Jean Shinoda Bolen
“What does it mean to be a tree person, and when does it happen?” These are just one of the many questions that Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., answers in her inspirational read, “Like a Tree: How Trees, Women, and Tree People Can Save the Planet.”
As an internationally renowned author and speaker, Dr. Bolen explains what a tree person is, how a tree person came to be, and why their role plays a large part in keeping trees alive. As she describes an old Monterey pine that once stood in her neighborhood, it soon becomes clear that being a tree person is more than what meets the eye.
Through carefully selecting chapter titles, the author describes the significance of trees, not just through practical and biological lenses but also in a metaphysical and spiritual sense. Some chapters like “Standing Like a Tree,” “Giving Like a Tree,” and “Sacred Like a Tree” include sections of anecdotes, research findings from various fields, and myths that displays the strength of a tree and what it means for life and humanity.
As I read through the pages, I couldn’t help but feel how perfectly timed it was to read something like this. Despite being published in 2011, “Like a Tree” continues to stay relevant as the effects of global warming and corporate greed are more apparent than ever before. In over a decade, we are facing an environmental crisis that could lead to irreversible damage to the earth, and we need more “tree people” than ever before.
Aside from environmental issues, women’s rights have become a hot topic with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. When Dr. Bolen wrote about the contributions of women-led organizations in environmentalism, activism, and the fight for equal rights—I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride at how like a tree, a woman can bring forth the beauty of life and nature in more ways than one.
There is no shortage of how much wisdom one can gain after reading “Like a Tree” is. While it does put women at the forefront, Dr. Bolen also credits the men who have used their power and influence to start conservation efforts. While a brief read, “Like a Tree,” is abundant with so much more than just tree facts and famous environmentalists, it educates and encourages people to find something worth making their personal assignment. The latter can be anything, whether it’s creating something, helping others, or even planting a tree.
In essence, “Like a Tree” is a one-of-a-kind read that can help anyone regardless of age, gender, race, or background. If you think you could never relate to a “tree person,” you might find yourself understanding them more after reading this book.
– The Moving Words Review
Official Entry: The Most Moving Book Award, Jan. 3, 2024
FOREWORD by Terry Tempest Williams
It was an early morning in December. Jean invited me to walk with her in her sacred place within the Muir Woods in Marin County, California. We were in retreat, two women, soul mates, sharing truths, telling stories, finding joy.
Our friendship is one of Spirit. I can’t tell you when we met or how, only that we came into one another’s lives in the deep sense through a visitation from her son, Andy, in Utah’s red rock desert. Andy and I had never met. We met through the miraculous. He had died at 29 from a rare disease. I learned of Andy’s death from Jean. He appeared to me shortly thereafter. It was in the year 2001. It was hot, dry. I had just returned from visiting a rock covered with petroglyphs – hand prints, spirals, and deer – carved by the Ancient Ones. Back home, seated on the porch, I saw him. He spoke. What Andy said will remain private between Jean and I. What it created between the two of us is a living river of sisterhood that continues to flow through us in times of drought and in times of flood. In 2019, our friendship brought us to trees.
“There are Tree People and Not Tree People,” Jean said to me matter-of-factly as we crossed the wooden walkway from her front door on our way to walk among the redwoods. As she says in this vital book, “A tree person met up with Nature in childhood or as an adult, and like the four-footed ones who retreat to lick their wounds, may still heal emotional hurts by going to where the trees are.”
We are going to where the trees are.
Jean then recounted the story of the beautiful Monterey Pine that graced her home, rooted there long before Mill Valley were homes built. It was a living, dignified presence that she greeted daily. Through a tragic and complicated maze of events, told in these pages, the Monterey Pine was eventually slated to be killed, cut down, removed after Jean and her community did all they could to save its life.
I shared my story of losing a tree friend, a magnificent Red Oak planted in Cambridge,
Massachusetts behind the Harvard Divinity School two centuries ago, before the school existed. My office looked out on this beloved “Divinity Tree” and each day I walked by, something passed between us. I would sit next to it, watch it pass through the seasons, witness all who inhabited its mighty trunk and branches be it squirrels, kestrels, red tail hawks or ants. Like Jean’s friend, through a tragic and complicated maze of events, the Divinity Tree was also slated to be killed, cut down, removed after doing all we could do as a community to save its life.
There are Tree People and Not Tree People.
We both mourned the Monterey Pine and the Red Oak, both emblematic of the millions of trees being uprooted daily by deforestation worldwide in the Amazonian rainforest, in the Congo, in the recent fires in Australia, in the slaying of old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, and by ongoing development in California and Utah.
Thankfully, the redwoods in the Muir Woods remain.
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared 554 acres of old growth coastal redwood forests a national monument, the first ever to be created from land donated by private individuals, in this case Mr. William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent.
By the beginning of the 20th century, most of the coastal redwoods in northern California had been cut down by the logging industry. This was a bold move to protect some of the last stands of Sequoia sempervirens, trees that can grow up to 380 feet tall and can live for close to 2000 years. The national monument was named after the naturalist writer John Muir who worked most of his life to protect wild lands in northern California, particularly in Yosemite declared a national park in 1890.
Roosevelt, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, and John Muir were Tree People.
Jean and I arrived at the entrance to the Muir Woods very close to dawn. Once we crossed the threshold into the presence of the redwoods, we walked in silence. This is where Jean walks repeatedly for solace. I was her guest and followed respectfully behind her, wanting to honor her spiritual practice.
The woods were radiant with birdsong, the voices of thrushes and vireos; shafts of morning light falling diagonally struck individual leaves of thimbleberries turning them momentarily silver bright. Few were on the path and I couldn’t help but imagine the Miwok people who inhabited this sacred grove long before the settlers; and how they must have viewed these sacred towering elders we call Sequoias; how their descendants today still perform the necessary ceremonies to honor them.
The Miwok are Tree People.
At one point, Jean turned to me and invited me to step inside with her one of the hollowed trunks of a redwood that had been struck by lightning. The entrance was charred in the shape of a tall triangle flanked on either side by supporting redwoods. We were two women lodged inside a tree more than a thousand years old. I closed my eyes, Jean, now in her early eighties held my hand. I felt my mother and grandmothers standing with us. Jean left. I stayed. This moment felt like an initiation into my own wisdom at 64 years of age. Who are we without our elders to show us the path forward, especially in “these liminal times” as Jean Shinoda Bolen calls them, “threshold times.” The in between times that we feel so acutely during this pandemic that has brought us to our knees.
Jean wanted to show me the historic Cathedral Grove where delegates from 51 countries met in San Francisco on May 19, 1945 to create and sign the United Nations Charter after World War II. The delegates convened in the Muir Woods and selected this particular grove to commemorate a vision of global peace. A plaque was dedicated to the memory of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had died a month short of opening the United Nations Conference on International Organization, where this inauguration occurred.
She read me the plaque: “Here in this grove of enduring redwoods, preserved for posterity, members of the United Nations Conference on International Organization met on May 19, 1945, to honor the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, thirty-first President of the United States, chief architect of the United Nations, and apostle of lasting peace for all mankind.”
Given all the work, Jean has done with the United Nations and the Commission on the Status of Women, alongside her dream of the 5th World Conference on Women that will meet in India, 2022, this sight held particular meaning. In so many ways, the vision of women’s circles that Jean has been advocating for and creating with women for decades, is naturally illustrated in the cycles and circles of growth exemplified within this coastal redwood ecosystem.
As the morning light deepened by the density of the woods, Jean walked ahead with a purpose. She wanted to show me her own private shrine where she meditates and communes with her Dead. We had been discussing these things the night before in candlelight. She was far ahead. And then, she turned back.
“I can’t find it,” she said. “How strange. I’ve been here a thousand times.”
She walked back, looking toward the stream. Walked forward again. Back. Forward. And I noted the puzzled look on her face. All at once, she saw the old path somewhat hidden by new vegetation with a recently constructed fence built with a different opening funneling people toward a different path further away from the stream.
Access was blocked to the tree shrine, Jean had come to rely on for contemplation.
I asked Jean if she wanted to step over the fence to connect with the familiar path to her shrine.
“No need,” she said. “The path is inside me. The shrine is inside me, where those beloved to me also dwell.” She laughed not out of amusement, but understanding.
“The world is changing.” she said. “We know change is coming. But we are always surprised when it does.”
We stood in silence for a long time. Jean Shinoda Bolen misses little and as a Jungian scholar and renowned psychiatrist, she has a deep understanding of symbols and archetypes. Because of her classic book, “Goddesses in Every Woman” and her beautiful book, “Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Every Woman,” I made a special pilgrimage to the ancient Temple of Artemis in Turkey to better understand this Goddess of Nature, Goddess of the Moon I identified with as also one who is comfortable walking in moonlight where “her companions were the nymphs of forest, lake, and mountains.” I knew Jean was beginning to comprehend something within herself that was both private and profound with her vast reservoir of intuition and knowledge, alongside her respect for synchronicity.
“Shall we go back?” she said. By now, more people were on the path coming up as we were going down. We continued to walk together quietly, talking little, but sharing much. I kept breathing in the freshness of the air, the gift of oxygen being exhaled by the redwoods, aware of the bay laurel’s fragrance, the wild roses in bloom and again, birdsong echoing in the high canopy’s of the big trees.
“Oh look,” Jean said with enthusiasm, “A Fairy Circle!” We stopped as she explained to me what we were seeing. Before us appeared a perfect circle of young redwoods that were growing around the stump of a logged old-growth sequoia.
“There is always the next generation,” she said with her charismatic smile and laughter. “There is always the new that is seeded from that which has been destroyed.”
When Jean Shinoda Bolen talks about the Millionth Circle Initiative, about the power of the circle and the women who convene around it, I think about the circles of sequoias in the Muir Woods and throughout the range of the coastal redwoods standing their ground in the shadow of destruction in the midst of a burning planet holding hope upward in the radiance of their beings rooted in the seeds of past generations.
In this planetary pause where we have all been called home because of an invisible virus that is not something outside us, but inside us – both virus and human of Earth – it behooves each of us to remember and allow to take root, what it means to be present with change.
Not long ago, Jean wrote to me, “The hope is that there is enough time for trees and tree people to save our beautiful planet from turning into a wasteland… We are in a period of crisis – where danger and opportunity exist side by side.”
Jean Shinoda Bolen is a force of radiant joy and wisdom. “Like A Tree” is a manifesto that is evergreen; practical, visionary, and wise. Jean is an activist with great heart who has not only weathered change, but embodies an evolutionary consciousness dependent on change if we are to survive and carry on through the generations — What Native People have always known in their traditional knowledge intrinsically bound to earth, water, fire, and air — all elements rooted in the consciousness of trees. And what wisdom keepers all over the world are praying we remember.
“Another world is not only possible,” Arundhati Roy writes, “she is on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.”
On my walk with Jean Shinoda Bolen, I not only heard this arboreal inhale and exhale among the coastal redwoods, I felt it as the breathing space of ceremony.
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