"Only mistakenly, then, do we interpret the unseen "spirits" honored by indigenous, oral peoples as wholly disembodied, supernatural entities - immaterial phantasms conjured by a naive or primitive imagination. Are the streams and vortices in the invisible air disembodied? Is there no materiality to these jostling surges and subsidences that compose the fluid expanse in which we're immersed? Or to an unseen cloud of lichen spores riding those currents like a transparent silken cloth? Is the hidden sap rising within the trunk of a fir tree, or the infection spreading through the body of a young elk, supernatural? The "spirits" or "invisibles" spoken of by oral, indigenous peoples are not aphysical beings, but are a way of acknowledging the myriad dimensions of the sensuous that we cannot see at any moment - a way of honoring the manifold invisibilities moving within the visible landscape, and of keeping oneself and one's culture awake to such enigmatic aspects of the real. They are a way of holding our senses open to what is necessarily hidden from view, a way of staying in felt relation to the invisible tides in which we're immersed. As such, an acknowledgment of "the spirits" is part of the practice of humility. It is a a practice necessary to avoid endangering one's community - a simple and parsimonious way of remembering our ongoing dependence upon powers we did not create, and whose activities we cannot control."
Abrams speaks of how the leaves of a tree feel and absorb the sun, clouds, sky, and how the tree feels the sap rise within the trunk.
"If, I acknowledge that this wild-fluctuating sensibility I call "me" is supported by the air streaming in through my nostrils, and by the manifold sensibilities that move within me (by the keen responsiveness of the bacteria in my gut, for example, and the skittishness of each bundled neuron within my spine), then a new affinity with the sensuous world begins to blossom. For now the other bodies that I see around me, whether blackbirds or blades of grass, or the iridescent beetle currently crawling across my shirt, all give evidence of their own specific sentience. The emerald leaves dangling from the near branch of an aspen attest by their very hue to a kind of ongoing enjoyment along the fluttering periphery of the tree - an exhaltation of chlorophyll. As though one's breathing lungs were flattened out and spread across the smooth surface of one's skin and the day's warmth brought a tinging transmutation along that surface - one's outermost membranes being ravished by the rays, from dawn until dusk."
I pause here to remember yesterday when the rain had stopped, and each branch of the Redwood tree outside my window held clear, round balls, like Christmas tree ornaments. It was beautiful to see how the tree had not been able to let go of the rain and, thus, allowed it to cohere for a space of time. I think we do that sometimes with memories when we roll them on our tongue.
Abrams continues to write of how we feel empathy when we look at the green of the trees, of how there is "contact and a kind of blending" between us and the trees. There is a "reciprocity between our body and the earth enabled by a host of unseen yet subtly palpable patterns, fluid and often fleeting powers whose close-by presence we may feel or whose influence we can intuit yet whose precise contours remain unknown to us." Welcome the invisible, he says, whether alluded to as "spirits, or powers, or presences." He concludes with this paragraph.
"And it is by means of such subtle sensations that the living land tunes our bodies, coaxing our communities and our cultures into a dynamic, dancing alignment with the breathing earth. The spirits are not intangible; they are not of another world. They are the way the local earth speaks when we step back inside this world."