Most of the totemic work people do is with animal totems, and admittedly I am biased in favor of them. It’s not that I haven’t done work with others, but I just think to talk about the critters more. That, and the plants tend to be more subtle in their communications. Animals–we’re loud, and impatient, and move around a lot. (Well, most of us. Sea anemones and sloths are on the low end of that curve.) Plants, on the other hand, are more deliberate and patient. And they often whisper. Volume didn’t really have to be much of a thing until there were beings that didn’t send their roots into the great, intertwined network under the surface.
And I’ve found plant totem work to be focused on different priorities than the animals’ ideas. Animal totems seem to want to be dynamic, bringing change and motion and growth. Plant totems, from my experience, tend more toward rooting the self deeper in the now, what you have to work with right this moment, maximizing the use of immediate resources before expending the self to find more. Not that this particularly surprises me; these preferences in focus mirror the very nature of the beings and their totems themselves.
Douglas Fir is one of the most prominent plant totems in my life right now, and as I’ve been working with it I’ve been reminded that I haven’t really written about this part of my spiritual experience. In a way I’ve treated the plant totem work like a long hike in which I ooooh and aaaah at the occasional sighting of an animal, but see the trees and other plants as merely the backdrop. (Which isn’t the case when I’m actually hiking; I take lots of pictures of flora that fascinate me.) I’d like to start changing that and talking more about the plant work I’ve been doing over time. So allow me to introduce you to Douglas Fir.
I am not a native of Oregon. I was a military brat, and did much of my growing up in the Midwest, not arriving in the Pacific Northwest until early 2006. And, beyond that, I am not even a native of this continent; my family primarily emigrated here in the second half of the 1800s, and I was born on an army base in Germany–technically US territory, but not of this continent.
Occasionally this non-native status rankles a bit. I am well aware of the impact that European immigration and invasion of this continent had on the peoples who were here before (and are still here, despite attempts to erase their presence and acknowledgement). And I have heard the complaints from native Oregonians about the influx of people from out of state flooding this area in the past couple of decades as it’s become more popular a place to move (even though right now the job market here is still pretty well tanked).
Yet I am acculturated to this place. I didn’t have a choice in my upbringing, and although there is certainly something to be said for being an ex-pat, it is easiest for me to simply stay in the country where I have citizenship. And I like it here, especially Oregon. The Midwest wasn’t nearly as nice a fit culturally (though the Land liked me a good deal, and I love when I get to go back to visit family as well as places).
This mixed relationship to the place and the people may be part of why one of the first plant totems I connected to out here was Douglas Fir. Douglas Fir is a native species, but the trees’ relationship to the Land here has changed dramatically since the arrival of Europeans. As people began to clear the forests more for agriculture and farming, the opportunistic firs replaced other trees in the succession of forest regrowth. And because the firs grow so quickly, they’re a common seedling chosen for replanting logged areas to maximize profit, making their presence much more pronounced than before.
Both of these factors have homogenized much of Oregon’s forest land to one degree or another. While other native conifers such as Western hemlock or red cedar do still grow here, in many places they’re out-competed by the fir. Even some oak savannahs, highly rare any more in this state, experience firs as an increasingly invasive species.
This, of course, was not solely the doing of Douglas Fir, even with the trees’ competitiveness for resources after forest fires and other nonhuman disasters. The intervention of humans has often resulted in much more dramatic effects on ecosystems. And in the same way, I did not choose the accident of my birth, though I have decisions as to where I live and how I act as an adult, to include attempting to integrate into a different culture (even if I can never completely lose the markings of the culture I was raised and socialized in).
So Douglas Fir has been helping me to not only adjust to living in this place that I have decided to make my long-term home, but also to explore the various ramifications of that decision. There’s a certain level of responsibility that I need to keep in mind as I am here, and what it means that I have consciously made this my home. Who have I affected in this decision? How can I be a part of the community without being obnoxious and even harmful? And, more abstractly, how can I combine my work with social justice with my spiritual path?
These are just some of the things that Douglas Fir and I have worked together on. Fir is more of a presence than an active guide, providing a steady energy to tap into and a quiet reminder of connectivity, but it’s all very grounding to my little animal mind.
And so you have just one example of how my totemic work has extended beyond my fellow critters. I’ll try and talk more about it as time goes on.
(P.S. My friend Paleo has done a bit of writing on more domestic plant totems over here.)