A neighbour buttonholed me to speak out about my big tree.
My beloved Scots Pine is unpopular locally because the tree has grown far beyond my best expectations. I suppose I might have guessed it would grow into a giant, as it is also known as the European redwood, which indicates the tree is related to the largest and tallest trees in the world.
My neighbour suggested my big tree is difficult to “keep up with” and I guess she means all the cones that fall, plus the needles & catkins that shed themselves all over the place, to clog up gutters. (My tree is evergreen, so it doesn’t drop leaves… though I admit it drops needle-bits all year long. On the positive side, when the light dances through those blue needles, it’s a joyous sight to behold, plus the tree doesn’t cast much shade). But I suppose the neighbour is right, I suppose I must “do something” about it and I suppose I must confront the rather gruesome truth that what was meant by “doing something” means felling and logging my tree. I guess there’ll be no more visiting woodpeckers, no more kinglets (goldcrests visit each year I have a bumper harvest of cones) and no more dove nests or magpie lookout-posts. Then my neighbour said a curious line, perhaps to add seriousness & urgency to the request: “Your tree is increasingly affecting our way of life...”
A tree encroaches and intrudes. It overhangs and it trespasses. A tree threatens and damages. A tree disturbs and overshadows. A tree is part of nature. Nature tramples all over our plans. Nature dominates. Nature destroys.
Our neighbour also spoke of how life had been a disaster these recent months, with many difficulties, headaches and worries. The list of evils, complications and tribulations had a predominant theme: they were natural calamities, they were all sufferings caused by the inherently precarious natural state of all living things. The big tree was the last of my neighbour’s worries … but at least it was a problem that could be solved effectively & decisively by bringing in a team with a chainsaw and stump grinder. But, I silently mused, other natural challenges, such as difficult relationships, ongoing illnesses, troubling afflictions, and the organic processes of aging, cannot be divided into convenient chunks and eliminated by a modern sorcerer who, perhaps, owns a van and a wood chipper.
Today I looked at my big tree. And I figured-out what magic was all about: magic is about trying to control nature. I bet if they had the power, my neighbours would wish they could just make the tree vanish. Yes, yes, magic is about secret power: power over love (or wealth) or power to deceive, or power to change, or power to take something that’s not rightfully ours. But if you really think about it, you’ll see that magic is just a convenient way to control & manage nature. Do you need to heal yourself? Use magic. Do you need to protect yourself from disease? Use magic. Do you need protection against danger? Use magic. Do you need to guarantee productivity or success? Use magic. Do you need to cause damage to a more powerful enemy? Use magic. Do you need to reveal hidden information? Use magic. Do you need to induce transformation? Use magic.
My neighbour is one of those people who does not hate nature, but is simply annoyed at the way nature intrudes into the order they have worked hard to achieve. Nature has a habit of emptying itself into a well-managed and meticulously arranged existence. In other words, my neighbour hates the way nature drops needles all over a neat life. You’ve seen and heard the same thing during the pandemic: “I wanted to travel, I wanted to get wed, I wanted to start a new career… and this Covid thing got in the way and now all my plans are scuppered.”
There are plenty of folks who are unhappy about the power of nature and the way it can thwart, undermine, and ruin dreams, plans and endeavours. Perhaps it is instinctive for humans to hate the unknown and that is why they want to control and manage nature. But humans (I am tempted to say modern humans, but that would be just a guess) have a limited ability to control nature. Just watch the news to see I am right: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, births, deaths, illness and deviant behaviours are all “natural things” that happen every day but it’s in our character to blame somebody for them. Our time might be better spent trying to think up creative ways to respond to and manage these natural occurrences (we call them threats to our survival, are they?) or at least think up ways to mitigate the harmful effects of nature. Some “solutions to nature” are about learning to adapt. Mostly, the way to deal with nature is through resilience, adjustment and tailoring (oneself) to fit the environment in which one finds oneself. If you dislike floods, do not live near a river. If you have many earthquakes in your country, live in a paper house. If you want to live longer, try healthy exercise and good diets. If you want to avoid disease, stop smoking, etc.
There are no magic cures for nature. Nature cannot be controlled by man. It cannot be controlled by science and it cannot be controlled by magic. Science has caused more problems than it has solved (although I suppose this is a controversial proposition). But what I’m implying here is that magic can’t work (so maybe science can’t work either) against the power of nature. Work with nature if you want your science and/or magic to be successful.
The solution to the limitations of magic: work with nature
1: magic of sharing
Humans are a social species, so we share our thoughts, anxieties, feelings, and experiences with others through communication. This is a type of powerful and healing magic that only we (as a species) can do! Use the magic of sharing.
2: magic of social connection
Successful social connection requires the ability to share positive and negative emotions (so it’s okay for my neighbour to vent about the big tree, for example). Though, if we surround ourselves with people who only agree with us, it will be counterproductive to the healing magic of social connection. So make sure you don’t eliminate all points of view and maintain at least some divergent positions to counterbalance your own (perhaps unconscious) propensities or biases. Keep an open mind to alternative world views!
3: magic of verbalisation
Verbalising anxieties helps diminish the intensity of the problems we face. They don’t go away. It’s just that they can be managed better because they have been shared. That is why people “feel better” once they have “cleared the air” or “talked things over.” Use the simple magic of verbalisation whenever you feel crushed or persecuted by nature.
4: magic of attitude refinement
Know the limits of human capacity. Humans are strong, humans are powerful. Humans can alter rivers, build walls on mountains, and reclaim land from sea. But humans cannot defy the effects of senescence (aging) for example. They can’t easily defend themselves from hidden threats either (viruses are a good example) — and they can’t protect themselves from “acts of nature” such as lightning strikes, wildfires and earthquakes. And sometimes humans overreach themselves too… both individually and as a species. The UK government used to have a Know Your Limits campaign to discourage binge drinking. (One criticism that could be leveled against the government is that it did not deal with the underlying social reasons for binge drinking, but that’s another debate for a completely different blog) but I propose that we re-purpose the old slogan for 2021: Humans — Know Your Limits: Change Your Route or Think Again When Nature Surprises You.
If we have learned anything as a species over the past two years maybe it ought to have been that it’s now time to change or improve our own behaviour instead of waiting for nature to alter direction for us! Protect yourself with attitude refinement because attitude is a type of protective magic!
Humans — Know Your Limits: Change Your Route or Think Again When Nature Surprises You
5: protectors and guardians
Humans created society. And within society we introduced a type of magic that is provided by protectors and guardians. They are not wizards, nor are they witches or magicians. But they possess the ability to make things better for us. For example, if you feel depressed or have low energy, or your appetite has become weird, or you suffer terrible insomnia, or from poor concentration, or you think something is just plain “wrong” with your body, please talk to your doctor. Consult a professional. Get your facts from medical experts. Medicine brings a sense of control and will reduce anxiety. Modern clinical practice and modern physicians use nature to treat the problems that nature (surely) brings. But physicians and surgeons are not telepaths (you still need to contact them if you need their help!)
6: magic of routine
Routines are magical. Human beings operate at peak efficiency when they develop routines. If you don’t go to bed and get up (roughly) the same time every day and you don’t eat reasonable sized meals made with fresh ingredients, and you don’t spend more time cooking & cleaning than you do other less sensible pastimes (video gaming or social networking, perhaps) then now is the time to develop your routines! Because simple routines will magically transform your life. Also exercise regularly (and moderately) because this will boost your immune system (and help prevent depression). And you may also use exercise to help build connections with others. See the magic of sharing and magic of social connection above.
7: magic of nature
Work with the magic of nature: Try some simple gardening projects to bolster your self-healing processes. Reconnect with the wonder of nature by growing some garden watercress on an empty ledge (it’s healthy to eat, and offers vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin A). Or how about sprouting beans in a jar? Have you tried this before? Safer than commercially grown sprouts, your home-sprouted beans will offer a compound that helps regulate blood pressure. While the watercress and beans germinate, go for long walks in the countryside and revitalise your body and spirit with fresh air. If you take advantage of the magic of nature, you will feel at peace, you will be more interconnected with the universe and you will feel more active and productive (and those attitudes help overcome depressions.)
Yes, it is true, we are a very resistant species … but we cannot “beat” nature. We will never dominate it because we are an intrinsic part of it. Nature is in us and we are in nature! Any authority or influence that we think we have over nature is only artificial and never permanent. But if we learn to live with nature, both the ups and downs, if we learn to channel the frequency of nature: to use nature as a middle way that can help us reorient ourselves, adapt and grow, then we will discover that nature has a magic we can use…
Good luck with using the magic of nature and best wishes in this summer solstice week!
This post is also available as a podcast on Myth & Magic:
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Words: @neilmach June 2021 ©