How are Pinedrops, parasitic plants, pine trees, Andromeda, and multigenerational transmission of abuse, trauma, and family dysfunction related? This question began to form as I hiked with a Native Plant Society group.
Andromeda, according to Greek myth, was the daughter of Cassiopeia who boasted that Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids. Hades was enraged. As punishment (for her mother’s boasting), Andromeda was stripped and chained naked to a rock, destined to be a sacrifice. Hades ordered Poseidon to send a sea monster to destroy her. However, Andromeda was saved by the hero, Perseus.
A parasite is an organism that depends on a different organism for basically everything, while contributing nothing to the survival of its host. Pinedrops are parasitic, but not directly parasitic on pine trees. Pinedrops are directly parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi which, in turn, are directly parasitic on conifer roots. Without this indirect association with the roots, Pinedrops wouldn’t grow, access nourishment, and have shelter. However, Pinedrops have very little chlorophyll, are therefore not green, and do not photosynthesize.
According to Family Systems counseling theory, unresolved family problems are passed down through the generations. There are emotional forces that operate over the years in interconnected patterns. The energies in the system work to preserve the status quo. Anyone who questions what’s going on, anyone who names the elephant in the room, anyone who tries to/does disengage, anyone who becomes aware and conscious and differentiated, anyone who heals, threatens the system and becomes the family target. Consciousness, truth, and strong healthy choices are enemies of projection, generations of abuse, shame, secrets, emotional triangles, and lies .
So, Pinedrops are directly parasitic to fungi and indirectly parasitic to conifers. Was Andromeda like the conifers, caught in the destructive forces of the Greek pantheon family system? Was innocent Andromeda in a parasitic family system, forced to almost pay with her life for her mother’s hubris, the Nereids’ jealousy, and her father’s rage, indirectly exercised through another family member, Poseidon? Who was and is “Perseus”?
Coming back from a long ride, I shouldered into the wind, crouched down in the handlebar drops, eyes and nose streaming, zipped up, head turned. That’s when I glimpsed a pile of feathers over in the ditch. I had to stop, turn around to see what it was.
A beautiful Great Horned Owl was wrapped in her own wings, intact, still, big yellow eyes closed forever. I guessed it had been swept up in the powerful draft of a fast truck not long before. All around, very quiet now. Wind tossing the trees but I didn’t feel it. I told her I was sorry. She must have been out hunting, flying low on silent feathers. What should I do, I wondered. I couldn’t just leave her there. I closed my eyes. What would I want? What a gift to share with kids.
So I unzipped my jacket, lifted her carefully, leaned over, laid her on my back, and zipped the jacket back up. I thought she’d be light, but she was really big, maybe five pounds. Slowly I rode down the shoulder toward home, crying for all of us. But I was warm, her feathers a thick downy layer. I felt like I was flying, like she was carrying me.
I laid her on a blanket on the cool garage floor. Her wingspan was at least four and a half feet. My grandchildren came over but wouldn’t go close, instinctively sensing the powerful difference that death is from life, standing so close together.
I told them that I was going to take the owl out in the foothills to a cottonwood I knew, one by a creek on a curve I often passed. Did they want to come, too? No. That was a definite no. But they helped carry her out to the car in the blanket. I would find a cavity in the old tree, just her size, and lay her to rest.
Great Horned Owl Duet
For someone who lives in Boulder, CO at 5430’, skiing into the 12,000’ mountains with a small group of unfamiliar people was a challenge. My equipment wasn’t as hardcore as theirs; they live at 7907’ where we started; they know these mountains like the backs of their hands; and they share stories of adventures and heroes and heroines I’ve never heard of. Almost right away I was wet and exhausted from herring-boning when they were walking up hills on full-on ski skins compared to my shorter, narrower ones.
What’s wrong with me? I’m usually a leader. I’m usually strong and confident. Instead, I’m holding back, totally disabled on the icy dipsy-doodles in the dark woods and the terrain plunging out of sight. Mountains over 14,000’ rise on both sides of the ridge. Snowfields hang at angles I cannot fathom. But the sky is blue. What is wrong with me? I am tight, anxious, scared, and alone. They’re sorry I came. They don’t want to be around me. They think I shouldn’t be on this trip. I don’t belong. They don’t like me.
Oh my gosh! Hello, Shadow!
Carl Jung wrote:
By shadow I mean the ‘negative’ side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide…The shadow is one example of an ‘unconscious personality’ which possesses a certain measure of autonomy. The shadow is often projected on to others (Collected Works 7, par. 103n).
I don’t want to know or acknowledge that I can be weak, that I’m aging, not-as-well-equipped, not as strong and confident as the other skiers. What I’m feeling is not about “them”. This is about me.
So I re-group. Eat some gorp I mixed back at home, drink the electrolyte mix I made, the one that has sustained me on many really long bike rides. I think. I see what’s going on with my Self. “They” are great companions and teach me how to really use my ski skins. Marianne shows me how to dig in with each uphill step. Greg offers me his skin wax and shows me how to apply it. I’d never heard of that before. That and their interest and encouragement and fun and the indescribable beauty completely change my darkness.
This is not about “them” and “me”. This is “us”. They care. So do I. I see Carol behind me, gritting it out as her heavy pack grinds into her sore shoulder. What can each of us carry? I see how heavy each step with the AT gear has become, as Susan slows down and strips off a layer. Barb takes her skis off and walks down a steep, icy hill. I join her on that one. They are experienced, as am I. I’m OK. We are OK.
I love this air. I love this planet. We are only blue dots. I breathe. I keep up now when I walk and keep up when I ski. We get to the hut. I have carried dinner and homemade raspberry oatbars to share. I share my stories.
Federico Garcia Lorca knew, too:
“Every step he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende…The arrival of the duende brings totally unknown and fresh sensations…loves the edge, the wound…Through the empty archway of a wind the spirit enters.” And another quote: “These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art.”
Isn’t this wondrous?