“I used to teach just the way I was taught, but now I let someone else do all the work for me. If plants are our oldest teachers, why not let them teach?”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, from Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants 


In a grove
sitting and leaning against the mother spruce tree
right in front of me is a smaller tree
and behind that tree is another tree
I am completely protected
even though there is a walking path nearby
I now feel I can lay down
curl up around her
knowing this has been a spot for others to curl up under
to sleep and dream
its smells so good here
laying on the fallen spruce needles
hmmmm hmmmm hmmmm

In my curled state
I plant myself under the ground right near her
I feel like a seed
a seed from the pine cone
burrowing in under its mother tree branches

grateful for the protection
to be resting here

aware of my fetal position
protecting my internal organs
they are protected
now I can leave this nested seed
burrowed below the mother tree
I slide down one of her roots
her roots guiding me
taking me in some direction
following         trusting

This poetic writing comes from Barbara’s place-based trance journey undertaken recently in our Calgary neighbourhood of Bridgeland as part of our directive to the students in the Trance-based Inquiry and Learning course at Studio M*. Inspired by the Gestare Art Collective’s 2013-14 full moon practice of “Tree Encounters” where they befriended a tree and developed a relationship over the span of a year, we invited the students to likewise connect with a local tree, one that ‘calls’ to them, and engage a co-inquiry and learning relationship with it.

The focus of this blog is to explore the relationship between trance [1], inquiry, learning, tree teachings, aesthetics and art. As most Indigenous peoples have long known, trees are our grandparents who share ancient wisdom gained through many years of life experience that includes surviving hardships as a community. As Skokomish elder Bruce Miller (subiyah) shares, “their roots hold us all together.” Western Science has recently confirmed what most Indigenous Traditional Science already knew, that is, the generosity of tree communities and their reciprocal relationship with each other via the ability of the mother trees to communicate and give through root systems to/with others. Trees are a true teacher of the gift economy that we at Studio M* are in the process of living into as artists, researchers, teachers. As teaching about the gift economy is crucial, at times we feel very challenged and inadequate. Turning to our great ancestors, the trees, has been an aid to this project.

As we introduce others to trance as part of a creative art practice in a precarious political, ecological, economically and historically troubled time, trees have intuitively, if not magically, emerged as a symbolic archetype and real relationship that seems to have a positive impact on the people we share this with. It is poignantly real in that we are in a time of diminishing caring attention. Humans are more and more distracted, overwhelmed, addicting and isolating in their lives. Where can people turn to for ongoing deep healing levels of care, restoration and transformation?

To return to a larger “field of care” through connection with the natural environment we begin to enter the possibility of what Bracha Ettinger names communicaring. It is a notion of rootedness in all-relations, a kind of pre-communication network. This communicaring mirrors our own experience of entering a connective / matrixial aesthetic through building personal relationships with nature and specifically trees. How we have expanded beyond an ecological practice into an aesthetic practice comes through the work of entering the arational space of trance and documentation, followed by an art making process of elaboration of the trance experience. It seems that the process of communicaring is opened and can be deepened through the emergent relationship between trance, trees and art.

All of these experiences of late have certainly added a lot of color and texture, knowns and unknowns, heavy feelings and joy—there is something calling us as artists today that is making this whole way of imagining art and the role of the artist complex—and, then more complex. I guess we are learning that we don’t have to do all this alone—thank you trees!

I lay back down on the hillside
tree roots call to me
draw me up the hill
gathering me
all the way up to the seed
the seed that’s awaiting
under the mother spruce tree

I pass through the resting seed
rise up to the earth surface
lying on the spruce needles
she’s right behind me
behind my shoulders and head
I am back in present time
back in the warmth of the sun
hearing the magpie
seeing it fly over the tree
seeing the wind move the boughs
thank you mother tree
thank you
oh thank you

End Note

  1. “In this state of maximum bi-hemispheric arousal, people feel weightless, or outside of their bodies, or ‘oceanic.’ You feel ‘one with the universe’ or ‘one with the community,’ totally without any personal self. Extreme experiences may be rare, but ‘light trance’ is common. Victor Turner called this state of unboundedness ‘spontaneous communitas.’ This kind of feeling occurs during trance, ritualizing, and meditating…”. (Excerpt from Richard Schechner, 2002, “Performance Studies: An Introduction” p. 167)

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