Aspen Ways of Knowing

From the time I was a small child, one of the guiding questions of my life has been “How do other beings know, understand, and perceive the world?” In particular, I have been fascinated by trying to understand how beings of non-human species feel and know, and what these perceptions and ways of knowing and being can teach others.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at about 7200 feet elevation, with the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains, overlooking the city. The mountains are a primary habitat for the Quaking Aspen forest–or, as I call them, the Aspen People.

The quaking aspen are best known for their brilliant yellow-gold foliage in the autumn; however, I adore being among them at any time of year. Their energy, consciousness, and wisdom nourishes me deeply.

Over the last year, the aspen have taken me into a kind of apprenticeship, and have been training me in their wisdom, their ways of knowing, their perspective. I have devoted time on a regular basis to feeling their energy, listening to them, understanding more and more deeply the role they play and the energy that they hold on our planet.

When I listen to the aspen and other non-human beings, I open all of my internal senses, my body, my energy field, my intuitive knowing. I receive communication from other species as a multi-sensory and multi-dimensional gestalt of knowing and understanding that often includes vision, perception and sensing of energy, imagery, and sometimes auditory communication. Frequently, I receive in a kind of somatic “blast”; where I feel energy and information coming in…I’ve trained myself to become quiet, still, and open, setting aside my human perceptions, thoughts, and ways of knowing, in service to opening to and listening to intelligence, awareness, and perspectives often vastly different from my own.

I have come to understand the Aspen People as one of the great consciousnesses of the Earth, and as I have opened to them, their teachings and transmissions of energy and wisdom have astonished me, humbled me, and filled me with gratitude.

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is the most widely distributed tree in North America, ranging from Canada to central Mexico.

Aspen biology is, in itself, a teaching about community and interdependence. Stands/groves of quaking aspen are called “clones” because they are not a collection of individual trees, rather, they are one organism, with many shoots sprouting from its long lateral roots. Each “tree” is genetically identical, arising from and sharing the same root system, in aggregate called a “clone.” Aspen clones can be less than an acre and up to 100 acres in size. There can be one clone in an aspen grove or there can be many.

The largest and oldest known aspen clone is the “Pando” clone on the Fishlake National Forest in southern Utah. Also known as the “Trembling Giant,” it is over 100 acres in size and weighs more than fourteen million pounds–more than forty times the weight of the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale. Pando has been aged at 80,000 years, although 5-10,000-year-old clones are more common. Considering the age, longevity, and perspective of even these “younger” clones, compared to a human lifespan, completely reorients my human perception of time.

September, 2019

I am in the mountains on a solo hike, on a trail that I know best as a cross country ski trail. As I walk among the aspen, opening all of my internal and external senses in a kind of walking meditation, I sense a pulsing, low, humming…a vibration that I “hear” and feel with my entire body, though it is not audible to my ears.

It is similar to the vibration that I sometimes feel in the ocean when I am with the whales…or like the low-frequency sounds that elephants use to communicate with each other across vast distances. The pulsing energy moves in my cells, through the boundaries of my skin, and my whole body feels as though it is expanding in every direction into the space around me in the forest.

I understand that I am being given an invitation to breathe with them, to feel their respiration, to sense their energy exchange with sun, wind, and sky (aspen photosynthesize through their bark as well as their leaves) and to glimpse their vast awareness of time, space, distance.

I realize that if I try to allow my body to match their rhythm, slowing my breath down as much as possible, I’ll be here for several hours, pulsing in and out with each wave. I also realize that I can’t do that…or I’ll be spending the night unprepared on the mountain.

The moment this thought moves through me, I feel the aspen respond. Their rhythm speeds up, shifts, just for a short time–just enough so that I can feel it in my human body. They communicate this directly to me–working with my energy field–so that I can more deeply understand and resonate with their frequency.

I stop, open, and allow my energy body to continue to expand. My legs grow long, extending into the earth, until they meet the aspen root, a long, horizontal root from which the shoots of the clone arise. I allow my body to plug in, to join with the energy of this root system, to connect with its life force, its intelligence. I feel the aspens’ vast understanding of long stretches of time…and my limited human perspective in my small body, individual awareness, and short life span.

I become aware that I am in contact with…literally, standing in/above/below/among, one of the greatest, wisest, oldest consciousnesses of the planet. Whether old clones or young in our human conception of time, these exquisitely sensitive and aware beings are ancient elders who carry immense wisdom, vision, and perspective. I can barely touch what the aspen know and hold. I bow my head in humility and in gratitude for the presence of these great beings.

As I open to this awareness, I feel again the low hum…the vibration…so similar to what I feel with the whales. I look up, and in the fissure of the bark of an older stem/tree, there is the image of a breaching whale.

No wonder I feel the whales here, I realize. The aspen and the whales know each other…land and sea…and they swim in the same rivers of vast cosmic wisdom.

Bark… skin… breath… life… joy… wisdom… grace…

I continue along the trail, and come into a grove of Douglas fir, also common in these mountains. As I enter their shade, I immediately sense that this is a “Faery Grove”–a place where the nature spirits gather and flourish. I feel their energy, hearing a faint sound that I sometimes hear when in their presence…a bit like crystalline chimes or bells…and feel their joy. It makes me giggle out loud. I can feel how the whole mountain is filled with the magic and grace of the devas, the nature spirits, the faeries…tending the plants, the trees, the streams.

The aspen all over the western United States are struggling…for many reasons…almost all of them related to climate change/global warming and human interference and forest disruption. (Read more here: What’s Killing the Aspen?) I think of this as I walk among them, feeling the expansiveness of their perspective. As I walk, I hold the questions that so many of us are holding in these times: How do I show up for the world as it is, as it seems, right now? How do I show up for the melting of the Arctic, the burning of the Amazon, for the children separated from their families, living in cages, traumatized by the government of my country at the border of the state I live in; for the poisoned waters, the species dying daily, beings of all species all over our beloved planet who are suffering in countless ways…

I walk with my daily prayer in my heart: “Show me how best I can serve; help me to live each moment in compassion, kindness, and joy; teach me to love purely, boundlessly, as the great teachers of all species love…” And I wonder, in my small, limited human perspective, does it matter? Does it have an impact? Can it ever be enough?

The aspens sing me their answer, in the vibration of their trunks and leaves, in the flow of the ancient wisdom of their roots: “Sing the song that is yours to sing. All beings must sing their own song. From the singing of our songs, a new world is birthed into form.”

The song that is mine to sing is this listening to the aspen, the whales, the dragonflies, the cats, the bees, and helping others of my species to hear their wisdom, too. For others, it may be loving a child, caring for an old dog, making a home beautiful, writing a poem, making a meal, nursing the sick, becoming an activist, running for public office.

The aspens, in singing their song, inspire my own. Each of us has a song to sing..and the time is now…sing we must. It doesn’t matter if the song is small or large, loud or soft, or even if we are particularly good singers. What matters is that we sing…that we send our songs, our devotion, our love into our world, as best we can, every day, with the full commitment of our hearts.

November, 2019

I have come into the mountains to listen to the forest, and to offer my prayers. This time, my heart is heavy with the knowledge that the clear cutting and burning in these mountains has begun again, a massive and misguided policy that is marketed to the public as “forest fire prevention.” In reality, it is anything but.

I walk among the aspen, feeling the energy of the burns, the forest struggling, the animals imperilled, the ecosystem once again fractured by short-sighted human actions that deny the innate wisdom of the earth and all she holds.

As I walk, I am stopped again by the Aspen People with a wave of understanding and wisdom. Their message is clear, straightforward: Hold the vision. See the burns stopped, the machinery gone. See the forest healthy and whole.

I pause and see and feel these images as best as I can: a healthy forest, no burning, no bulldozers, a strong and vibrant ecosystem in balance.

It is almost dusk, the aspens surround me, and the light is overwhelmingly beautiful. I am stunned by their energy, their presence, their wisdom and awareness. I feel them taking my prayers, my small offering, and sending it through their whole being, their roots, energized with their lifeforce, out and out through all of the mountains.

I am aware of a great, powerful being who I understand to be the Deva (protecting spirit) of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Her energy feels like a combination of the goddesses Durga, Kali, Quan Yin, Tara, all together—fierce protective power and boundless compassion. I see her holding the forest, the mountains. She holds a huge sword of light, which I sense is the light of grace, compassion, and protection.

I see an envelope of protection and healing energy come around the mountains, in a moon-wise spiral. Over and over, spiraling, enveloping, protecting. Then I see the figure 8, infinity and healing, vertically and horizontally, through all of the mountains.

Birds, squirrels, trees, sunset; the forest quiet, holy.

I am invited to take a small aspen branch and a stone and bring them for my home altar. When I return home, I include a statue of Kuan Yin, and a malachite crystal for carrying the energy outward. My intention for the altar and the energy it holds is: The forest is safe, the forest is healthy, the forest is whole. I use Reiki to charge the altar with the intention that it hold and carry these prayers and intentions in an ongoing way, outside the boundaries of time and space.

December, 2019

I make my pilgrimage to the mountains, now blanketed with snow. I am hiking with my snowshoes, and the forest is silent, rich with the quiet of deep winter. The aspen people, the firs and the ravens greet me, and I sink into their deep winter embrace.

The aspen begin communicating to me right away as I walk among them, showing me that the energetic healing for the areas that have been cut/burned/destroyed began immediately, and is ongoing. The healthy parts of the forest begin the repair work for the damaged parts instantly, both energetically and physically, sending energy to the areas of the forest that have been so unconsciously harmed and destroyed. The ravens carry and circulate the healing energy with incredible precision; the trees immediately send energy, nutrients, life-force to the destruction. The healing is happening even in the burning and cutting. I kneel on the earth in the snow, in gratitude. There is so much I don’t understand, so much I can’t see and know from my human vantage point. The perspective of the forest, and the aspen in particular, is vast, timeless, and constantly awake.

The aspen show me that they are aware of the burning, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest..the fires in Australia…the ongoing struggles of so many regions and ecosystems of our planet. They are aware, and they are in connection. They feel and sense the entire planet…not just their local ecosystem. There is also a partnership in sharing regenerative, healing energy with these distant ecosystems and expressions of life.

January, 2020

I come again to the ski trail, this time with my cross-country skis. There is a palpable sense in the forest, a shimmering, sparkling energy in the deep winter quiet. I feel so at home as I join my aspen friends on this winter afternoon. As I ski, I feel their presence, their being-ness, their understanding. They speak to me about joy. I can feel their awareness of me, a small, rapidly moving creature, with such a limited life span and experience compared to theirs.

They give me a feeling…a sense…which my mind/body translates as: “Joy-flying .” They show me that they send their energy through their roots, their stems, their leaves, their energy body, as a brilliant shower of joy, sparkling, radiating far beyond their physical forms…flying the joy, flying their intelligence, their communication, their understanding, into, above, around, through the Earth.

And then this message comes, clearly, with precise wording, in my language:

“We Dream the Forest Alive. We Breathe the Planet Awake”.

I understand that they are engaged in a constant broadcasting of an immense vibration of healing, emanating grace, peace, and wholeness. As I write, I recognize that my words can only point to, or approximate, the vastness of the wisdom and understandings that the aspen share. Yet, I also understand that, for me, and perhaps for my fellow humans, these distillations of the essence of their communications may be helpful in giving us a glimpse of their ways of knowing, perceiving, understanding, and Be-ing.

As I attune with the energy of the Aspen People, I feel their senses and wisdom permeating my awareness, my cells, and my consciousness. As I receive their transmission through the words: “We Dream the Forest Alive. We Breathe the Planet Awake” I consider the possibility that this dreaming, breathing, awakening may be something that our species, too, can share. Can we open into our collective consciousness, beyond our individual perspectives, and dream the forests alive, healthy, flourishing, vibrant? Can we breathe our planet awake, healthy, and whole?

About the Author

Nancy Windheart is an internationally recognized animal communicator and interspecies communication teacher. She teaches courses and training programs in interspecies communication for both lay people and those who wish to practice professionally, and provides animal communication consultations, intuitive and energy healing sessions, and professional mentoring for clients worldwide. She is also a Reiki Master-Teacher and a certified Yoga teacher. Nancy’s work has been featured in television, radio, magazine, and online media, and she has written for several digital and print publications. Her essay, “Guru Cat”, is included in The Karma of Cats: Spiritual Wisdom from Our Feline Friends (ed. Diana Ventimiglia, Sounds True Publishing, 2019.). She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her animal family of dogs, cats, and chickens.

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