Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Shape of Transformation

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.”

The quote is by the Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, and it is true about every hurdle and curveball life throws at us. Every experience we have changes us. The way we see the world alters and we adapt, finding ourselves in another period of transformation, where we become a new version of ourselves. When things get hard, that’s a hope you hold onto… that you will be a better person for it when it’s past.
These storms, these hard moments do not happen to us because there’s some greater reason, or purpose. No deity is pulling strings from behind their curtain in the heavens to manipulate our lives. Sometimes the point simply is that we survive, that we change, and that we become something and someone new to discover. We are the journey.
Everyone’s journey is different. But we all have one. That is a constant truth. We are all muddling through this life together, while we’re here. But it does no good to compare your journey to anyone else’s. It does no good to judge yourself based on where you stand in relation to those around you. It is up to you to reflect on who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. How do you feel about your path? Your choices? Listen to your intuition? Despite what the outside world would say to you, do you feel your feet are moving in the right direction?
We are constantly changing and evolving and it’s good to know where you are in the journey. This time of year, when the cold drives us indoors and the earth slumbers beneath us, is a good time to check in with yourself, to listen to yourself, and see what things you cling to, that you no longer need, that are hurting you.
We think about life and time like it’s a straight line. We’re born, we live, and we die. Especially in genealogical work, that’s what our ancestors become, names on a timeline. But while you’re living life, you understand it’s not a straight line at all. It’s a path that goes up and down and often trails back across itself.
Life runs in cycles, like a spiral going upward around the outside of a glass cup. Always forward, always in motion, even though from an aerial view, the path you are walking looks like a circle, winding around and around without exits to get off. That’s what it looks like and often what it feels like, but it’s actually a line, with revolutions layered atop each other. We often come back to the same places we’ve been before. As we age we revisit these spaces with new and older eyes and the way we perceive our world shifts and opens with each overlap.
We often talk about getting stuck in hamster wheels… but the point is, when we realize we’re repeating unsuccessful patterns, to see it with new eyes and make a different choice so that we do not find ourselves back there again. These are opportunities for us to reshape the parts of ourselves and our lives we’re not happy with. That is when we move up the glass, up the path. The wheel, the circle, the path, the spiral… all of these are among the shapes of transformation.
I talked last week about using petrified wood as a tool in my ancestor meditations. Another fossil I treasure is the ammonite, with its spiraling shell. It reminds me of the spiraling journey upward and inward. It represents the need to move into the darkness to get through it and back out into the light. One of my personal mantras is, the only way out is through. The ammonite reminds me of the labyrinth, turning inward so that I may later turn out with new knowledge.
It’s important for us to be the best versions of ourselves we can be. I am not the same person I was, nor am I the same as the person I will be. But I trust that my feet are walking the path I am meant to walk, and that kindness and compassion are the seeds I am planting. I trust that the world I am leaving behind me is a better world than the one I walked through. I trust that I am leaving the world a better place for those who will come after me. Through every painful transformation, when I fight against giving in to what society wants me to be, I hold tightly to Mother Theresa’s words, because it’s what I believe in my heart of hearts:
"People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. Afterall, it was never between you and them anyway."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Magic of Petrified Wood

Petrified birch from the Blue Forest, Wyoming.
In my spiritual life, to better connect to the natural world around me, I use allies as focusing tools, like animals, plants, and stones. I love trees, and feel a strong affinity with them. They have taught me to slow down, to stand and be present in the moment, to breathe in seasons and touch stillness. For this same reason, one of my favorite stones to work with is petrified wood. I use a lot of fossils, the petrified remains of organics that lived millions of years ago. I call them earth bones. They are the ancestral stones I hold when I meditate backwards through my family lines.
Almost as magical as the rock itself, is the process it undergoes to become stone. The word petro is Greek for “rock/stone.” When something petrifies, it literally becomes stone in a process called permineralization, where organic material is replaced over time with minerals, mostly silicates. Many fossils form as compressions or impressions, but petrified wood uniquely forms as a three-dimensional representation of the original, preserving detail at the microscopic level. To feel the weight of the minerals in your hand and the coolness of the stone while your eyes perceive grainy bark… it is a wonder of the natural world.
Wood becomes preserved when it is buried under sediment, where a lack of oxygen stops aerobic decomposition. Then, water rich in minerals flows through the sediment, where they deposit in the plant cells. Permineralization begins when silica from the mineral-laden water permeates the wood. Next, this solution penetrates the pores of the cell walls. Then the cell walls, cellulose, begin to dissolve while, elsewhere in the trunk, the minerals begin to build up, preserving the wooden frame. The last to decay is the inner lignin of the tree. Afterwards, silica deposits itself in any spaces in between the cells, until it finally penetrates the cell lumina, the cavity within the walls of the plant cell. It might fill these voids with chalcedony, agate, quartz, calcite, pyrite, or opal. Finally, lithification occurs, which is the process where sediment compresses under pressure, into rock, as water loss continues to occur. The initial silica is amorphous, which is unstable. Over millions of years, due to more extensive polymerization and water loss, the silica transforms into a more stable crystalline structure, like opal or quartz.
Cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin account for 95% of the dry weight of live wood. After permineralization, 90% of the weight of the fossil is silica, showing that very little, if any, of the original material remains [according to Leo & Barghoorn (1976), Sigleo (1978), and Mustoe(2008)]. Permineralization is one of the most accurate modes of fossil preservation. Because different layers of the wood decay and fill in with silicates at differing rates, it preserves the individual parts of the tree, though accuracy varies between specimens. Some are “sugary,” where the cell detail is blurred. Others show the tree rings intact, and still more are comprised of such a fine grain of silica, that the histology of the original tree can be studied satisfactorily.
Believe it or not, that bark is pure stone!
Some specimens of petrified wood, when uncovered, are pure silicate/quartz white, though, over time the sun will darken it. Other minerals add to the beautiful colors of the petrified wood. Carbon colors the specimen black. Cobalt and chromium both add hues of green and blue. Manganese tinges the stone with pink and orange, while manganese oxides color it in yellow and black. Iron oxides color it with red, brown, and yellow.
Petrified wood is a common fossil, but the conditions needed to create it are specific. Temperatures over 212 degrees Fahrenheit will break the wood down before the process can occur and excessive pressures will deform the organic tissues. And not only does it need mineral-rich water but, chemically, wood breaks down when the water’s pH value is below 4.5 and above 7, so the window for a perfect environment is still precise.
They are treasure from the earth, gifts in their assurance as to the cyclical nature of life, and the knowledge that life will out in the end. I use them as touchstones. Their process of transformation traverses so many millions of years that I use them to connect to the past, as if I can take a shortcut and touch any point of time in their linear history. When you come across petrified wood, take a moment to touch it and connect into it. Touch the energy of the spirit of the tree it was once a part of and be reminded of the larger, universal web we are all a part of.

Facts and Folklore
·         Most of the petrified trees have been given the name Araucarioxylon arizonicum. 
·         Petrified wood is found on every continent except for Antarctica.
·         There are petrified trees more than 10 feet in diameter and 100 feet long at the Petrified Forest National Monument, Santa Cruz Province, Argentine Patagonia.
·         The stone of Alberta, Canada is petrified wood.
·         The Chinese government has cracked down on the collecting of this material.
·         The Museum of Natural History in Chemnitz, Germany has specimens that date back to their discovery in 1737.
·         The Puyango Petrified Forest in Ecuador has one of the largest collections in the world.
·         Egypt declared their petrified forests to be national protectorates.
·         The largest forest can be found in the Petrified Forest of Lesvos, on Lesbos, Greece, covering 93 miles. Upright trunks with roots intact can be found there. Some trunks measure up to 72 feet in length.
·         In the Great Sand Sea of Libya, pieces of petrified trunks and branches are littered over hundreds of square miles, along with Stone Age artifacts.
·         At low tide along the coast of Wales and England, submerged petrified forests become visible.
·         Seven species of tree have been identified through petrified wood.
·         Petrified wood is often used in lapidary work, cut into cabochons for jewelry and slabs for table tops and counters.
·         The oldest known species of petrified wood can be found near Gilboa, New York, dating to the Devonian period, over 358 million years old.
·         The stone in the National park in Arizona are of the Triassic Period, over 160 million years old.
·         Petrified wood is associated in metaphysical worlds with the astrological sign Leo and the Base Chakra.
·         Petrified wood and dinosaur bones are the best-known specimens of permineralized fossils.
·         Petrified wood is found in large numbers in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Greece, Indonesia, India, Israel, Libya, Namibia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.

·         In the United States, Petrified Forests and Parks can be found in abundance: the Gilboa Fossil Forest in New York; the Petrified Forest in Mississippi; the park in Lemmon, South Dakota; Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; the Petrified Springs in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Yellowstone Petrified Forest and Gallatin Petrified Forest in Yellowstone, Wyoming; the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado; the Ginkgo Petrified Forest, Wanapum State Park in Washington; the forest in Calistoga, California; the National Park in Holbrook, Arizona; the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Family Tree Stories

I was lucky enough to have multiple grandparents. There were seven in total. Some of them were part of my immediate family, some were names on my tree, and some were unknown to me, having died before I was old enough to put my world together in thoughts and memories. It seems to me that sometimes, in our grief, we deal with it by keeping stories precious to us close to the breast. Or we keep memories quiet out of deference to those who come into families after the fact, lest they feel excluded. It’s understandable, but sad for those like me, who don’t share in those memories.
I might not have known them, but there were other family members in my life that did. There are others still alive who remember them. I only recently realized that the older I get, the smaller that group becomes. If I don’t remember, how will those who come into the family after me? I’d like to be able to say more about my father’s mother to my nieces and nephew than, “She died when your grandpa was five.”
I can tell you all the pertinent information about my family tree. I know who was born when and where and who they married. I mostly know when they died and some, how. But that doesn’t tell me about them. Knowing what my birth date is doesn’t tell anyone anything about who I am. What would I want to know from those who do remember them? What would you want to know?

Lives Drawn from Memory
  • Family Member: name
  • What profession(s) did they have?
  • Do you know of any vacations they took; any places of the world they visited?
  • What kinds of things did they enjoy doing in their leisure time? Did they have any noticeable hobbies (needlework, gardening, knitting, carpentry, model-making, etc.)?
  • How many children did they have? How many boys? How many girls? What were their ages (i.e. how often were they having them)?
  • In their lifetime, where were the places they lived?
  • Did they serve in the military? What branch? What was their title?
  • Describe things you did together when you spent time with them.
  • What kind of food did they like to eat?
  • What was their favorite season of the year?
  • Did they play and/or enjoy sports? Which one(s)?
  • What was their favorite holiday?
  • Do you remember attending church with them? Or them attending church? Do you know what church they attended?
  • Did they drink tea or coffee? Both? Did they have a regular cocktail? Do you know what their favorite drink was?
  • Did they listen to music? Did they have a favorite kind of music? A favorite artist?
  • Did they have any known addictions or flaws?
  • Did they have a busy/active social life?
  • Were they members of any clubs or lodges?
  • Do you remember them ever being seriously ill?
  • What kinds of foods did they enjoy? What types of things did you eat when/if you ate at their house?
  • Did they cook?
  • What did they do with their time after dinner and before bed?
  • Did they read? Did they have a favorite kind of book (romance, history, murder/mystery, science fiction)?
  • Did they wear glasses? Hearing aids?
  • Did they have tattoos?
  • When you think of them, what style of clothing do you associate with them?
  • What age were you when you first met them? Did you always know them?
  • Did they seem happy most of the time?
  • Describe briefly a favorite memory you have of/with them.

These are meant to be prompts. Add your own questions. Tailor them to fit your family. Pass them out to your parents, your aunts and uncles, and your grandparents. Ask them to answer the questions about their parents and grandparents, even great-grandparents if they knew them. Take the information you receive and compile a history that gives flesh to their ghosts.

Tell their stories. Share them. Pass them down through your generations. Whisper the names of your loved ones long after they are gone. Tell the stars their stories if there is no one left to share them with. What is remembered lives, and never truly dies.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Father’s Father: Mark Dutcher Eaton

Mark & Ruth Eaton
My grandfather’s name was Mark Dutcher Eaton. My dad was 28 when his father died. I am a decade past that age myself, and my heart breaks for him to think about it. I can’t imagine losing my dad now. I really can’t imagine not having had him in my life for the last decade.
I only have one strong memory of my father’s father. I had just turned six when my Grandpa Mark died. He had cancer. I have a softer memory of him, just before he passed, lying on a green couch in the front room of the house, covered in an afghan while we visited. Other than that, I have just the one memory of him that I have held tightly to.
I have protected that memory from alteration and exaggeration. I keep it sacred; it has always felt important. I think of it every holiday season. I do not know how old I am in the memory, but I am staring up at him and he seems seven feet tall. And in the memory, my Grandpa is healthy.
We stop in to see them on our way to dinner somewhere. I like coming here. I like the stone fireplace. My Grandpa smiles the biggest smile and asks us if we want a cookie. My parents protest but he isn’t listening. They acquiesce but tell us we can only have one while he is gone from the room (and they mean it).
He comes back from the kitchen with a round tray full of different kinds of cookies. He says we can have whatever we want but our parents’ eyes are on us. I can’t decide. I look up and he is smiling. It is such a bright smile. [As a grown up, when I see that smile in my memory, it reminds me of what delight looks like]. I take a cookie. I don’t remember which kind I picked. But I remember that he’s wearing a sweater. I remember that I barely know him but I know he loves us.
Thus endeth my memories of Grandpa Mark. If I was a couple of years younger, I wouldn’t have any. So I am grateful for it, grateful for that vision of his smiling face.
Still, I wish I had more memories of him, or knew more stories of what he was like, something I intend to rectify moving into this new year. Not just him, though. My family didn’t spend a lot of time talking about those who had died with us kids, though I do remember hearing them talk about people we’d never met. How could we have contextualized unknown names and faces when our worlds weren’t any larger than our immediate families with their smiling faces and warm laps we felt free to climb up on?
A large part of this ancestor work for me comes from wishing I had asked my grandparents and great-grandma about their parents and grandparents when they were still alive. But I didn’t. What I can do is to try to collect what stories can be found for my nieces and nephew. After all, names and dates don’t tell you about who they were. And having more personal context helps you connect to those you did not know.

What about you? Do you know who your parents’ parents were? Or their parents? Why not start off the new year by honoring the loved ones who are no longer with you? Remember them. Pick a memory of those you lost, of your grandparents and your great-grandparents, maybe siblings and parents if you have lost them. Write out the memory of them for the children that will come after you who never knew them or might not remember that they once did.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

On Winter Mornings

Outside our apartment, sparrows gather on barren branches, puffing their chests out and singing the cold away. Squirrels hunt for hidden caches of nuts, wishing they could remember where they’d been carefully tucked away. In the grey light of early morning, the stray cats slink into basements seeking warmer berth, leaving tracks in the fresh snow to greet us.
Upon waking, we rise and brew coffee to drink and coffee to share, slipping feet into furry shoes and grabbing the shawls that lay strewn aside chairs in wait. We fill the feeder outside with seeds for the birds and strew nuts about the yard for the skittering squirrels. We leave a bowl of kibble at the back of the house for the cats with no family to take them in. I don’t believe in not feeding the wildlife. We are all animal kin and we are living where their forests used to be.
Each morning we are grateful for the breath that hangs in smoky clouds against the cold. It means we are alive. We are grateful for the layers that warm us and the walls that shelter us.
I set a cup of coffee on the table for my Grandpa Dick’s spirit. When I was a child, he was the only one I knew who drank it. The smell of the bean still reminds me of him, even though he drank instant. My Grandpa remembered when they didn’t have coffee because of rationing and it reminds me to be grateful for the plenty we have daily.
I light candles for my ancestors, for those who struggled against cold and hunger and sickness… so that I might be here, in my heated home, wrapped in woolen shawls, my hands around a mug of steaming tea. I think of those loved by my family who were unknown to me, my Great-Grandpa Harold and my Grandma Ruth. I wonder about my Great-Grandma Margaret, who died when her daughter was eight. I think of my Great-Grandparents Royal and Hattie.
In the waking light, in my home with my family, I cannot help but remember those I loved who are no longer with me: my Great-Grandma Elsie, my Grandma Donna and Grandpa Dick. They were all parents to me. My Grandpa Mark exists only as a single memory in my head, but I remember him, too. I love him for the father he was to mine. Every morning I remember Luna and Bella. And every day the grief is less and the memories happier.
On winter mornings, we sit in the silence, stretching out our hearts and thoughts. We have gratitude for our family and friends we feel waking in their own homes, tugging at the strings of the web that connects us all. Though we are not geographically close, we are never far away. The web we share blankets the earth and there is great comfort in that.

In the winter we light fires and candles and turn thermostats to fight away the cold. I hold our sacred web against the dark days and the gloom of the world. As morning brightens, and days lengthen, we feed our cats, shovel our sidewalk, and take a moment to enjoy a late morning cup of tea together, drinking in the stillness of the season.
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