PeerSpirit Newsletter – The Owl and the Tree
January 2019


Dear Friends of PeerSpirit,

Much of the northern United States is currently experiencing an “Arctic vortex” of sub-zero temperatures and fierce wind chill. Our Australian friends are experiencing a terrible heat wave and firestorms. January can be a time of intense weather anywhere. Here in the Pacific Northwest it is currently relatively mild, with gray skies and a gloomy dampness. However, we too get winter storms of a different kind – blowing in off of the Pacific Ocean.

Winds of CHANGE 

by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea

When we talk about the winds of change most people acknowledge that we are in them! Much of the time this phrase is a metaphor, a comment made in response to politics, societal shifts, watching or reading the news. Metaphors are attempts to provide ourselves a sense of perspective, a way to bring up topics with others, or even calm ourselves enough to go to sleep at night. However, sometimes the winds of change are literally howling outside our doors!

On December 20th, 60 miles-per-hour (96km) winds tore up Whidbey Island, an event so significant that we each wrote a blog about it: Christina’s camping at home and Ann’s walk in the forest.Three days later the lights came back on and no wildly dramatic weather has happened in the past month (except metaphorically – and when you go there, the list is long!).

We had our annual quiet time around the holidays, the new year sneaked in, and January has whizzed by. In the ways we humans do, we have moved on and been consumed by other stories. In the ways of the forest, the story of that day lies dramatically on the surface of our well known and much-loved state park and will remain a visible reference point for the rest of our hiking days.

It is shocking in these woods. This aftermath of storm is not the gentle lying down of nurse logs, the bones of an old tree releasing its last nutrients to the new saplings. No, these were strong trees that were standing on the morning of December 20 with no inkling that the wind would soon tear their trunks in half, send them sailing into the limbs of their relatives, and heave them crashing down together. One tree does not fall without injuring or taking others with it. No fault the wind comes; no fault the roots let go. Death and dismemberment are everywhere. The scream of wood shattering still reverberates a month later.

We can imagine the storm: we are living it. The sundered forest is how the world is as we enter the year 2-0-1-9. Culmination. Chaos. The necessary laying down of the world’s accumulated evils is not gentle. Violence rises, abuses are exposed, strange forces surface what was hidden, and what has always stood is suddenly toppled. Nothing is comfortable. No lesson is easy.

Sometimes we’re lucky and get missed by what is falling. Sometimes we are the falling. Sometimes we are grateful to be caught, even if we both go down together. Sometimes we are like the deer running in panic from the falling trees. Sometimes we feel like the birds huddled against a trunk, riding the whipping branches.

Eventually the impact of this storm will mellow, turn soft-bodied and mossy, look much more peaceful than it was – but that will take years. Right now, as we clamber over the debris left from the storm, the roles we can play in response to what is torn asunder, torn open, and transformed become clear:

1. Brace and stand strong: keep rebalancing.

2. Catch who is falling: hospice with care.

3. Explore what needs to splinter and topple: let it go.

4. Carve a way through the debris: invite new order to emerge.

5. Lay down your experience and let those who come later use you as a bridge.

6. Repair what you can: trust the wholeness.

7. Keep the sacred: offer rituals of grief, love, and surrender to mystery.

There is no guarantee of safety. The next storm will come, and yet in the midst of chaos and chance the forest continues to offer us beauty, even as it surrenders to the winds. We leave the forest reciting one of our favorite Wendell Berry poems from his book, Sabbaths:

I go among trees and sit stil
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
Around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle…

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.