Falling to earth could mean more than a few things to different souls. A peregrine falcon’s thoughts may be unknown, but they’re certainly well equipped for the event. And then there's little Bobby’s tumble off the bunkbed, which could be the stuff of nightmares. For the native American Haudenosaunee or Iroquois it represents how the first human, Sky Woman, arrived here on Turtle Island – earth.
Others may speak the words as a metaphor for a spiritual awakening in their lives. In the end, gravity assures that we all fall back to our life-giving planet and return the gift of life. This story is about recognizing the origin of gifts given freely.
Whether he was falling, flying, or simply dreaming was of no matter to him. There was no apprehension, just being. His senses were filled with colors, smells, sounds and brushing of hairs, from head to toe, on his skin. His senses were filled.
Slowly, a sensation of movement began forming. Without a point of reference, he couldn't determine his direction of travel. He began to wonder, as his body awakened, where had he been? Where was he headed? He struggled to process his sensory input, but only for a moment. He considered whether he had been moving at all. Perhaps, everything he perceived had moved past him. Memories?
In just a flicker of time his vision resolved. He became aware that he was surrounded, as if being coddled by a soft bed of blue-green grasses swaying in a gentle spring breeze. Only the grass wasn’t grass at all. Breathing deeply, as if he had been holding his breath for far too long, his lungs filled. A sweet smell, reminiscent of some place and time from the past, awakened all his senses.
The breeze was both near and far. He could feel the movement of the blue-green bed that swaddled his body. His arm and leg hairs were gently caressed by the grass-like bed. His long hair entwined and danced along with the swaying filaments of the cradle. In the distance, the breeze could be heard stronger, reminding him how its speed would increase when funneled through canyons and steep mountain passes.
Calm confusion was soon accompanied by a feeling of euphoria. He wept and slowly rose taking in more of the foreign surroundings. Using the back of his hands to clear tears, welled in the corners of his eyes, he took in more of his surroundings. He felt nearly weightless, as if somehow his body was transformed. He was stronger than he remembered being at any other time in his past. Gravity seemed to have changed. The act of standing felt as if it only required the decision and asked little of his physical strength.
The Sun’s rays met his head and shoulders as his eyes rose to a higher vantage point. Looking down upon the blue-green bed he realized his body made two shadows extending outward from his feet. He thought, I can’t recall a time when the sun alone cast more than one shadow from my outline. He raised his hands to shield his eyes from the bright light. Then, he realized, the two shadows were created by more than one bright light in the sky. With arms outstretched he measured the distance between the two suns. They were separated by about the width of four fingers, and they hung about the distance of two hand-lengths above the horizon.
Koocheet-cheet-cheet. The sound seemed to be coming from just beyond the grassy bed. It reminded him of the Pika he had heard so many times on the highest Sierra Nevada peaks. A bit more elaborate than the Pika he knew, but the sound was ever so soft and comforting. More sounds, like leaves rustling in the breeze, accompanied the koocheet from the same location. Then the grass began to move, yet in a way that left him confused. Like a continuous piece of spaghetti had been placed on the ground, with someone or something sucking it down in one continuous piece. It stopped and started again and again until enough had been consumed to reveal a shape.
It was the pink, buckteeth that he first noticed. Too small, it seemed for such a broad mouth and lips. Viscous pink drool hung from one corner of its mouth. It was aware of his presence and apparently undisturbed. A second one appeared. A bit more grass began to move. He could see it disappear up and under the critters pink stained teeth then stop briefly. He pinched a bit of vine between his fingers and raised it to his mouth. Just a nibble for taste followed by an explosion of fruity earthiness. Like strawberry, only sweeter and a hint of citrus. Like those clementine mandarin oranges. And then a slightly bitter, but subtle hint of coffee. Just one more taste and then he would wait to learn how his body responded to this potential food source. A gift?
The critters seemed to be delighted with his response as they cheet-cheeted while circling and nuzzling each other from head to tail, and finally disappearing into a vibrant, blue-green forest canopy.
Overhead, a flock of shiny silver and smooth-skinned, bird-like creatures circled, dove, and sang in unison. Their melodic, baritone song was both welcoming and euphoric. His heart and spirit raced just being in their presence. A few landed nearby, as they seemed to forage via gaping maws, then return to their melody. At once they took to the air again and in a tight formation circled directly overhead. He wondered, were they trying to communicate with him or where they simply curious? Suddenly, they moved together down the slope and toward a valley, nearly out of view, before circling again and again. They were headed to a lower elevation where he could see a river. Were they telling me to follow, he asked himself. Flowing water seemed a good destination as he licked the dried grass juice from he parched lips.
No words were exchanged with his furry koocheet or featherless friends and yet, somehow, he felt like he had just received gifts. Gifts of connection, relationship, knowledge, kindness, and of love. This is a place unlike any other he knew and he was alone. Or was he?
It’s not important whether this story or others like it are real or imagined. The stories may speak of birth and death being one, of re-birth, of love forged from the relationships between beings. It’s an understanding that we accepted at birth and it continued with mother’s breastmilk, filled with the microbes she passes on for her child’s health.
There are truths within each story. They become clearer in quiet, wordless moments that connect us to our living planet. We can again join in the wonder that some may call the great conversation, the great mystery, or logos. It doesn’t matter what we call it. What matters is that we recognize our planet as the original gift giver. We are part of this planet and we are in this great symbiotic dance as one.
Symbiotic relationships between organisms may be compulsory, but with which ones and how do those relationships play out? Are they simply bio-chemical reactions? Or, could they be more? Why is it that man's best friends, our pups, seem to have such an inseparable relationship with us? What brings us together?
Lichen tells us a story of one such symbiotic relationship that has continued for millions of years. It shows us how all life is inextricably intertwined in a fascinating and beautiful dance. It’s perhaps one the earliest examples of a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship between eukaryotes (You and I are Eukaryotes). Eukaryote cells contain a protected nucleus, and within its protective membrane our DNA can be found. Neither plant nor animal, lichen represents a relationship between a fungai and algae that is mutually beneficial to the extent that a new organism is created. Seemingly magical, different lichens are produced depending upon which partners begin dancing. The bond between these life forms is a powerful reminder of connection and reciprocity. Indeed, lichen blurs the lines between individual and community. Really, just like every other lifeform.
Each of us may have been born with an ability to connect to a lifeforce larger than ourselves. Though, for too many, these connections fade along with our childhood. That doesn’t have to happen. We‘re taught to give gratitude to church’s, religions, political parties, countries, economies, militaries, and corporations. Yet, try to imagine any of these things without a living planet, without a connection to our planet, without a dance partner. Where does our gratitude belong?
For those who recognize our connectedness, together we celebrate and share our gifts of relationship, gratitude, reciprocity, and love for all beings. We know that earth’s gifts were meant to be shared. We live with gratitude and find our ways to practice reciprocity, so that all life may flourish. We see a day when our planet will return to paradise, as it once was.
Many are beginning to understand that there are others like us who think and believe this way, but struggle to find their way to live out their beliefs. For those there is a conversation recognized in contemplative, wordless moments. The voice is ephemeral, almost like tendrils or formless roots meandering through our cortex. Like mycelium. We don’t struggle to hear the conversation. We struggle to remember it and to join it again and again. When we do join this wordless conversation our connections become very clear. The grateful, together, dance to make a much greater symbiotic organism.
I started the Seeding Reciprocity blog and Facebook group to generate exposure and create interest for "Lichen". Yet to be filed, Lichen will be the name of a future 501C3, non-profit organization. In addition to direct impact initiatives, Lichen activities will focus on building personal connections, via worldview science and indigenous wisdom, with our living planet.
I'm seeking a few select board members and donors. If you'd like to learn more, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Links to Inspiration
(These are non-sponsored, free links for which we do not receive income)
Follow the Lichen blog. (future 501C3) (Seeding Reciprocity)
Braiding Sweetgrass (Best Seller, book, Author: Robin Wall Kimmerer)
I Contain Multitudes (Best seller, book, Author: Ed Yong)
Fantastic Fungi (Streaming movie, Director: Louie Schwartzberg)
Down to Earth (Streaming series with Zach Efron)
Kiss the Ground (Streaming movie, Directors: Rebecca Harrell Tickell, Josh Tickell)