“Sometimes … as nature-oriented people, we focus only on the fuzzy and happy parts of nature: blooming edible flowers, fuzzy soft rabbits, cute animals, soft mats of green moss, and shy deer. But nature isn’t just about things that are comfortable to us and that bring us joy and peace–nature is also about survival of the fittest, about defenses and predators, about huge storms, floods, and destruction. I think it’s important that we learn about all aspects of nature, even those that don’t always make us comfortable.”
The article I’ve quoted, from The Druid’s Garden, goes on to say that without connecting to the many aspects of Nature, we are in danger of misunderstanding her, of not seeing the whole, and not having a whole relationship with her.
This is where my query begins for surely Nature has its dark side, just as we humans do, and Humans tend to focus on the comfortable, happy parts of being human, and look away from the darkness in ourselves or of humanity. And, sometimes, the darkness intrudes like an unwelcome guest, an invasion, and we are forced to be with it, as edgy as it may be.
One of those edges includes the plants and beings we encounter when we’re in Nature. I’ll start with a plant most of us are familiar with named Poison Ivy, and then get to the heart of this writing, which is really the edge for me.
In June of 1966, a DC comic character made her debut. Her name was Poison Ivy. She uses plant toxins and mind-controlling pheromones for her activism, usually aimed at protecting endangered species and the natural environment from the careless actions of humans.
She was first identified as a villain, later as an antiheroine, which feels appropriate in this discussion about protectors of the forest. Everything about this plant may seem evil, especially if you’ve wandered into a patch, or put your hands on a tree that once had a poison ivy vine climbing up it to reach the light, and soon after found yourself with a blistering, itchy rash, as a result of that personal connection.
Even more personal, the Urushiol oil that that creates rashes on Humans does not affect the other beings of the forest, only Humans. In fact, the plant may provide shelter and food to small animals. Even white-tailed deer, bear and muskrats eat the berries, leaves and stems with no ill effects. In its defense, Poison Ivy possesses some medicinal properties. For example, it has been used to treat various skin disorders, paralysis, and even arthritis. And, by the way, feel free to add Poison Oak and Poison Sumac to this list of forest guardians.
When obliged to approach it or work in its vicinity, the Cherokee strove to conciliate it by addressing it as ‘My friend’ (hí gĭnalĭi).”
Poison Ivy, the plant, was once known as the guardian of the forest, or Sister Ivy. We stay away from it, which means we stay away from trees or stepping off trail. We stay on the designated path for Humans, not getting too close to Nature, also our friend. Poison Ivy teaches us awareness, defense, and the power of her potency as climate change impacts carbon dioxide levels. As CO2 levels rise, so does she.
This brings me to the heart of this writing: not a plant, a member of the arachnid family: Ticks. If Poison Ivy was the guardian of the forest, she has a distant, hyper-vigilant cousin in the ticks.
The main difference between Poison Ivy and a Tick is that Humans have to wander into the plant or touch the plant to be affected, while ticks, well, they go to great lengths to find you.
As I research ‘ticks as the new guardians of the forest’ or ‘ticks and spirituality’, I come up with a lot of interesting, albeit not relevant to my search, articles about ticks – tick-borne diseases, how to repel them, what to do if bitten, how to remove them or how not to be bitten, and the dangers of forest fragmentation (smaller areas/higher number of ticks). Then, there’s the totem or spirit ‘animal’ sites that suggest they teach us to wait patiently and then seize opportunity when it presents itself, or our energy is being sucked dry by someone or something.
None of this is what I’m seeking. All of it has merit.
For example, I found it interesting that Ecologists monitor tick populations to gain a better understanding of the health of particular ecosystems. An increase in tick populations may indicate a decrease in the predators of small reptiles and mammals, such as snakes and owls, who eat mice, on which ticks feed. A warning perhaps that another species is endangered? It is, after all, the white-footed mouse who is a primary reservoir of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, which is how the ticks carry Lyme Disease to humans. Everything is connected. In contrast, a low tick population (oh, please, can we?) indicates that the predator population may have increased substantially.
Another fact that has me wondering: More than 34,000 people in the United States have tested positive for alpha-gal syndrome, extreme allergic reaction to meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, even some dairy products, based on a 2021 paper. This particular allergy is transmitted by the Lone Star tick. It raises questions about human immune systems and their evolution, as well as the increase in the number of ticks and the diseases they carry. It also raises questions about the meat 'processing' industry, the insane amount of water it uses to produce cattle as food, and the dire consequences to our environment. The perfect storm.
So, until genome treatment is readily available to create gene disruption in our arachnid friends, I share all this, wanting to know my enemy; your enemy; our enemy. Unlike the Cherokee and Poison Ivy, I’ve yet to call ticks my friends. In fact, they are the reason that I’m struggling with my own connection with Nature. They are no different than this pandemic that’s been at the heart of humanity for the last two + years. They are more than an inconvenience. They are a threat to life as we choose to live it.
How do I choose to live life? My heart wants to run barefoot through a meadow, lay down in a field and gaze at the clouds for hours. At the same time, my head tells me that I’ll be a feast for ticks if I even attempt it. So, I don’t.
How do I deepen my connection with Nature despite this edge?
I found a useful article at www.mindfood.com. It was a reminder that what we search for is usual right in our back yards, figuratively, if not literally. As a certified forest therapy guide, it was a good reminder about being present, slowing down and noticing, not letting down my guard or my vigilance; simply being with Nature, especially in places where I cannot be ‘in’ it. There’s an expression that goes something like this, “The shoemaker’s children have no shoes.” Forest Therapy guides need to care for themselves, along with leading walks to connect others to Nature.
The article offers 5 ways to create connection. For me, it was a springboard for deepening of my connection, rather than the fracture I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve taken great liberty with the 5 ways and adapted the text to serve my guiding language. Still, I want to acknowledge the article for the inspiration:
Our familial ancestors are not the only energy we can sense. When we are in Nature, we can sense the energy of all who came before us.
We must acknowledge that our present experience is only possible because of the path that history took to arrive at this moment, yes? Who stood here long ago, and what did they see, what did they talk about? How did they live? What were their joys and sorrows? What challenges did they face?
And, then there’s the future, yet to be written. Who, in a hundred or more years, will ask the same questions of our time; of us, standing on this exact spot?
We, in the present, have the opportunity to create that energy that will remain for future generations. How will you share your energy here today?
Just the idea of these invitations takes me into my imaginal senses. I don’t know if it eliminates the edginess of self-care in Nature and I don’t think it should. We must always be mindful of our safety; we, who left our home in Nature so long ago, and can only return as visitors in our present shape and mind.
What I believe it does is create that deeper connection without having to throw our arms around a tree or lay in a meadow. Not an ‘either or’ and perhaps a ‘both and’, it invites our imaginal sense to engage with the world around us and fills us with astonishment and wonder about who we are in this alchemy and algorithm of life on Earth. We are part of Nature, contrary to what human exceptionalism would have us believe. We are part of Nature, along with the ticks, and the Poison Ivy. Along with the elephants, and snakes and raptors. And the billions of micro-organisms in a teaspoon of soil or dirt.
With love and light,
 She was created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff.
 James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee