Thursday, April 21, 2011

Arbutus Woman.

The thick branch stretches out over the rocky cliff and shore towards the ocean surface. This is a common gesture for arbutus trees along these shores as they lean flexibly out beyond the more rigid firs to reach the light. I step to the edge of the cliff, lean into the branch and take a photo right down its length. Even as I do this I know that I am drawn to make this picture by the swelling breast and its nipple that is close to my face.

The Salish First Nations people have always seen the relationship between arbutus trees and women, either in stories of how a girl was changed into this tree or in a more general way of seeing the possibility of transformation between animate and inanimate and between human and the rest of creation. It is an easy transition to make. Who has not run their hands over the smooth skin of new bark, seen the breasts where the tree has grown out to cover a broken branch, or noticed a crotch`s curly last year`s rough bark where branch meets trunk. It is so obvious and startling that to turn ones eyes and mind firmly away takes serious self control. To not visit that place in one`s imagination risks creating a habit of mind that will shut out creative thought as well. Because our imagination and creativity are intimately tied to the feminine.

We still refer to ‘the muses’ when we try to name the wellspring of our creative thought. They were the female gods of ancient Greece who mediated between humans and Apollo, - the source of light and knowledge. We get our inspiration ( receive the spirit) via the female principle,- the creator of life. If I repress the female qualities I see in the arbutus, I also limit my free access to the muse, imagination, creativity, and to art.

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