I had a dream a few weeks ago that I was walking through what had once been a lush old-growth forest. While some trees remained, tall and straight as pillars, all of the undergrowth, the whole forest floor, had been cleared. There was no moss or decaying tree trunks for little creatures to call home, no ferns or mushrooms sprouting in the shadows. All the gnarled trees had been removed. In the dream, I sensed that this whole forest was being “harvested”. I was horrified and started to cry, yelling, “Why have you done this?!?”
Then I woke up.
Of course dreams are often indicative of our own inner wilds, and the “Why have you done this” question could easily have been directed at myself. There have been plenty of times in my life where I have allowed the energy of my inner Tyrant King to cut back my wild and unruly soul in the name of efficiency and productivity.
But for some reason, this particular dream made me think of the novel The Overstory by Richard Powers, which moved me greatly, as well as a question a college professor of mine posed to our class nearly twenty years ago.
“If I were to take a city and replicate it, down to every last grain of dust that exists, would it be the same city?”
I felt the answer strongly in my own body: No. No, it wouldn’t be the same, though I couldn’t explain why using logic and reason alone. I struggled to find the words that could speak the unspeakable. The intangible. The magic that permeates all of life.
On the surface, of course it would be the same, and several of my classmates argued this point ardently. If it was a perfect replica, there would be no perceptible change or difference.
But that is only true if you see solely with your physical eyes. What if you look through the eyes of the embodied soul?
Through that lens, a simulation, no matter how good, is never a true substitute for the real thing.
What I couldn’t articulate at age 20 is that the simulated city would lack SOUL. History. A connection with the land and the living beings it supports and the cycles of seasons it has experienced. A sense of the people who walked those streets and paths long before I came to be. Something that cannot be seen, but only be felt. That elusive, and unique, sense of place that pulses through the earth, whether we choose to recognize it or not.
Remembering this question, I realized this is also how I feel about forests and that is why I was in such distress in my dream. In our current culture and economic model, we take down old growth forests under the guise of planting new trees in their wake. Often, more efficient trees. Trees that grow quickly and are resistant to drought and pests. As if that could ever be a true replacement.
Don’t get me wrong, in my book, a tree is always better than no tree. But a human engineered monocrop can never take the place of thick and gnarled and real old-growth forest that supports a wide diversity of life both above and below ground. Not in the tangible world, nor in the world of the human imagination, nor in the magical in-between places where those two realities collide and dance with one another.
Too often in modern life, we are taught to settle for substitutes, as if our bodies and souls won’t know the difference. We are given food that lacks true nourishment and strips the soil of its nutrients. Experiences that go through the motions of rites of passage, but still leave us feeling hollow when they fail to connect with the underlying meaning that we are yearning for. Art and creations that have been mass-produced rather than handmade and forever carrying the energetic imprint of the maker.
Substitutes, while appearing to be “close enough” to something real, will always leave us underfed and undernourished on some level.
What I call the Wise and Wild Woman is the energy within each and every one of us that instinctively knows what is real and what just tries to appear that way. She knows because she feels and senses with her whole body and soul; her gaze sees through the superficial to the heart of the matter.
And when we remember her back into wholeness, she will lovingly and fiercely guide our way back home.