Writing Prompt: What Kind of Forest Are You Growing? by Matilda Butler,  July 6, 2010

Post #50 In Women's Memoirs, written and published by Kendra Bonnett


I was thrilled to meet Kendra Bonnett on LinkedIn and to be introduced to her valuable, helpful and insightful publication, "Women's Memoirs."  It was more of the synchrodestiny that has been working in my life so much lately.  For about a year, I had been considering doing a funked up, loose and as creative as I could get it, scrapbooked memoir of what I choose to recall and want to remember about the last 60 years. 

Then Kendra introduced herself and her publication to me.  She writes from her heart, and I've noticed most of the other writers on her Web site do too.  

I learned, too, that there are groups of people who focus just on scrapbooking their memoirs in new and unique ways.     I read articles about how to go about writing one's memoirs, and was introduced to a long list of blogs that focus on memoir writing and creating memoirs.

I am juiced in it this whole thing now.  I believe I will scrapbook my lifetime with the help of all the great helpful articles and how-to-do-it pages and blogs.  I'll also do a lot of journaling and blogging on the photos, collages, and art-journaled pages.  

I found a Time-Life pictorial book on the Fifties and Sixties and I'm hot to trot.  I have to preserve the scenes and poster images of my various ages somewhere. 

Anyhow this prompt is from "Women's Memoirs," and it sounds like so much fun and at the same time darkly moody and thought-provoking, which appeals to me.   I am going to write my response here and hope it gets you started so you can e-mail me yours and prove how much better of a writer you are.

Here's the prompt:

Writing Prompt LogoPost #50 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Memoir Writing Prompt

1. Imagine the type of forest you are growing. Then describe the trees. Are they tall or short? Lean or ample? Evergreen or deciduous? Does each have many branches or just a few?

2. Compare your life story to your forest. Do you think you’ve been too busy to plant trees? Imagine that you can take each year of your life and turn it into a tree.

3. Look forward 10 or 20 or 30 years. Write the stories that will become your best trees.
Have fun with this prompt. Too busy to write at the moment? Then spend a few minutes thinking about how the years go by, almost without notice. Resolve to plant and nurture your years so that the lifetime forest they produce can be enjoyed by others.


I found this brief description of my inspirational tree near a photo of several on Bing Images.  The photo of the woman jumping for joy in her own private poplar forest was donated to the public domain by the photographer. 

I. I had never seen, and I'm going to use a word here that has become a cliche due to sloppy and not carefully chosen overuse, but I have to say it, the "awesome" poplar tree before I traveled at age 19 to Ely, MN.  

Ely is a mere 15 miles south of the Canadian border and we four camped for three months in the Superior National Forest in a renewing and replenishing experience that took two couples that were street jivin', burned out, cool unto death,  hippie dopers on their way to alcoholism as well and transformed them into practically innocent naifs of the wilderness.  We learned how to walk by only starlight and the moon's glow without bumping into every other tree in the forest.   We learned how to catch, clean and cook the best fresh Walleye any of us had ever imagined.   And we learned a respect for Nature that wasn't just idle hippie rapping and pretentious chit-chat. 

We survived in rudely made lean-tos fashioned from house-painting plastic tarps,  chemical pills to make the Kawishiwee River water drinkable, and dug out holes in the sandy soil to hold our food that needed refrigeration.  I was particularly proud of learning how to bake bread on the top of a Coleman stove.  

The sweet, pungent wafting fragrance of all the tall Pine trees gathered us into its loving presence like Grandma used to drape a soft, fluffy towel over our heads and faces as she had us breathe in the camphor spirits simmering in the hot water in the sink to help us breathe better.  Sinuses were never clearer and air never felt more fresh and alive than in the Superior National Forest.   

But the permeating Pine essence that crept into every cell of our lives brought with it an awareness of joyful living and an excitement about what natural miracles would expose themselves next.   What could you expect other than miracles when the eerie, mysterious cry of a lone loon began and ended the day on the river.

But the first time I experienced the incredibly long and tall stand, up to 80 feet,  of white-barked poplar trees I felt I had crossed through and entered a surreal paradise.  The sunlit glaring and light reflecting whiteness of the bark of all those poplar trees majestically lined up as though for review by a king or queen jolted me into a deeper awareness, almost a psychic communication.  It was the first time trees took on real life approaching humanity for me and I felt a psychic connection.

They stood with quivering silver leaves in their nearly militarily straight-lined rows.   I sensed they were waiting for something.  I wanted to find out their secret.  I would sit and I would meditate with their expanding spirits.   I would discover their true source and path to wisdom and sharing with humanity.  I would wait with them.

"The most widely distributed tree in North America is a mystery. Called quaking aspen for the trembling of its leaves, it is anything but timorous or fragile. It is unfathomably ancient and enduring, approaching what has been called "theoretical immortality." It is a lifeform persisting over time without offspring, in suspended animation, waiting patiently through the dark passage of millennia for something we can only guess at." (http://arts.envirolink.org/literary_arts/DavidLukas.html) from "Aspens," by David Lukas

Your first inclination is to delicately pass a few fingers over its exposed white flesh.   It looks and feels as though it has been skinned alive or stripped naked and defenseless and left vulnerable.  

When you see initials or worse carved into its tender white flesh, you shudder at both its presumed loss of faith in man's love and appreciation for nature,  and its sap-leaking painful wound and the scar that will long recall it.   Its damaged, broken flesh is smooth and cool.   

You feel like you are one of "them." The beings without roots.  You are a human being and hence you have brought pain, degradation and corruption to the sacred spirit of God's tree.

Its double-sided faces on its leaves remind you of your own public and private masks.  Their public persona shows healthy looking,  dark-green glossy leaves.  The slightest breeze reveals a definitely more private and rarer silvery white underside.

Yes, I do know what it is to have a glossy public persona who smiles through hurt sensitivities and zinged arrows that pierce self-esteem.    While a private silvery moon-influenced resentment or sorrow is met with clenched teeth and hot rivers of tears that can be unleashed when no one is looking. 

Here is a loving poem to my friend and co-conspirator, the Poplar.  Titled simply "The Poplar" it is written by the Imagist Poet Richard Aldington. 

                            The Poplar

      WHY do you always stand there shivering
      Between the white stream and the road?

      The people pass through the dust
      On bicycles, in carts, in motor-cars;
      The wagoners go by at dawn;
      The lovers walk on the grass path at night.

      Stir from your roots, walk, poplar!
      You are more beautiful than they are.

      I know that the white wind loves you,
      Is always kissing you and turning up
      The white lining of your green petticoat.
      The sky darts through you like blue rain,
      And the grey rain drips on your flanks
      And loves you.
      And I have seen the moon
      Slip his silver penny into your pocket
      As you straightened your hair;
      And the white mist curling and hesitating
      Like a bashful lover about your knees.

      I know you, poplar;
      I have watched you since I was ten.
      But if you had a little real love,
      A little strength,
      You would leave your nonchalant idle lovers
      And go walking down the white road
      Behind the wagoners.

      There are beautiful beeches down beyond the hill.
      Will you always stand there shivering? 


I I.   I stand shivering and sit crosslegged, shaking looking up, up and farther up.  My three friends want to go a concert in New York in Woodstock.   They say everyone will be there.

I want to stay in the woods with my poplars, pines, loon cries and yoga twice a day.  I feel separated from these three humans, although one is my husband.

I feel alone but not lonely. I crave solitude.  I want to hear the forest speaking, the waters of the River murmuring to me and the stars exploding in my consciousness. Why can't they drive away and leave me here?  The Quivering Ash understand me.  They will look out for me.

III.  I love the poplars because they grow fast.  One minute you are burning in the sun, and soon you are in their kind shade.  I want to emulate their growth in my life.   I  have wasted too many years of my life.  

My formative years were spent being wild, getting in trouble and getting beat by my abusive alcoholic parents who insisted that I watch their five younger kids, try to keep some order in Bedlam, and make good grades when I'd been up all night calling bars, begging them to come home.  Then I had to stay up until dawn patrolling the couches and chairs for fear they'd drop a cigarette and burn down the house.

My teen years were more of the same except with more "love"/addiction to someone who needed me more than I needed him.  I wanted to get the hell out of the house. 

He convinced me that no one in my whole life would ever love me as much as he did.   So we got married at 18 and drove off to Haight-Ashbury to see about living in a commune.  

He became mentally ill from too much LSD or bad drugs, and I flew home, hoping to just forget about the whole bogus marriage.  Unfortunately, I had to waste several more years supporting this grandiose husband who believed he was going to be a famous rock star and that my purpose in life was to support him doing secretarial work while he worked on "Making It Big."  What Bullshit!  How could I have fallen for such pablum!

When I was 23, things finally picked up.  We split up and I moved to Carbondale, IL (and got off the freakin' farm) and went to college finally.   I had desperately wanted to attend college, but always believed we couldn't afford it.  I read in the local newspaper, The Southern Illinoisian, that now with the Democrats in office (this was early Seventies), things were opening up and were possible.  I got loans and grants.  I went from welfare to college and I was over my head in wonder and excitement.

So my life was then growing like the poplars.  I grew tall in a short period of time.  I thrived on reading Shakespeare, old, modern and contemporary writers and poets,  plays, writing short stories and poetry, reading literature from around the world.  I even enjoyed Earth Science, Nutrition and logic, which I took out of curiosity.  

Like the poplar though, I made horrible wood to burn in the fireplace.  I became president of National Lambda Delta, the National Honorary Scholastic Society for Freshman Women.  I won scholarships and was given no-strings grants to use as I choose.  I fell in love with a Ph.D. psychologist who became the love of my life.  His area of specialization, ironically, was alcoholism.  He understood me well.  

My white barkless skin was vulnerable and my leaves blew sterling in the breezes, but still I shot up tall.  Then I started playing with matches and combustants.  I gave up some street drugs so I could study, but stupidly took  the initial steps into the dreaded family disease.

I lived for club and bar life and was rarely sober.  Sometimes I had to drop out of school for semesters at a time.  I took incompletes in courses where I was making A's because I didn't want to write a final thesis or study for a final exam.  Couldn't focus, man.  

A year later, I watched the grades for class after class turn into F's from what should have been A's.  

It goes on.  It got worse.  Finally I dropped out of school for years.  The love of my life, the psychologist, drowned.  I fell into a abyss and stayed in that hole for years, but I did crawl out enough to get sober with help from others and a power greater than myself.

More time wasted during these lost and then recovering years.  But there was nothing without recovery.   Nothing much else got done. 

Years later I returned to classes at the U. of I-Chicago and got my degree.  I got a job in writing and editing for a magazine.  My life made sense.  I was growing again. 

I like it that poplar trees live a good long time.  I am 60 now and have 256 goals, 25 intentions to live by, a notebook full of daily synchronicities or coincidences that help me understand what direction I'm headed and what I should do next.  I have a business to start, a second book to write, and much more.  

In a couple of months I will take on my fall colors and believe more than ever that there is a time and a season for all things, especially beginnings.  Fall fills me with desire to create something beautiful with my life.  I want to contribute to our united evolution by beginning with my own.  I want to learn compassion so that it passes through me as easily as air.  I want to achieve higher consciousness and help others find their own if they need a hand.

I will be bursting then, as I almost am now, with desires, goals, dreams, creative juices and the golden results of daily prayer, spiritual journaling and meditation.  I am a quivering Ash.  I quiver with excitement about what the long future brings today and day by day.

One more thing,  I want to heal:  Poplars, "The juice of poplar leaves, dropped into the ears, assuages the pain; and the buds contus'd,  and mixed with honey, is a good collyrium for the eyes;  as the unguent to refrigerate and cause sleep."  (http://www.oldandsold.com/articles11/trees-14.shtml)

Oh to be restful, be calming and restore sleep to those from who it has fled!

Finally, this seems as good as place as any to drop in something synchronicity brought me this week from one of my heroes, the Dalai Lama:

Twenty Good Karma Notes from The Dalai Lama

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three R's:
- Respect for self,
- Respect for others and
- Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great relationship.
7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
20. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.


Kendra Bonnett said...

Maryellen, You have an interesting approach in mind for your scrapbook memoir (or as we at Women's Memoirs call them ScrapMoirs). I hope you'll decide to share some of your work with us. Thursdays are ScrapMoir day at Women's Memoirs. We share writers' works with our readers. We've been running a lot of KitchenScraps of late, which combine a vignette of a food or cooking memory, a few photos and, of course, The Recipe. These are great fun. And every other week, guest blogger Bettyann Schmidt shares her experience combining her love of scrapbooking with her memoir writing. I think you'll find a lot of inspiration in these posts.

Good luck with your project. And do keep us informed of your progress.

Bettyann Schmidt said...

Hi! I saw your comment on Women's Memoirs about "The Forest," so I thought I'd leave a comment on your blog. I like your story about the poplars. We have them here on the farm. Good to "meet" you.

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