A path of evergreen mountain laurel at Laurel Hill State Park. Amazing to hike through in the winter, when the understory sings!
As you may have noticed, in the last month or so I’ve been working diligently on my “Sacred Trees in the Americas” series. The truth is, I’ve worked through most of the trees that are well known and form the overstory of most of the forests in the US East Coast. Trees like White Pine, Oak, Hickory, Sugar Maple, Ash, Beech, and Birch are dominant trees. And when you do research on these trees, you find a rich tradition and lore from both the Americas and the Old World. Recently, I’ve moved my attention to lesser-known trees like Ironwood and Devil’s Walking Stick, and have covered others like Witch Hazel (distinct and different from American Hazel) and Spicebush. There is a striking difference between the first group and…
For better or for worse, untold numbers of fungi live on and within our bodies.
Some of these fungi are faithful allies. Others can harm our bodies only under certain circumstances. Almost all of them, it turns out, are microscopic and mostly undetectable to the naked eye.
But what about the larger mushrooms that live in forests? Do they ever engage in any sort of physical relationship with humans?
For a very long time, mushroom-forming fungi were never known to grow inside human bodies. Instead, molds and yeasts — including species of Candida and Aspergillus — were almost always the main culprits implicated in human disease.
And then something strange happened. In 1950, a doctor treated a 33-year-old man for fungal overgrowth of his toes. Upon isolating the fungus, the doctor discovered that his patient’s foot infection was attributed not to any of the usual mold-producing suspects, but instead to a mushroom-forming species that commonly grows on trees.
Since that shocking discovery 70 years ago, researchers have documented this wild fungus growing on and within other human bodies. To date, almost 100 cases of infection and a few unexpected deaths have been reported.
During a recent walk through a local floodplain, I encountered this fascinating mushroom and decided to film a video regarding its bizarre tendency to do such a thing — to colonize human bodies and cause infection.
In addition to the sights of tree-eating mushrooms, a January walk through my local woods is likely to yield splendid sightings of wintering songbirds. Pictured here is one such bird who demonstrates something known as differential migration. In short, males overwinter farther north than females. Why is this? Check out this recent Instagram post to learn more.Click to view post
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A woman comes to a clearing in the recently burned forest with a basket of stones, sticks, nuts, and flowers. She begins to sing, laugh, and dance as she creates a beautiful circle with the materials. As she weaves her healing magic, the design of the circle grows more complex, spiraling inward and outward. She finishes her work and sits with it quietly for a time, before leaving it in place to do its own work. A healing mandala has been made on that spot, to help the forest recover after a fire.
Nature mandalas can be used for a variety of inner work, healings, blessings and rituals and are a wonderful addition to a druid or natural spiritual practice. Nature mandalas are an intuitive magical and bardic arts practice that works with the connection of your own subconscious to the living earth. You use materials that are local to…
In the fields of biology and ecology, a specific word is used to describe a living organism that no longer inhabits a particular area: extirpated.
An extirpated tree, for instance, grows in other regions of the world, but it no longer exists in a particular place that it formerly occupied.
An appropriate example is the Atlantic White-Cedar tree. This coniferous tree formerly inhabited the state of Pennsylvania, though by the early 19th century all wild populations had been logged. Atlantic White-Cedar is not extinct, however, because its range currently spans the Atlantic coastline. Instead, this tree is considered to be extirpated from Pennsylvania because wild populations no longer grow here.
This past weekend, I encountered something fascinating: a healthy population of Atlantic White-Cedar in Pennsylvania. This population was located within a beautiful bog containing typical bog specialists including cranberry, huckleberry, pitcher plant, sundew, and dozens of other plants.
Interestingly, ecologists and botanists are well aware of these Pennsylvanian Atlantic White-Cedar trees, and even though this population of Atlantic White-Cedar seems to be thriving, the tree is still considered to be extirpated from the state.
In this brand new video, I discuss the topic and address a few pertinent questions. If you are unfamiliar with the beautiful and majestic Atlantic White-Cedar tree, check out the video!
July through September is mating season for timber rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania, and in this recent Instagram post, I describe a very recent and close encounter with one of these beautiful creatures.
A few weeks ago, I decided to explore a familiar wooded area located only a few miles from home. I didn’t have any particular goal in mind other than to enjoy a rainy afternoon in the company of blooming plants and trees.
Two hours of botanizing had passed before I headed back to the trailhead, fully satisfied having observed oaks, birches, and beeches in flower.
Just before I could complete my hike, however, I was suddenly alerted to a peculiar commotion emanating from the canopy. I instinctively turned around to look at an American beech tree, and upon doing so I discovered something quite remarkable: a pileated woodpecker nest, replete with an adult male and two juveniles.
With curiosity and amazement, I observed the adult woodpecker as he regurgitated insects and fed his hungry sons. The whole ordeal lasted for only a minute before the adult departed and the juveniles retreated back into their nest.
Rather than snap a few photographs and end the interaction there, I decided to visit the nest every day until the juveniles left.
Two weeks later, I was utterly transformed by the entire experience.
In the following video, I discuss my rewarding observations and emotion-rich encounters with these beautiful birds.
If you’ve never experienced an active pileated woodpecker nest up close, this is your chance to do so.
Even during dry spells, delicious wild mushrooms occasionally make surprise appearances. Such was the case with this Lion’s Mane mushroom — an edible fungus that I recently found on a black locust tree. To learn more about Lion’s Mane, check out this recent Learn Your Land Instagram post.
The unfolding of the bramble ferns in the spring always feels, to me, like the unfolding of worlds. The tightly packed fronds, formed at the end of last season and dormant all winter, slowly emerge, uncurling so slowly that you can’t see it happen, but if you come back later in the day, you can see clear progress. I like to meditate with these ferns, as they connect me to the deeper energies of the cosmos. The unfolding of the fern frond, there in my backyard, is the same pattern as the Milky Way galaxy in which we all reside. It is in this sacred pattern that I can see the connection to all things and connect with nature deeply.
Ecological succession is nature’s approach to healing. From bare rock, ecological succession allows forests to eventually grow. Ecological succession has much to teach us as a powerful lesson from nature, and it is a particularly useful thing to meditate upon during the pandemic. As we can look to how nature heals, it offers us guidance and stability during this challenging time. Thus, today’s post introduces the idea of ecological succession and how these lessons can be helpful to us as spiritual lessons for thought and reflection. This post is part of my land healing series. For earlier posts, you can see a framework for land healing, land healing as a spiritual practice, a ritual for putting the land to sleep, and a primer for physical land healing.
Because nature works on larger time scales, its not always obvious that nature is engaging in…
One of the strengths of AODA druidry is our emphasis on developing what Gordon Cooper calls “wildcrafted druidries“–these are druid practices that are localized to our place, rooted in our ecosystems, and designed in conjunction with the world and landscapes immediately around us. Wildcrafted druidries are in line with the recently released seven principles of AODA, principles that include rooting nature at the center of our practice, practicing nature reverence, working with cycles and seasons, and wildcrafting druidry. But taking the first steps into wildcrafting your practice can be a bit overwhelming, and can be complicated by a number of other factors. What if you are a new druid and don’t know much about your ecosystem? What if you are a druid who is traveling a lot or is transient? What if you are a druid who just moved to a new ecosystem after establishing yourself firmly…
In my neck of the woods, signs of spring abound — from the blooming of Snow Trillium and Sharp-Lobed Hepatica, to the reappearance of the Eastern Phoebe and warmer days.
Among the indications that winter has predictably expired and tipped its hat to another growing season is the emergence of the wood frog.
The wood frog is one of nature’s most resilient and adaptable creatures, occupying a range that — at the species level — spans thousands of miles of varied habitats. Perhaps most interesting of all is that this hardy frog has the amazing ability to freeze solid when temperatures plummet… and survive the experience!
The wood frog has been patronizing the local pools lately, allowing itself to be observed and filmed by anyone with any interest in these sorts of things.
As it turns out, I do have a deep interest in these sorts of things, and I recently visited a nearby floodplain to document and film the seasonal manners of this libidinous amphibian.
If you are interested in learning more about the wood frog — and also about vernal pools, cryoprotectants, and holistic approaches to conservation — check out the brand new video!
Have you ever seen something that looks like this? Though it resembles a pinecone, this structure is not produced by any conifer tree. Instead, this pyramidal growth is produced in response to an insect that feeds on a particular flowering shrub. Check out this recent Instagram post to learn more!
Sometimes, spirit offers you a call and its a call that can’t be ignored. Part of the reason I write so much about working physically and energetically with land healing on this blog is that its clear to me now that a large part of my call is in this direction. When I was a child, it was the logging of my forest–and my eventual return to that forest years later. At my first homestead, I had to spend years working to connect with the spirits of the land and heal the land physically. When I found the current land where I live, everything was perfect about it in terms of features I wanted–except that three acres had been logged pretty heavily. I put my head and my hands and cried–how did I find a perfect piece of land that just had been logged? The spirits laughed and said…