Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one – Bruce Lee
What is a Lenticel? Who the fuck cares?
It is raining now as I write this. I live in an attic, so the drops are more pronounced here. I love the natural symphonic sounds of nature. Rain drops, wind and flying animals that sing. But my queer Shaman heart also notices the heartache around me, probably too much. So, why is time in nature so important when there is so much sadness in the world? How can I be a responsible citizen when suicide is now the leading cause of death in the military? When some of our gay youth have lost all hope and leave us forever, or when some of our queer elderly give up because they don’t have community, or they can’t see beauty? Does it seem frivolous to speak of birds and trees and flowers with that pie-in-the-sky outlook, when I have observed hurting people walking through the doors of Q Center, of Pivot, gaymaleiam, a former men’s wellness community called Manifest, or burdened single parents in all corners of our society? How the hell can I find time in nature when I am running in circles keeping the wolf at bay?
I lead the Rainbow Walk in the Trees every first Sunday (Thank you Stacey Rice for the name suggestion). We have arrived at our one-year milestone, and last Sunday we had 15 people, from all representations of the rainbow coalition, except transgender gentlemen. I am hopeful they will join us this year.
On Sunday, I passed out 3X5 cards to the attendees, and they stood by the tree assigned, and spoke beautifully about the bark, the color, the needles, the shape. Their eyes glowed, they stood taller, and they smiled. We looked at Hemlocks, Dahurian Larch, Western Red Cedar, Red Pine, Rhaetic Pine, Alaska Yellow Cedar, Monkey Puzzle, Dawn Redwood, Jeffrey Pine, Norway Spruce, and Noble Fir just to name a few. I loved watching these beautiful souls sound out the scientific names. Poetry it is, among family, love, nurturing, healing, on the earth, away from the computers, and other distractions.
In the walk, on the earth, we are free to be who we are, with no judgment, and the mind can relax. Studies show that the color green is calming and relieves eye strain. Trees absorb and block sound, reducing noise pollution by as much as 40 percent. It decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Spending time with the trees also increases creativity, which is so essential to survival in today’s world. When the emerald ash borer began eating thousands of trees in the American Midwest, the rates of human death from cardiovascular and respiratory illness increased.
So, what is a queer person to do, how to find time for nature when there just doesn’t seem to be time? Come to the Rainbow Walk in the Trees and learn how to rest the highly distracted modern brain, for just 2 hours on the first Sundays. We use creative methods to engage the brain with nature. Hand lenses, binoculars, and hopefully one day someone will donate a microscope so we can dive in deeply and see the magic of nature at the micro level.
Media has such a profound effect on all of us. It was so lonely for many of us, in dire isolation. We share very special dimensions, we are the shamans, we feel and see so much. But when we are separated, from nature and each other, we lose our best selves to depression, debt, drug addiction, and the “fast-fast moving”, and this speed is accelerating in American Culture. We can’t separate ourselves from the pace altogether, but there is a solution. Many of us know nature whizzing by on the bus and/or some other mode of transportation. The Rainbow Walk in the Trees is designed for city queer folk, easy access within city limits at the Hoyt Arboretum, where we are safe to be who we are, and learn and engage with nature.
In order to learn, we need to feel safe. Many of us did not feel safe, and many of us still struggle with the feelings of safety. The Rainbow Walk in the Trees is designed to integrate my rainbow family with each other, walking on mother earth, under father sky, using hand lenses and other tools to engage the mind with leaves, bark, moss, fungi, and binoculars to see cones at the top of trees, and birds that we might hear fly about. In this group, we don’t have to edit ourselves, we can engage with nature at an authentic level.
Did you know that if you stand quietly in nature for as little as 3 minutes, the birds will start to gather around and look at you? Patience may be a virtue, but we have to schedule it in. We miss these flying animals that sing when we are rushing about. We also miss the birds even if we are present but disassociated from our environment, which is common with queer people, as we have shut down in various ways to protect our brains and our hearts. The key to engaging with nature is not to wait for the camping trip in some remote location, but to learn how to use the scientific mind as well as the artistic mind, locally, at least 3 times a week if possible. The Rainbow Walk in the Trees is a 2 hour mindful walk, where we learn about trees from all over the world, and learn about the poetry of Latin names that accompany the common name. Latin is not dead! It is important to fill the mind with nature and science, and at minimum join the 2 hour walk but also learn how to use hand lenses, and walk into your local park and grab 15 minutes if that is all one has. Walking in nature and grabbing hold of a knowledge base of trees and birds fills our minds with beauty that we desperately need in an increasingly challenging competitive world.
Learning how to look at beauty can be challenging with so much heartache around us. Our people have suffered greatly, and it affects us all. I invite you re-learn how to integrate with nature, and re-experience how our heart glows, eyes brighten, and how hearing improves, by stepping away from the machines. We can’t escape the computers anymore, so it is essential to learn how to engage quickly in nature, our bodies beg for the healing nature of trees, and the earth and the sights and sounds of those elusive birds. In a city far, far away they have “Tree Mobs”, where busy city people can flock around to listen to someone talk about a tree for 10 minutes. We need these Tree Mobs too, at least give busy people, rich or poor, a fighting chance for happiness and health. Do you have a tree outside your office window you can assemble a group together and talk about it, sniff the bark, look at the leaf, or the scars on twigs? Yes, scars are beautiful. Pencil in to your calendar time for nature as if you were going to the gym or to work. Schedule nature into your calendar, and follow-through, even if you don’t want to, make it a habit, and your life will improve greatly. But don’t always do it all alone, engage with Rainbow Walk in the Trees, and find like-minds.
Individual health is linked to community health. One evening while volunteering at Q Center, the house was crowded with about 4 groups, and I loved what Barbara McCullough-Jones said to me. She said, “this is what community looks like, welcome to community”. I am no longer the lone queer. At 48 I have found community. Most of us know how to do things alone, because we had to, in order to survive. I have still have that strong instinct to isolate and do everything alone. The Rainbow Walk in the Trees is an opportunity to learn about healthy community in a natural habitat, learn about trees from all over the world, find healing by getting off of the cement and walking on the earth, walking under trees, imagine that I am in Japan when I am standing at the Japanese Raisin Tree, in China under the Dawn Redwood, in the Pacific Northwest when under a Douglas Fir, or on the Eastern Seaboard when under an American Elm.
How does the highly distracted modern brain engage with nature when one has mounds of worries? Where will I sleep tonight? Will I have food to eat that is nutritious? Where will I find opportunity in a tight job market? Will I get fired again? Why the hell should I care about birds, trees, clouds, and the earth when Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs clearly states food and shelter are the most important? For the queer life, with all of our post traumatic sensitivities, learning to integrate calamity with serenity is key. Yes, food and shelter is very important, but while navigating those sometimes fleeting pillars of stability, why not use a hand lense and look at the back of a leaf, or moss growing on a tree, or look at the inside of a flower? There are tools to engage the worried stressed out mind, and it can take as little as 15 minutes.
So, what is a Lenticel? Who the fuck cares? Come to the Rainbow Walk in the Trees and find out.
At Q Center we honor Jayden Bell who took his life at a very young age. His picture is in the lobby, to the left of the front desk. I am not saying if he has come on the Rainbow Walk, if it has existed, it would have saved his life, nor am i saying if he knew what a lenticel is, he would be alive today. Hell, if you are in the city, and looking at bark on a tree, can you really see it if the sirens are going by, and your family has rejected you, and your peers have rejected you? But it is a step at least, toward balance, in all the calamity. It helps to focus the mind.
I hope to see you for First Sunday Walks at the Hoyt Arboretum at 11AM. Come see why we should even care about a Lenticel.