakdowns lies in the strength of unified numbers. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to see or understand this, but it’s realistic and arguably the best solution because its based on billions of years of evolution. Whatever the species, the principle is the same: “United we stand; divided we fall.” The current pandemic slogan that “We’re in this together” is a recognition of this. As more people and necessary systems experience the pressure of breakdowns, at a certain point a threshold will be reached that will affects a shift  from the consciousness of separation and fear to unity and love. And it doesn’t need everyone to provide a demonstration of its survival value—or to operationalize it. The message life is sending is the evolutionary imperative to “grow or die.” And the growth that affects change most rapidly and effectively is the growth in consciousness, how we see ourselves, others, the planet and the cosmos.

As consciousness becomes more refined, that is, compassionate, aware of the whole, focused on quality rather than quantity, wanting to contribute to the whole and uplifted by feelings of appreciation and joy, goodwill (constructive relations and sharing between all people) will emerge as the everyday norm in global thinking and acting. Evolutionary theologian Ilia Dulio specifies that “I do not exist in order that I may possess; rather I exist in order that I may give of myself, for it is in giving that I am most myself… Being is first a “we” before it can become an “I.” There is no being who can stand up and say, “I did it alone.” 

In his studies of paleontology and evolutionary processes, French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote extensively on the dynamics of union. His principle of “Creative Union” describes a quality of joining that differentiates and personalizes the individuals as they give their unique gifts to the whole. The model he sites is the fabric of nature where smaller whole unit to form larger whole systems—atoms to molecules, molecules to cells, to organisms and so on up the chain of life including social bodies such as communities and nations, and the universe itself. He wrote that “love-energy marks the history of the universe. It is present from the Big Bang onward, though indistinguishable from molecular forces. It amplifies itself by way of union because it is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces. The physical structure of the universe is love.”

At every level, as entities unite based on this energy, they maintain their identities and create emergent properties beyond the capabilities of the constituent living systems. At the biological level, the new whole comes about through the interactive sharing of the part’s distinctive energies. At the human level, the uniting forces are primarily the energies of affinity—the full spectrum of love.  

Evolution works by interaction, making new wholes of the union of previous wholes. This compounding creates new entities, new relations, new behaviors, and new abilities to create yet further compounds of interactivity. This is the ‘self-creating’ aspect of the universe.

Beatrice Bruteau

Unlike the dystopian movies where individuals merged into a homogeneous collective, persons and groups in creative union enable each other to preserve and express their identities, develop their distinctive uniqueness, experience creativity and enrichment and reach their higher potentials. Teilhard applies this equally to husband and wife, parents and children, members of a team, social groups and large international bodies. Dr. Bruteau describes the process of bonding.

It is the sharing of energies that constitute the bond, or principle of union, of the new level entity… Thus, each time a new type or level of being appears, it appears because it succeeds in uniting from the inside elements of the preceding level.” As a philosopher of both science and religion, she observed the process at work in the realm of spirit as well.

To paraphrase: When we liberate ourselves from identifying with our predicates—appearance, personality, wealth, power, occupation, status—then the energy spent protecting and amplifying these becomes available for the radiation of goodwill to others. Beatrice again—

We will have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not “I am a this” or “I have that quality.” Only unlimited, absolute I AM. The interesting thing is that as soon as you experience yourself this way, you at once find that you also are saying to the world, ‘Let it be!’ It seems to be the nature of that which is I AM to say, ‘Let it be.’ This is the love that is called ‘agape.’  It is love that seeks the being, well-being, full being, ever-fuller being of the beloved. It is a love that is not a reaction to the beloved but rather a first action, an action beginning in you, coming out from the center of your being because of the nature of your being. The True Self in us is constantly radiating this willed goodness.

Dr. Neel Burton, writing about love in Psychology Today, defined agapé as universal love, such as for strangers, nature or God, encompassing the modern concept of altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others. “More generally, altruism, or agape, helps to build and maintain the psychological, social, and indeed, environmental fabric that shields, sustains, and enriches us. Given the increasing anger and division in our society and the state of our planet, we could all do with quite a bit more agape.”

The Allium flower’s part-whole makeup demonstrates that there’s tremendous strength and beauty that comes from treating others as we would like to be treated. It doesn’t mean we have to like people who are different from us, interact with those we don’t know or join a group or movement. It’s enough to acknowledge the spark of divinity in all people (by virtue of their indwelling light) and respect their unique expression. 

Knowingly or not, all of us are embarked on a common journey in consciousness whose goal is our full awakening to unity with everyone and everything.

Anna Lemkow

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Palm Tree: Symbol Of Peace And Flexibility

Washington Fan Palm

There are over 2,500 species of palm in the Arecaceae family of evergreen plants. They’re found throughout the world, in climates as diverse as desert and rainforest where they can grow in the form of shrubs, trees or lianas. The needle palm is so hardy it’s found in Alaska. 

Palm trees have two different types of leaves—palmate, which grow in a bunch at the end of a stem, and pinnate that are like feathers growing along the sides of a stem. They can grow up to 197 feet tall, the tallest being the Quindio wax palm, which is Columbia’s national tree. The Mexican fan palm common to Los Angeles and Southern California can grow up to 98 feet tall. Date palms are fast growers and they can reach up to 80 feet. And the Coco De Mer variety is distinctive, having the largest seeds of any plant on Earth—20 inches in diameter and weighing 66 pounds.

Manila Palm Seeds

The edible fruits of many palms include coconuts, dates, betel nuts and acai fruit. Others, such as the sago, are poisonous to humans and animals. In Mesopotamia 5000 years ago, date palms  provided oil for food and cooking, and wood for construction tools. The Assyrians considered palm trees growing beside a stream the ultimate symbol of eternal life. The Romans used palm branches as a sign of victory, handing them out to champions of games and wars. In Judaism and Christianity, palm branches were mentioned in the Bible dozens of times representing peace and plenty. The same with the Quran. In Asia and Africa, a wine called “kallu” is made from coconut palms, date palms, the Chilean wine palm and other species.

Franciscan missionaries are credited as the first to plant palm trees in California. Some historians cite the 1932 World Olympics in Los Angeles as the reason they were planted along streets, in public parks and other gathering places in the city. It’s estimated that the project—planting 40,000 Mexican fan palms along 150 miles of city streets—employed nearly 400 men during the Great Depression. Ever since, palm trees have become one of the many icons of the City of Angels.

Arguably, the palm tree became a symbol of peace because it weather’s violent storms by bending and not breaking. The lesson in this is that peace—the state of tranquility, harmony, calm and freedom from disturbances and fighting—requires flexibility. In the human context, where “storms” are usually over differences and perceived threats, the challenge is to respect, accommodate and accord diverse people the freedom to express their individuality and values as fellow travelers—souls—on the road to understanding and realizing their reason for being. 

Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living beings, man himself will not find peace.

Albert Schweitzer

As I watched the crowds of protesters all over the world demanding police accountability resulting from the murder of George Floyd, I noticed in the first place that they were far more diverse racially than in the demonstrations and riots of the ’60s and ’70s. I also noticed, as has been reported, that the overall intention of the protesters is peaceful, while among them are  a few young people, some of them organized, taking advantage of the crowded situation under the dark of night to loot, destroy, set off fireworks and generally inflict mayhem and violence. At the same time, it was encouraging to see demonstrators locking arms to block the looter’s access to stores, to see the offenders being arrested and police officers expressing—through word and action—their sympathy with the protesters. 

It was also comforting that the four past-presidents contributed their perspectives on the situation, filling the void of understanding and empathy by speaking directly to people of color.  Especially moving for me was President Obama’s vision for young people. 

“I see limitless potential in them (young  people of color) to flourish and thrive, to be able to learn and make mistakes and live a life of joy without having to worry when you walk to the store, go for a jog or driving down the street or looking at some birds in a park.” 

Basically, he provided a simple and clear definition of peace that everyone could understand. And then he expressed hope, concluding with an empowering message.

“You have the power to make things better… You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as powerful as anything I’ve seen in recent years.”

When we experience acts of crime, abuses or social upheaval  directly or indirectly, the reptilian brain urges a fearful response. It’s where we go first. But we don’t want to live there because fear blocks love, and love is always the best response to everything. And if not love, then compassion for self as well as others, society, humankind and the world. On the one hand, fear demonstrates a deep concern for the safety and security of those closest to us. The natural tendency is to shield our loved ones and that’s appropriate. At the same time, tragedy presents an opportunity to open and uplift the personal environment with expressions of courage—”There are better days ahead” and optimism—”The worst of times brings out the best in us.”

Research tells us that the act of witnessing a crime or any distressful situation triggers a brain response as if these are actually happening. While our first response may be fight or flight, is that the mode of expression we want to perpetuate—and demonstrate to our children? Or would we rather wake ourselves up and use the experience to create a more positive response, one that takes advantage of the teachable moment? Knowing that love blocks fear and creates an inner unbalance that diffuses into the environment, we can return to center by activating and integrating the cerebral cortex (center of reasoning) and the empathetic heart in responses that exude confidence and compassion, thereby creating an atmosphere of peace. One of Dale Carnegie’s life-management slogans was “Act enthusiastically and you’ll be enthusiastic.” It works. And it applies across the board. Act peaceful and you’ll be peaceful.

Peace is a personal choice. By our speech and everyday choices, we have the opportunity to construct a personal reality that’s tranquil and calm, free from disturbances, anxiety and fear. When we feel that circumstances or people around us have ignited a spark that could escalate into a fire, we can step away from the situation (or persons), take a breath and remember that peace of mind is a higher value than being right, better, smarter, wealthier or winning at anything. Moral flexibility in the human realm is largely about accepting differences in other people. When we’re securely rooted in who we are, knowing why we’re here, what we’re uniquely qualified to do and can change how we respond to the storms in life, we can bend like the palm trees and let them blow past. Tomorrow is another day. And we will have demonstrated to our children and loved ones what it takes to live in peace.


If there is to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,

There must be peace in the heart.


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The Poppy Flower: Symbol Of Abundance And Sharing

There are more than 70 species of poppy (Papaver) in the family Papaveraceae. Found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic Circle and in southern Africa they’re mostly cultivated as garden ornamentals. Notably, the Papaver somniferum species is the source of opium, a narcotic that contains alkaloids used in the production of morphine, heroin and codeine. Poppies have been used medicinally and recreationally since ancient times. Because the narcotic is so powerful, worldwide production is monitored by international agencies which only allow the production of opium from the “oriental” poppy flower.

The seeds of the poppy are rich in carbohydrates, calcium and protein so they’re used to make cooking oil, salad dressing and margarine. The oil can also be added to spices for cakes and breads. Health-wise, the flower has been used since ancient times to make teas that produce a calming effect and relax the nerves. The color of the flowers includes white, lilac, pink, yellow, orange, red, violet and blue.

Papaver somniferum was domesticated and used for ornamentation by the indigenous people of Western and Central Europe between 6000 and 3500 BC. Between 4500 and 1900 BC the  Sumerian people were cultivating it for opium. From there, via the Silk Road, by 2700 BC the Minoans in Crete were cultivating the plants for their oil and opium. In Egypt, the flower is depicted in jewelry and other art objects found in tombs dated 1550-1292 BC. Inscriptions indicate that their physicians used the seeds to relieve pain. In Greek mythology, the poppy was associated with Demeter, goddess of fertility and agriculture. Planting them in a field was said to yield a bountiful crop.

In the United States, poppies are the most popular among wildflowers, and they’re worn in remembrance on Armistice Day. Placed on tombstones, poppies symbolize eternal sleep, and this was evoked in the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where a magical poppy field threatened to make the protagonists sleep forever. The Eschscholzia Californica is the state flower of California. In Britain and the Commonwealth, poppies are used to celebrate those who died in all wars. And in 2004, 2008 and 2010, Canada issued special 25-cent coins with a red poppy on the reverse side. The 2004 quarter was the world’s first colored coin in circulation.

The poppy flower has many different meanings across cultures, but most have viewed it as a symbol of sleep, peace and protection from death because of its relaxing property. Other meanings derive from the flower’s various colors—red for passion, white for purity, purple for resurrection and so on. Considering the current challenges that are encouraging a transition from self to whole-centered consciousness, I prefer the perspective of a more contemporary and philosophical source (Universe Of Symbolism) that says the poppy “symbolizes riches and abundance…being grounded in your prosperity, having enough to share and bringing feelings of security and overall well-being.”

The richness of the poppy flower’s colors and the plant’s tendency to grow and thrive in abundance is evident. Less so is its grounding in prosperity and evoking feelings of security and well-being. What caught my attention were the values of abundance and sharing. They reminded me that the practice of sharing was a survival mechanism among the first hominoids, and that sharing evolved into the commonly held belief among indigenous people worldwide that “the good” (land and goods) were blessings to be appreciated, conserved and shared. For instance, Native Americans didn’t—and most still don’t—believe that anything can be owned. One of the fine ideas I encountered in the Jesuit seminary was how everything we had available to us—food, clothing, vehicles, tools and a variety of personal items including pens, photos of family members and the trunks we kept them in—were not possessions. The vow of “poverty” meant giving up ownership completely. We had the use of all these things, but the attitude toward them was identical to that of native people—everything is a gift. Even the things we wear or use over a long period of time are on loan to us—from God, the gods or the universe. When someone else needs my lawn mower, I give it freely. The same with a car, bicycle, book or basketball. The same with money.

Writing at a time when the Coronavirus pandemic is causing social havoc and taking lives, it’s wonderful to see so many people sharing what they have, be it food, talent or tangible goods, and finding innovative ways to communicate. My dear friend and mentor Dr. Beatrice Bruteau wrote in God’s Ecstacy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World that “It is the interactive union of the parts, the sharing of their beings, their energies, that actually constitutes the new whole.” Her  reference was to a world where self-centered consciousness is on the descendent and whole-centered consciousness on the rise, largely due to the increasing integration of science and spirituality.

Now, it appears that the pressures of compounding social challenges—lack of responsible and collaborative leadership in government, the dumbing-down of popular culture, educating exclusively for jobs rather than personal growth, inadequate disease management, gun violence, climate catastrophes and the consequences of in-turning tendencies toward nationalism and preoccupation with electronic devices—all are urging us to create a fresh worldview and reality where separation and fear take a back seat to unity and love. In indigenous (and ecological) terms, it’s a world that’s sustainable for all and for many generations.   

Whatever we possess becomes of double value when we share it with others.

Jonas E. Coblentz (Amish)

True accomplishment is not about winning, acquiring, or being on top. It is about sharing, giving and including.

Lewis Richmond (Zen Priest, Author)

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The Sacred Cacao Tree

Genome researchers found that domestication of cacao originated in Central America about 3,600 years ago. Archaeologists found evidence of it dated to 1900 B.C. in the Pacific coastal plains of Guatemala and Chiapas where it was revered and traded by the Olmec. Izapa, a Late Formative Olmec site in Chiapas, was a particularly rich source of cacao  because it was very hot and located on a wet hill made of volcanic soil. The trees are evergreen, grow about 13 to 26 feet tall, bear fruit after three years, can live up to 100 years and grow well in the shadow of tall trees in humid forests above 60º F. They need moisture year-round, so during prolonged dry seasons irrigation is necessary. 

The tree’s flowers and fruits or pods grow directly on the trunk, each around 11 inches long and 4 inches wide averaging about a pound. The colors range from reddish to green, and change to yellowish-orange as the fruit matures. The pods contain 20 to 40 beans enveloped in a sticky, white pulp.  And the beans inside are large and flat and can be eaten raw. A tree will produce about 40 pods, which makes about 4.5 pounds of chocolate. The Classic Maya word for the beans and the beverages derived from them was kakaw. Some believe the word “chocolate” derived from the Maya word chokola’j, “to drink cacao together.” 

According to Maya mythology, the Plumed Serpent gave cacao to the first humans who were created from maize by divine grandmother, goddess Xmucane. In April each year, the Maya celebrated a festival to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah. A thousand years later, the Aztec believed that cacao  pods were brought to them by the god Quetzalcoatl who obtained it inside a mountain filled with other plant foods.

Mentioned frequently in the Maya inscriptions as a trade good and an elite consumable, kakaw was an array of beverages rather than a single drink. These are described as “honeyed kakaw,” “flowered kakaw,” “bright red kakaw, “black kakaw,” “ripe kakaw,” “sweet kakaw,” and “frothy kakaw.” They also toasted the beans and used them to make gruels and porages, adding such things as honey, chile peppers, annatto (to make them red), fruit juices, flower blossoms and vanilla. And through fermentation, they produced a cacao flavored  alcoholic beverage.

A study by anthropologist Joanne Baron, published in Economic Anthropology, revealed that cacao beans, “originally valued for their use in status display, took on monetary functions within the context of expanding marketplaces among rival Maya kingdoms. These products would eventually go on to serve as universal currencies across the different Maya regions and were used to finance state activities, as well as household needs. By the time the Spanish had arrived in the early 1500s, kakaw products were being used to pay tribute to rulers, to buy and sell goods at the marketplace and pay workers.” 

The sacks of kakaw shown in the Bonampak, Chiapas murals were labeled with the kakaw glyph surmounted by a number which archaeologist and epigrapher David Stuart deciphered as 5 pik of forty thousand beans. He also notes the frequent use of a 3 pik—twenty-four thousand beans—a label which coincides with a count of cacao beans that was considered a “carga” in Postclassic highland Mexico. At the time of the conquest, a “load” of kakaw—24,000 beans—was worth twice as much in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) as along the Gulf coast. A rabbit cost 10 beans, and a porter 20 beans for a short trip. A new cloth mantle cost 80–100 beans. A 1545 document written in Aztec Nahuatl states that a turkey was worth 200 cacao beans, a tamale worth one and the daily wage of a porter at the time was 100 beans. It was also noted that dishonest traders made counterfeit beans by stripping the husks of the beans, filling them with sand, and mixing them with genuine beans. Careful customers squeezed each bean to test it.

Europeans learned about cacao when the Aztec lord Moctezuma served it to the Spaniards at Tenochtitlan in 1519. Cortés and his men wrote about the vast quantities the emperor consumed and how it was carefully whipped into a frothy beverage by attendants. The beans and the beverage were introduced to the Spanish court in 1544 by Kekchi Maya nobles who were brought to Spain by Dominican friars. By 1600, chocolate had spread throughout Europe and England.

The health benefits of cacao are many. The beans are loaded with antioxidants, fat, carbohydrates, protein, flavonoids and minerals including calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc, potassium and oleic acid (a heart-healthy essential monounsaturated fat) and vitamins including E, B2, B1, B5, B3 and B9. Chocolate has been shown to aid relief from high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, constipation, diabetes, bronchial asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and various neurodegenerative diseases. It’s an aid to rapid wound healing and skincare, and it helps to improve cardiovascular and brain health. What’s more, cacao also possesses mood-enhancing properties and exerts protective effects against neurotoxicity.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that ancient societies considered cacao “sacred,” and that it also plays an enormous role in modern society. Most of us love the taste of chocolate. And the satisfaction it brings is like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Given the stresses of life and all the goodness that chocolate contains—the less refinement and sugar the greater the health benefit—it’s one of life’s simple pleasures. Indeed, chocolate is special, set apart. Sweet or not, this unique flavor can serve as a reminder to honor and express the attributes that make us special and set apart from other living species, those that make us more fully human. Among them are increased awareness, empathy for and consideration of others, compassion, kindness, generosity, courage, flexibility, forgiveness, gratitude, honesty, humor, imagination, morality, patience, tolerance, wisdom, wonder. Now, whenever I’m about to indulge in chocolate in any form, I want it to serve as a reminder that everyone and everything is “sacred,” simply by virtue of being.

What you see before you, my friend is the result of a lifetime of chocolate. 

Katharine Hepburn

A little bit of sweetness can drown out a whole lot of bitterness.

Francesco Petrarca

Chocolate is a gift of love to yourself.

Sonja Blumenthal

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Forrest Gump

Below are excerpts from my novels (The Path Of The Jaguar Trilogy), passages that relate to the significance of kakaw (cacao) in the lives of the ancient Maya. 

Counting Kakaw Beans

Excerpt from Jaguar Rising (p. 205)

OUR EARLY TRAINING HAD TO DO WITH TRADING, TERRITORIES, the names of places, rulers, ministers and counting. We learned the value of goods, especially those desired by lords, noblemen and holy men. We learned hand signs, not only to trade and speak with foreigners but also to signal each other under conditions of scouting and attacking. We learned how to use vines, moss on the side of trees and the stars as directional pointers. Especially, we learned which goods would be traded in the various markets. 

To learn how to show respect to power and speak in our trading partner’s favor, we put on hats and bargained with each other. Instead of using stones and sticks for counting, Pech taught us to use lucina shells for “zero,” kakaw beans for “one’s,” and flat hands for “five’s.” A hand covering our chins stood for “twenty.”  In the counting trial, we had to place and call, sum and subtract numbers in orders of thousands because kakaw beans were traded in “loads”—cloth bundles of eight thousand, what one man could carry.

Kakaw Valuation

Excerpt from Jaguar Sun (p. 98)

BY THE THIRD DAY IN THE MARKETPLACE AT IXKUN, SO many warriors and farmers were coming to have me rework their cherts and flints, Eagle fixed the exchange at two, four or eight hundred kakaw beans depending on how long it took me to do the work. After another day, a line formed. I was spending nearly as much time counting kakaw and shell beads as I was shaping stone, so Eagle had one of the assistants do the counting for me. It felt good to be contributing to the expedition, but by the end of the day, the muscles in my chopping arm were chattering. And I was out of Strong Back. Darts came by several times and stopped to watch me work. Whenever I looked at him or nodded he turned away. 

Checking For Counterfeit Beans

Excerpt from Jaguar Rising (p. 67)

In the days leading up to Grand Procession, the counters and court scribes examined every needle, bead, feather, hide and kakaw bean. Day and night, a band of guards walked the perimeter of the compound while others armed with spears, axes, knives and flint-tipped darts walked the patio. Two of them stationed at the stairway searched everyone who came and went, including those of us who lived on the compound.

Pouring Kakaw To Make Foam

Excerpt from Jaguar Wind and Waves (p. 67)

For the feast I had arranged for the ministers to sit on reed mats in a circle. Lime Sky and her assistants prepared maize leaf tamales, most stuffed with turkey, others with paca meat. Four of my serving women had never been tot court before, so I worried that they would drop or spill something—or not understand a minister’s gesture. Along with the tamales we served roasted grubs with mashed beans and platters of cooked chayote greens topped with crumbled roasted squash seeds that she dusted with chili powder. For the beverage we served chih with lime juice and honey. The final offering, an extravagance usually reserved for lords and their ladies, was kakaw poured into tall cups from the height of the server’s breast to raise a dark brown foam.


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The Purple Iris: Symbol Of Wisdom

There are roughly 300 species and more than 50,000 varieties of the iris flower, beardless and bearded, the latter with a fuzzy petal that hangs down. They range from plants up to five feet tall and dwarfs of only eight inches. The bearded variety reproduces through swollen roots, while the beardless iris has a rhizome, a round tube that produces small bulbs. In the United States, irises that grow wild have blue or purple blossoms and are sometimes called “flags.” The petals that bend down have bright lines that serve as nectar guides directing pollinators into the blossom’s mouth. The blue and blue-violet colors have a pleasant smell. The plants bloom in May and June.

The name of this flower derives from the Greek for “rainbow,” “messenger,” and “eloquence,” each in their way referencing the goddess Iris who journeyed along rainbows to deliver messages from the gods, always in a very eloquent manner. Because one of her functions was to escort the deceased from earth to heaven, people planted  irises on the graves of loved ones as a call to her to come and escort them to a blessed place in the afterlife. Probably following the Greek mythology, the iris flower represented heaven for the Egyptians.

The Japanese revered the flower for its purifying properties. A common symbol found in kimoto fabrics, in paintings and spoken of in haiku poetry, the flower carries the idea of purifying evil and protecting those who wear the blossoms. Because iris petals easily dance in the wind, a prominent reference in Chinese art is “the dancing spirit of early summer.” Another is “the purple butterfly.” In the Victorian era, irises could represent faith, hope, courage, wisdom or admiration depending on the color. 

The Purple iris shown here, given as a gift, conveyed a message of wisdom and compliments. The blue blossoms spoke of hope and faith. Yellow represented passion and white symbolized purity, but irises of any color were exchanged as a sign of cherished friendship, including the promise of a loving relationship.

The iris is the floral emblem of Florence, Italy and France. In the 12th century, Louis VII adopted the yellow iris as a heraldric symbol that signified power, sovereignty, honor and loyalty.  Later on, it became a religious, political and dynastic symbol, perhaps to signify purity of soul and blood. In the United States, the bearded iris is the state flower of Tennessee.

Linda has cultivated purple irises in our garden ever since we moved in. When the research indicated that it represented “wisdom,” I decided to make it the focus of this posting. To begin I observe that we cast our net into the ocean of consciousness, selecting and depositing information, ideas and experiences into our knowledge bank—the human brain. Unlike a monetary bank where the inputs remain the same and are always assessable, the information deposited in the brain is dynamic and unreliable, at times difficult to make withdrawals. We consider those with large “holdings” to be intelligent, and we say others have a great memory when they can make information withdrawals readily. To characterizes wisdom properly, and considering that there’s a hierarchy of complexity as the brain transforms data into wisdom, some distinctions are in order.

Data consists of signs, symbols and signals—for example, the letters of the alphabet. When a brain/mind organizes these to form words, they become information. Whereas data is meaningless, information is meaningful. Through experience, perception, study and realization, information is compounded by certainty to form complex thoughts and ideas. These we regard as knowledge, understanding of how information fits together. Because the mind deals with  thoughts and perceptions, it believes that what is known is true. But with the advance of age and grace, we begin to realize that all perception, knowledge and understanding is relative, partial and limited. And this inclines us to consider all knowledge and beliefs to be tentative and provisional. Because the mind is ego-centric, it cannot be trusted to care about, understand or choose the greater good of larger living systems. 

The next step in the hierarchy of cognitive capacities is intelligence, the ability of the brain/mind to combine what is known to consider action. What can I do with what I know? It too is self-absorbed. By mainly focusing on survival and growth it becomes difficult to accept any information that challenges its self-perception. Also, the intelligent mind tends to be attached to what it knows and less open to much depth or breadth of learning except to validate and reinforce what’s known. Exceptions include those intent upon lifelong learning because it encourages open-mindedness, inquisitiveness and objectivity. 

Intuition comes next because it’s holistic, providing unbiased and clear perception, awareness and insight uncluttered by what we think we know, our beliefs, biases, prejudices, conditioning and habits. Because its concern is broader yet inclusive of the self, intuitive intelligence can be trusted. While ordinary intelligence is head-centered and developed through effort and experience, intuitive intelligence is heart-centered and has to be cultivated, allowed to emerge through the tempering of cognitive certainty and ego needs. This is accomplished by listening to the soul, responding to something higher and deeper than ordinary consciousness. 

Societal self-renewal is possible only if we develop the kind of collective consciousness, wisdom and social cultural intelligence that will empower us to guide science and technology so that they can serve all mankind.

N.A. Batra

Having identified the hierarchy of cognitive capacities, which was based on research, I observe that we utilize them all and at different times and circumstances, sometimes consciously, more often unconsciously. Knowledge, intelligence and intuition are the forerunners of wisdom. 

My research on wisdom—from Plato to modern philosophers—was unsatisfactory. So here I offer my current perspective: I see wisdom as intuition refined and in touch with the soul—which is perfectly realized in everyone, a depository of “grace” where goodwill for all resides. In the fishing analogy it represents the abundant ocean. We can dip our net into it or not. But when we do, the “catch” amounts to wisdom in the form of thoughts, ideas, visions and considered actions that are essentially good for the individual and the community, nation, planet, cosmos. Our ability to pull up, articulate and  apply our catch appears to be relative to and limited by the predominance of ego and how deeply we cast our net. In my experience, we can call out wisdom from others—and they can call it out from us—by asking them to share their deepest truth on a subject in the context of soul-to-soul communication. 

Since we are drowning in an ocean of information, the most precious commodity in modern society is wisdom. Without wisdom and insight, we are left to drift aimlessly and without purpose, with an empty, hollow feeling after the novelty of unlimited information wears off.

Isaac Asimov 

So far, humanity has used its storehouse of knowledge and intelligence to serve the interests of unbridled growth without regard to the quality of life concerns for individuals and the planet. Operating under the values of self-interest, unbridled capitalism, materialism, conspicuous consumption, wealth as the highest good, nationalism and violence as the most effective way to resolve conflicts, we have created self-centered social and national systems that are breaking down at a time when the ecological bill for wreckless destruction is coming due. 

As knowledge and experience accumulate, the mind envisions unending possibilities for feeding the ego. Intelligence then finds ways to manifest them. Whatever can be envisioned can now be built. In the past, entranced by the glamours of creativity, innovation and profit, and not wanting to be deverted from our course—couched as “progress”—we tended to not consider the consequences. Now, we’re beginning to see that this path is unsustainable in the near term and deadly for people and planet in the long run. What’s needed, in my view, is to temper the glamour of procress through the application of wisdom, which safeguards the integrity of the whole system through caring. Love, actually. “Yes, we can do it, but is it wise considering possible consequences for the community, nation and planet?”

Our friendship with everything larger than us opens us to the wisdom of source. This is the work of being. Our friendship with experience opens us to the wisdom of life on earth. This is the work of being human. And our friendship with each other opens us to the wisdom of care. This is the work of love.

Mark Nepo

We stand at a crossroad. Will we cast our net in shallow and polluted waters as a result of being guided by intelligence alone? Will we continue to speculate that technological innovations will save us from—or heal us after—worldwide disasters? Or will we engage both heart and head before feet and hands? Now, whenever I observe purple irises I will remember that they recommend wisdom as the best guide to action. 

To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.

Marilyn Vos Savant

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Dogwood: Symbol Of Equanimity

The dogwood tree belongs to the genus family Cornus, a French and Latin word for “horn,” which includes 30-60 hardwood trees and shrubs of both deciduous and evergreen varieties. The trees are native throughout the world and gained the name “dogwood” because dogs were unable to consume their fruits. Native Americans began planting crops, corn in particular, when the dogwoods bloomed. And they used the root of the trees to treat malaria. The operative agent  is the alkaloid “cornin” found in the inner bark. Other ailments that have been treated with dogwood include insomnia, asthma, fevers, muscular problems, whooping cough and toothache. 

The pink variety of flowering dogwood was first noticed and recorded by plant hunter Marc Catesby in 1731. The tree grows to a height of around 25 feet with a spread of around 25 feet at maturity, gaining a height increase of 13–24 inches per year. Flowers open in mid-spring, showing four large bracts that are incorrectly labeled as petals. Trees grown in the wild always have white bracts, but those propagated for sale can have white, pink or red bracts.

When supplies of quinine ran low during the Civil War, dogwood extract was used as a substitute. Because the wood was strong, dense, durable, resisted splitting and wore evenly it was used in the construction of wheels, weaving shuttles, hay forks and machine bearings. Today, it’s used in the manufacture of golf club heads, walking canes, tool handles, spindles and mallet heads. The different species of dogwood roots are also used to make red, black and yellow dyes. And because the leaf litter of flowering dogwoods decomposes quicker than most other trees, they’re planted to improve soil, for instance in urban forestry projects and abandoned strip mines. 

Some Christians have observed that the bracts form a cross. They see in the tinged red tips the blood from Jesus’ hands and feet where they were nailed to the cross, and the red stamens in the center representing the crown of thorns. Because the tree flowers during Easter, it can serve as a reminder of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

The Cherokee have a legend about “Dogwood People.” Similar to fairies, these beings lived in forests where they taught human beings how to live in harmony with the trees. They were said to be very protective, especially of babies, the elderly and the sick and they performed acts of kindness without recognition.

The dogwood tree is associated with Hecate, the ancient Greek goddess of protection and hidden knowledge who brought prosperity and blessings to families. Although she ruled over the earth, sea and sky, she preferred solitude not wanting to be the center of attention. Dogs, torches and the new moon were her sacred symbols. Her name translates to, “the distant one.” William Shakespeare mentioned her in connection with “Dagger,” a principal character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. In his day daggers were often made from the hardwood of the “dagwood” tree.” By 1614, the name officially morphed into “dogwood,” and the association of dogs, daggers and the tree with the goddess resulted in the perception of her as a goddess of witchcraft who held a dagger made of dogwood. It’s how her name became the root of the words “hex” and “hag” meaning “witch.”

Because the scent produced by the dogwood was said to relieve the body of stress, the tree has been used in aromatherapy for a long time. Across different cultures, the tree has been regarded as a symbol of stability, determination, kindness, devotion, fertility, passion, desire, illusion, and loyalty. More prominent in the literature that I researched is the notion that the dogwood signals a time of quiet change or equanimity with a caution to guard against deception and misperception, to remain vigilant and not be taken in by those who perpetrate falsehoods, misdirection and deceptions. Instead, to experience our situation from a place of patient observation.

Considering the atmosphere of adversarial politics, inept leadership and the worldwide spread of the Covid 19 virus, it was interesting to read how for some the dogwood trees signal “a time of quiet change” with a caution to “guard against deception” and so on. I’d chosen to delve into the significance of dogwoods, not because of the research, but because the pink-blooming tree pictured here has been growing in our backyard since we moved in 49 years ago. Given the many changes we’re experiencing in lifestyle, business, social interaction and worldview, all contributing to stress, it was a timely synchronicity. So many questions about the past and future. Who and what to believe or trust? Which path to take? How now to prioritize what’s important? What matters? What’s going on?  Should I adapt or resist? Who’s in charge? What can I do—to help or make the best of the situation? And what can I learn from this?

Now when I look out my window or drive past a dogwood tree, I want to remember that even dramatic and disastrous changes can be met with equanimity. Calm. Life is characterized by change. Agreeable or disagreeable, living systems must change in order to adjust to changes in the environment. Cells mutate. Organisms adapt. Individuals, business enterprises and nations transform. If they don’t they die. The distinguishing characteristic of death is a lack of change. In systems-science death is referred to as a state of “equilibrium.” 

Currently, we are shifting and adjusting, mutating and suffering extinctions: the human ecology is in motion, groping for adaptation.

Fritjof Capra

So to live is to experience change. And in every instance we’re presented with a choice—resist or adapt. Resistance of any kind allows entropy to have its way. And like rusting metal, a time will come when the system breaks down and we’re presented with another opportunity to choose—continuing life or death? To adapt is to follow the path of nature, which supports and encourages the emergence of greater life. And that requires effort. A piece of metal showing signs of rust needs attention. If not, entropy will reduce it to dust. 

Given the experience of undesirable change, how we respond to it initially makes a huge difference in the quality of life that we—and those around us—experience. Expressed or not, anger, blaming and upset is equivalent to dropping a lit match in a warehouse full of crumpled and dry newspapers. The upset of negative emotions not only ruins my string of moments and enflames those near to me, it makes more of the bad situation by glamourizing it. What we attend to we make more of. My resistance actually sustains—and can even escalate—and undesirable situation. So what to do when we’ve ignited a match in a tinderbox? Quickly, blow it out! Move from negative emotion and language to equanimity—stand still, calmly wait and envision the positive because more change is on the way. And each one of us influences it by thought, word and deed.

Ghandi demonstrated the effectiveness of equanimity and nonviolence in the face of disastrous change, and he also showed us the path of responding appropriately to undesirable situations—to offer little or no resistance to the problem. Instead, to illuminate it and then take personal responsibility to secure a more desirable outcome.  

With so many viewpoints about any topic, if one person is aggressive about his viewpoint, it is likely to bring imbalance into the situation. Therefore, what is required is a certain calm, a lack of ego, a lack of delusion that one sees all around every situation and give some space for others to contribute other viewpoints which would allow the emergence of a balanced view, so that there might be balanced action. There has to be balance for there to be health — at any level.

Alan Hammond

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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The Bald Cypress: Symbol Of Transition


Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina

The bald cypress is a member of the Baldcypress Family, which is related to Dawn and Giant Redwoods with ancestors dating back to the late Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. They’re called “bald” because the leaves, looking like needles, fall off every year. The trees grow 13-24 inches per year and can reach heights up to 150 feet. In the Middle Ages, cypress wood was often used to carve large cathedral doors. It’s the state tree of Louisiana, grows in wet and dry environments, withstands flooding and can live to 1000 years. The largest bald cypress tree in the United States lived in Big Cypress Tree State Park in West Tennessee. It measured 14 feet in diameter, 40 feet in circumference and was 1,350 years old when it was destroyed by lightning in 1976.

Alongside rivers and ponds cypress trees grow “knees,” their height depending on the water depth and soil density. The record for the tallest knee is 14 feet. It grew on the banks of the Suwannee River, which flows through Georgia and Florida. The function of the knees is not yet known. Frogs, toads and salamanders prefer cypress swamps for breeding grounds. Wood ducks nest in the hollow trunks and catfish spawn in submerged hollow logs. Bees, wood ducks, barrel owls and raptors nest in the treetops. And the seeds of the cypress are eaten by wild turkey, wood ducks, squirrels, waterfowl and wading birds.  

The Persian prophet Zoroaster regarded the cypress tree as a symbol of immortality. His followers worshiped in temples where fires, regarded as symbols of divine light, were fueled exclusively by cypress wood. In Abarqu, Iran, there’s a 4,000-year-old cypress tree that’s dedicated to Zoroaster. Still today, cypress trees are the first choice for Iranian gardens and cemeteries. In the Muslim tradition, the trees are grown in cemeteries to ward off evil spirits and bring hope to mourners because they point to the sky.

In the classical Greek tradition, cypress was associated with death and the underworld. The name of the tree derives from a mythological character, Cyparissus, who was turned into a cypress tree because he wished to grieve forever for accidentally killing his beloved pet stag. Today in Athens, garlands of cypress are hung in the home to symbolize a time of mourning. And the dried needles are bundled as a smudge to clear the air during a cremation.

Right of center, Cypress Trees at Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio

Because of their association with eternal life and mourning, cypress trees are often found in cemeteries In the United States. They’re also used to reduce damage from floods by controlling erosion. By trapping sediments and pollutants they cause floodwaters to spread out, slow down and infiltrate the soil. Regarded as the “eternal wood” because of its resistance to decay, bald cypress timber is used for heavy construction, fence posts, boat planking, bridges, river pilings, doors, flooring, garden boxes, caskets, interior trim and cabinetry.

According to artist, author and energy-medicine practitioner Laural Virtues Wauters, “cypress signals the end of a major phase in life and the transition into a world of new possibilities… The cypress spirit indicates a time of clearing and cleansing our space to create room for new experiences and opportunities. When cypress appears, we are being asked to honor the sacred death of the ego so the heart can prevail.”

Her analysis relates to last week’s posting—The Ceiba Tree: Symbol Of Transformation—where I talked about the “rite of passage” and “vision quest” processes that involve the letting go of who we thought we were and what we think we know about life—and after returning from a period of trial we undertake alone—beginning to envision who we are to become and opening ourselves to an expanded perception of life and the world. Simply put, the message of both the ceiba and cypress is to become aware that between death—letting go of who we were in the past—and the mysterious future, we’re in a transitional place, a time of clearing and synthesis. The in-between place encourages us to reinvent ourselves and our priorities, and cultivate an openness to simply be and allow the currents of life to take us where it will. It’s why my prayer for all who suffer under the coronavirus is that they may be at peace with whatever their souls require. Death is not a bad thing. As the opposite side of the “coin” of life, it’s the natural path toward the realization of our (the soul’s) mission.    

Remember that the storm is a good opportunity for the pine and the cypress to show their strength and stability.

Ho Chi Minh

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