The trees are calling me.
Specifically, the wordless siren song emanates from the windswept cypress trees here on the central California coast. Graceful evergreens with a light green color and pale grey bark, they are often gnarled and shaped into living sculptures by the coastal winds. On my first adult visit to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea a dozen years ago, I was visually captivated by them, and as if they were nature’s very best art these Standing Ones continue to evoke something in my soul every time that I see them.
I’m back on the mainland for a bit, touching in briefly with this compelling stretch of the coastline before heading north and then on to France. I will return here on the way back to Hawaii, alighting briefly and journeying up to the Redwood Men’s Conference amid the magnificent, old-growth redwoods of Mendocino. Those particular Standing Ones of Northern California—some of the tallest trees on Earth—have been long-distance calling me for quite awhile, and I’m thrilled that I will finally answer by spending the Memorial Day Weekend wandering amid their towering, stately, and enchanting presence.
It rained heavily through the night, ten-thousand invisible fingers tapping a drumming cadence on the roof and windows, and this morning’s air is moody and tempestuous. Comfortable as I am inside the house, writing and watching the noisy blue-gray scrub jays eat the golden millet I’ve placed on the deck railing, I’m compelled to go for a long wander near the shore. I want to connect more intimately with that ruggedly beautiful landscape and the windswept cypress trees that beckon.
When I’m here in California, the little cottage where I stay is about twelve miles inland, requiring a bit of a journey to reach the coast proper, especially as I don’t always have access to a car. Despite the relatively close proximity to the misty coastline where those shapely and alluring conifers sing to my soul, Carmel Valley is a vastly different ecosystem—the oaks, dry meadows and hills are another world, entirely. This morning the sky is hammered flat with grey tin, and looking down the valley I note that the coast is obscured in low, dark clouds. At best, a marginal day for being outdoors.
Something in me needs to connect with those great, wind raked cypress trees today. I feel it in my gut, a restless urging and quickening of energy. Despite the likely possibility that I will be in rain much of the time, and regardless that it’s a long walk to get there and my right foot is still sore from some sort of mysterious strain, I decide to go. I want to smell the salt air, to immerse my being in that evocative landscape—soulscape, rather—of rocky land and crashing sea. I grab a rucksack and stash a few essentials inside: water bottle, almonds, a wool sweater, favorite scarf, small black Moleskine journal and fountain pen. Then I don a pair of hiking trousers, a waterproof jacket, grab my wide-brimmed suede hat (totally waterproof) and head out to answer the calling.
Beyond their graceful qualities as standing conduits of energy, and in addition to their important role in an ecosystem, the diverse and ancient family of evergreens carries many healing properties. Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) has long been one of my favorite essential oils for use in therapeutic blends; it has a warming, astringent quality and is highly antiseptic and antispasmodic. Spending extended time here these past months, I’ve found myself curious about the qualities of this particular species, along with the strong feeling that I need to begin wearing cypress oil (probably as part of a personal synergistic blend rather than solo) and incorporating it into my wellness care.
It is Point Lobos that draws me today, a state reserve on a rocky peninsula just south of Carmel, populated by the great, shaggy conifers among whose presence I wish to wander. It’s a place I’ve not been to before. The protected coves are home to a diverse array of sea birds, along with a resurgent population of California sea otters (once hunted to the brink of extinction), and on a few of the secluded beaches, the silky harbor seals come ashore to birth their adorable pups.
Given the overcast, marginal weather, the reserve isn’t overly crowded with visitors and tourists, for which I’m grateful. Despite the cool grey day and a warm cashmere scarf wrapped around my neck, I walk barefoot, shoes dangling in my left hand, earning a few curious glances downward and a comment or two from others I pass on the trails. The only way to know a place is to walk it, I say, with senses cast wide. For me, treading the land with an unsheathed sole—and soul—triggers a sort of cellular knowing, and it draws me intimately into relationship and timeless connection. (Too there are the healing benefits of ‘earthing’, as I’ve shared in the Appendix to The Bones and Breath).
Many of the trails that I walk I have nearly to myself and, as usual, I am utterly content in my wandering solitude. I roam without specific direction or intent, letting my intuition guide me, stopping when I feel like it to write in my notebook, to watch the otters fishing for abalone and floating on their backs in the aquamarine waves, to admire some golden California poppies, or listen to the symphony of birds and wind’s voices in the trees.
When I eventually thread my way out to the grove of Monterey cypresses on the point, there are blessedly few humans about. The constant wind speaks in the rustling boughs while the ocean surges and sings endlessly in its ancient chant. Every breath here is infused with the salty smell of the sea, a sense of primal, elemental energy. The collective energetic field generated by these ‘Standing Ones’ is so tangible and utterly remarkable, it startles me.
I have a powerful longing to simply lay my hands upon one of the old grey trunks, or sit with my spine pressed against one of them, to be in physical, close contact. I resist, however, remaining outside the rope that restricts visitors to the encircling trail that leads round the grove. In a couple of places I simply stop and feel—reaching out with my heart—wide open senses attuned to the subtle sense of magic generated by these beautiful old beings. How long they have stood here together, silently communing with earth, sky and sea. Being among the cypress is like a New World version of stepping into a druid’s sacred oak grove in the British Isles. Indeed, this entire stretch of the coast sings to my soul.
It’s the ‘Eros of Place’, I call it. As I have written elsewhere:
Soul and Nature long for each other because they are, in essence, the same thing—a natural unfolding of one’s most authentic blueprint and creative energy.
No matter where we hail from or the landscape that sculpted us, whether urban or wild, certain places on Earth reach out and stir our souls to wake. They may be general types of landscapes, say, the desert, or specific locations but when we are in these places we feel alive, energized, and inspired. We become expansive in senses and soul. It may well be that we are moved by the physical magnificence of the place—few things sing the soul awake like elemental beauty—or it may be a sense of resonance we feel while there. Our quiet longing rouses from dormancy. Eros beckons. If we are paying attention or if the pull of the place is strong enough, we can feel this yearning and resonance in the body. It may even move us to tears of longing or joy.
For each of us, there are unique places in the world to which we feel curiously allured. These may be places we have visited or not yet been; they may even be still unknown to us. Though the landscape and location will be different for every individual, in these sites and locales our deepest imagination is stirred and we sense a connection to something larger. Mystery. Wildness. Community. Possibility. Destiny. In this ‘Eros of Place’, a deep longing is ignited within; we have recognized a lover—or a potential one.
Arriving in these strangely alluring locations triggers a sense of resonance in our core. There is a familiarity of soul, a harmonic vibration. Somehow, even if newly arrived, we are strangely in tune with the song of that particular fold and facet of the ‘livingscape’. The dissonance (or cacophony) in our lives seems to shift and we feel both a gravitational pull and a sense of inner alignment. We expand through our senses and, as our creative energy awakens, a sense of possibility and connection unfurls. We feel our ‘life force’ in a stronger, more tangible way, with the perception of being somehow more connected to what surrounds and enfolds us.
The Eros of Place is more than a sense of ease, comfort, or oneness with nature and the elements. It is a powerful longing—a recognition—to be in a particular place for no other reason than to be in that place. There we are compelled to linger, to spend extended periods of time, and even to dwell. The landscape itself seems to bring something alive within us, like a childhood language that we have forgotten to speak but begin to slowly remember.
One might imagine that the place, itself, is a messenger or catalyst for one’s soul awakening, embodiment, and evolution. If we consider that everything has an energy and intelligence—a particular kind of consciousness, even—then it follows that every location has a unique energy and consciousness as a result of the elements that compose it. It is a psychospiritual world that we inhabit, a living and intelligent landscape of which we are an inseparable part. We are always steeped in the Greater Mind of Gaia yet certain places stir the elemental forces within us, reaching out and suffusing us with a sense of allurement and resonance. This might arise in dreams or in our waking lives, but something in the landscape beckons us to travel forth and follow our curious longing to be in a certain locale. It is an energetic summons that we can feel in the body mind as surely as any hunger or wind moving over our skin.”
The first time that I felt and understood the Eros of Place was in Taos, New Mexico. I feel it here, too. I’m ever grateful to journey and be in the places that sing me home to myself, to linger there awhile with heart unshuttered and senses cast ajar—barefoot whenever I can be, appreciating the beauty. Walking bare-soled this morning through the grove of ancient cypress, admiring their graceful living bones and feeling profoundly expansive in my core, I feel deliciously alive in myself and the evocative landscape. Soulscape. I’m so deeply glad that I heeded the strange longing to explore this unknown place, that I roused from my comfort and journeyed to discover and commune with this place, to begin to know it in a small, modest, but sensual way.
Only after my visit do I learn that Cupressus macrocarpa is a New World species of cypress native to the Monterey peninsula; it grows only where summers are cool and moist, where it is frequently bathed in fog. It is a threshold dweller (for which I immediately feel a curious, kindred affinity). The famous “Lone Cypress” at Pebble Beach, arguably the most photographed tree in North America, is the iconic member of this local family. The Monterey Cypress has been planted extensively along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, in coastal regions in Europe, and South Africa, but the only two natural, indigenous forests are here at my doorstep—one at Pebble Beach, and the other at Point Lobos.
I walked nearly nine miles today. Stepping off the bus in Carmel Valley, a hard rain pummels me for the last mile of my journey as I ascend the hill to the cottage amid the oaks. Footsore, weary, and drunk on the beauty, it was a grand adventure, uncountably full of treasures for the soul—even before I reached Point Lobos. I could easily fill a page of my new gratitude journal, the first item on today’s list being ‘a grove of windswept cypress’.
Is it too much to consider that the places where we feel most powerfully drawn are actually calling us, that the Earth is dreaming through us, gently steering us towards key intersections with fate and destiny?
Soul Artists know that everything in life is relationship. How we relate with the place where we dwell is a key if seldom recognized aspect of Eros in our lives. Knowing that we can habituate to even the most stunning beauty, Soul Artists endeavor to keep their senses and hearts open. They are lovers of the world who, daily, let themselves be seduced by nature and the clever, colorful agents of Mystery. Alongside gratitude, appreciating beauty is a soul practice—it’s one of the most important things we can do. On this captivating jewel of a planet we are all just passing through, but the life of a Soul Artist is one that touches others in a meaningful way and offers something of value, ever appreciating the fleeting beauty and grace of the moment.
Repeatedly I ask, where do we belong, and what do we offer in return?
Gentle reader, here’s hoping that you have discovered the places that beckon you, or are willing to let yourself be drawn to explore that allurement. Let the Eros of Place seduce you. Perhaps you will not uproot your life and relocate to dwell there (although one day you might), but at least you will allow yourself the rich opportunity to linger in a landscape that stirs your senses in a unique way and feeds your creative soul. Consider that certain places on Earth wish to bring something through us, that in those places we are being dreamed awake for the Larger Story, humanity’s evolution, and the gift that only you can bring.
Consider, too, the journey might begin with something as seemingly innocent as a desire to be with some particular trees.
I wonder, where will your longing take you?