Friday, October 27, 2017


Secret Life of Trees, chapbook by Martha Slavin

Though I love trees, I was somewhat skeptical when at a writers' retreat recently in Marin County, we were invited to go forest bathing. I'd first heard of the expression last summer from one of our nieces who lives in a large city and wanted to go tree bathing to reconnect with the natural world. Forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku became a Japanese practice in the 1980s when Japan included the practice in a public health program. The Japanese have studied the effects of a walk in the woods and the restorative value of being out in nature. We all know how soothing being in nature can be, but somehow in our busy, concrete-laden world, we sometimes forget to walk on the grass and take a deep breath.

I'm intrigued by the idea that trees talk to each other. I am not someone who has sought spiritual or mystical relationships with trees, but I am thrilled by the science behind how trees communicate with each other.  Research by Suzanne Simard at Yale shows that trees interact with the fungi in the ground and network with other trees in the neighborhood by exchanging nutrients and information about the family of trees around them. There are even trees called Mother trees, the oldest tree of a species who has the knowledge of the community of trees within its area.

I didn't expect much as we group of writers stood together at the top of a hill ready to experience forest bathing and write about it. We stepped on the well-worn path leading into a small wooded area. I find it hard to be mindful when I am not alone and conscious of others around me; but eventually, I settled down and noticed the forest. I saw a tunnel formed by the trees' branches bent low over the path to create a shelter. My eyes caught minute strands of spider webs connecting one tree to another. I only saw them because a slight breeze brought them to my attention as they floated in the air. I followed the fine lines from one tree to the next. Tiny spiders scurried along the lines to wrap up even smaller insects trapped in the webs. Birds, disturbed by our presence, chirped and flew from one perch to another. They wrestle pine nuts from the cones attached to the branches and trunks of Bishop pines along the trail. Flies or native bees swirled around me as I walked near them. Agitated, they darted from one tree to the next and buzzed around my head.

When I returned to the path's beginning, the ground spongy beneath my shoes, I spotted a circle of young pines and sat inside the circle with my back against one pine. I pulled out my journal and wrote the word "connections" while a breeze moved through the tops of the trees. I felt the tree shudder from the top all the way down to the roots of the tree, the vibrations thrumming through my back. I was surprised. I have never felt a tree move this way. I have never been so close to the heart of a tree.

Eco-printing of tree leaves

Read more about the communication between trees:

Suzanne Simard, Yale

Read more about Tree Bathing:

Tree Bathing  QUARTZ

Friday, October 20, 2017


Along the road
small wonders.

Canadian geese saunter
across six lanes,
heads high.
No one honks.

A hawk
perched on a light post
above the freeway,
head turning back and forth.
Has he mistaken us for rabbits?

on the September highway:
spilling red.
A cat, raccoon, opossum,
two skunks, a deer,
red splatters of fur.
A splash of seagull feathers
against a fence.
torn open,
floating in the wind.
Strewn shirt, a pair of pants
in the gutter.
Who has lost their clothing?

loaded in the open back
of a pick-up truck.
Husks waving in time
to Mumford & Sons
on the radio.

Bridges across the bay,
first one,
then another.

A long drive to a beautiful place.

Friday, October 13, 2017


photos by Bill Slavin

What are you doing to cope with the large amount of stress created 
by the news of the last few weeks?

Each morning turning on the news brings up my stress levels. We are lucky so far, we are safe, but we know how in an instant life can change. Our backyard is our sanctuary where we can find some peace each day.

We planted redwoods as four-foot sticks in 1983 that now tower above us two or three times the height of our two-story house. We've had to cut down two of them. The arborist assured us that the trunks would die. We asked a tree sculptor to carve with a chainsaw a series of bears' heads into the trunks. One of the trunks died, but the other has continued to send out sprouts at the top and the sides of the trunk. We trim the sprouts so that the tree looks like it has a flat-top haircut. The bears' heads peek out from the ever-growing branches. Squirrels love to chew on the bears' paws, claws and foreheads. They keep their sharp teeth from growing too long that way. Blue jays hide food in the cavities around the bears' heads. The squirrels eagerly wait and take the food and bury it elsewhere.

This summer we noticed that the living tree is now growing inside the cavity where the bears' heads are carved out. The new growth is covering up the bears. Between the squirrels gnawing and the new growth of the tree, the bears will one day disappear. Nature, given a chance, takes back what we disturb. A small event in our backyard, but so true in the last few weeks across the country.

This is the same bear as the bear in the photo at the top.

Friday, October 6, 2017


"It's Why It Hurts," a stream of consciousness essay by Tomas Riviera, jumps from an acute awareness of the surroundings of the narrator, a young boy of Mexican descent, to flashbacks of conversations and experiences the boy has had while going to school. The essay is part of the curriculum of the Berkeley middle school where I volunteer as a Writer Coach. It is a difficult essay to read and a challenge for the students.

The essay shows us the growing realization of the narrator about the embedded prejudices in his school. He thinks about the bullies who picked on him, his fights with them, and his ultimate expulsion that day. We hear through his thoughts that his teachers and principal don't think of him as "one of our kids," and therefore he can be easily separated from the school. As he tries to understand what has happened to him, he walks through the gates of a cemetery. He likes the property because it is quiet and green. As he nears the exit gate, he looks up and sees the sign that says, "Don't Forget Me."

The image of the sign resonated with me. The message made me think of the horrific events in the last few weeks, natural and man-made. How many lives lost or disrupted, especially due to senseless gunfire. I want to say, "Don't forget all the people who have lost their lives, whose names are broadcast on the news because they have died of gunshot wounds, people like Trayvon Martin, or the police in Dallas, or those who lost their lives in Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas and more. They all need to be remembered, one by one."

They all cry out, "Don't Forget Me," and then they ask, "What are you going to do about it? Prayers and thoughts are not enough. We need your collective strength to be the change that we all need. Make that our legacy."

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.