Monday, February 15, 2010

Mountains as a Tree of Life

I visited the Balinese Shadow Puppet exhibit at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Museum this weekend. According to one exhibit, the Balinese word Kayon means both Tree of Life (or cosmic tree) and Mountain. And in the Balinese shadow puppet theatre Kayon is the only "puppet" that has an image painted on both sides. One puppet, two faces.

I wondered about these two powerful faces and their influence on our experience as human beings.

How is a mountain a tree of life?

In some languages a mountain's name may convey its life giving qualities. For example, Annapurna means "filled completely with food" in Sanskrit and this mountain is seen as a divine source of nourishing care. In the Southwest tribal lands are often anchored by mountains in 4 directions and tall trees, cut, carried down from the mountains and carefully tended can be the focus of ceremony.
Everywhere, mountains, like the tree of life, are an axis mundi; with their "roots" in the dirt they extend into the sky, connecting heaven and earth.

I have spent most of my life living between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Rio Grande Gorge. Looking East from my home on Hondo mesa I can see the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and Taos mountain, partly hidden in the clouds today, they emerged briefly as a patchwork quilt of evergreens and snow.

I love mountains and there are mountains all around me; Penasco Peak, the Pedernal and the Continental Divide. From my kitchen window I see Ute Peak, San Antonio Mountain and Cerro as well as the cliffsides of the Rio Grande Gorge, a rift that contains the sometimes placid, sometimes raging, Rio Grande River.

Living in this high desert environment I have learned the reality of snowmelt translating into streams, creeks and eventually rivers; as well as contributing to the acquifers that run beneath our houses and provide the water that flows into our homes and gardens. Here, as in the village I visited in Mustang, we know a winter of little snowfall can mean a summer of parched earth. So we too can look to the mountains, their snow covered peaks and the fullness of mountain streams and waterfalls to see how life will unfold in the valley.

Standing beside the Rio Hondo it is easy to see that where water goes, life grows. The banks of the river are covered in green grasses, reeds and rushes, clusters of watercress. I know this water comes from melting snow on the Sangre de Cristos, rushing downhill and filling the acequia madre, the mother ditch that irrigates the miles of farms and fields that lie between the mountain and where I stand at the river's edge, in the small village of Arroyo Hondo.

Apache plume and asters, rose , tamarisk and cedar juniper trees,trout and cliff swallows mark the passage of this mountain born river as it continues past me on its way to join the Rio Grande on its long journey to Texas and Mexico.

If the mountain is a tree of life, then the streams and creeks are its branches and where ever the branching streams of the mountain's life giving liquid flows life flourishes and the fruits of this tree of life are many: green grasses, flowers, fields of grain, fish and birds and all of us.

Long ago i went to the river early in the mornings to learn how to pray. I stared at the water swirling over and around large and small rocks, rippling and edding, starbursts of sunlight exploding on its surface and I thought about where it came from and how it moved, how it continued on its journey to the sea despite obstacles and nourished life, without preference, as it went on its way.

And I thought, can my life be like a river?

The river taught me this prayer...May my life flow from its highest source. May all that is frozen and cold in me melt, so that I continue on my journey, however quickly,or slowly, moving past the obstacles I encounter and nourishing life as I go.

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