Planet Waves by Eric Francis | Love & Trees


Love & Trees

Planet Waves for August 2000 | by Eric Francis

Copywright ©2000 by Planet Waves Digital Media

Siuslaw National Forest blankets the landscape over tens of thousands of acres along the central Oregon coast and about thirty miles inland, in a region of North America interlaced by clear, sandy-bottomed rivers that soon flow into the mighty north Pacific Ocean. I am driving through the forest with my riding partner, Valarie, with whom I have traveled down from her home on Puget Sound north of Seattle; the day before I made my way from British Columbia.

I'm heading through this forest on the way to a weekend workshop on erotic spirituality, after being asked by Dr. Deborah Anapol, its creator, to handle digital recording of the talks and discussions. An intense, clear-spoken Jewish girl of 48, Dr. Anapol, known by her friends as Taj, has been a pioneer of teachings on enlightened sexuality for many years. I am sure her message would be splashed around the world communications networks in their constant hunger for a racy story, except that she violates Sex Taboo No. 1 of Puritanical America: uttering the notion that there is possibly life beyond monogamy. But unlike many of Taj's workshops, this weekend's process is not about what some call "polyamory," or being open to loving more than one person honestly. Rather, it's about the idea that the spiritual process and sexual passion are not mutually-exclusive experiences.

That's a roundabout way of saying God and Sex are the same thing, from many perspectives. Though both a sensible idea and one alien to our current culture, this view is shared by traditions reaching 5000 years back to the dawns of our civilizations, from Hindu to Taoist to Native American. At the very least, sex, as the genesis point of each new life, could never stand as a sin in anything but the most black, bleak cosmologies: yet behold our culture.

Though some may say it's a coincidence, we happen to be the same culture that is driving forward, with wild abandon, the destruction, stripping, overheating and contamination of our sister-mother-lover Earth at exponentially increasing rates, and apparently fully aware of what we are doing. If the information that has spilled out of corporate file vaults in the past 25 years of toxins lawsuits is indicative of anything, global destruction and poisoning life are known and accepted effects of Big Business-as-usual.

The Oregon day is bright and clear, and the trees seem to sing out their life. The scent and color of the forest is like eating food. As we drive, worlds of nature open up and welcome us. We sway in an old Nissan pickup along the curves and into the hollows of a landscape I have never imagined. But the names are all familiar to me: Tidewater, Five Rivers, Alsea, Salem, Lobster Valley, all known from my research into a moment of American history in which the residents of this very forest, rural people living in simple homes scattered along its roads, stood down the federal government's policy of spraying and dumping tons of Agent Orange, the Vietnam-era herbicide, onto their heads, their children, their gardens and animals, and all the surrounding forests.

It happened this way. Timber companies were given permission to clear-cut national forests in the early part of this century. But in the late 1960s, new federal law required replanting of new trees where millions of Douglas fir's had been stripped away, leaving bald land, then thick brush.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam War was raging violently half a world away, and as part of the war effort, the United States had a policy of dumping a chemical code-named Agent Orange onto Asian jungles to strip the leaves of trees bare and reveal the locations of so-called enemy troops. But in 1969 and 1970, The New Yorker magazine published a series of exposés by Thomas Whiteside revealing that five years earlier, researchers had discovered that Agent Orange caused birth defects and fetal death in lab animals, and that this fact had been covered up by the US military. Because millions of American troops were being exposed to the chemical, along with the Vietnamese, spraying in Asia was halted. Remember that in the years to come, many Vietnam veterans and their children became very ill as a result of Agent Orange exposure, and their lawsuits are still being fought in the federal courts today.

After the spraying ban in Vietnam, though, a strange thing happened, and I understand if you have difficulty believing this, because I did, and I do every time I think about it. The spray programs resumed in the United States, with great intensity, as part of the National Forest Service's program to speed up growth of evergreen trees in the Siuslaw and other clear-cut national forests. In other words, banned in Vietnam due to severe health effects, Agent Orange was brought home and used on American land and American people. The excuse was that evergreen trees, which are the fast buck for foresters, are resistant to the sprays. But deciduous (big leaf) trees are killed easily. So spraying tons of Agent Orange on stripped land became the favorite way to help nature along a little, hold down the growth of things like conifers and alders, and replace profitable evergreen trees. In reality, the other side of the story is that there were vast stores of Agent Orange that needed to be gotten rid of. And get rid they did. Meanwhile, more was being manufactured and sold at a high profit by companies like Dow Chemical and Monsanto Co.

After the spraying program began, residents of the Siuslaw forest began reporting a variety of health problems, including miscarriages, birth defects and vaginal bleeding in young girls -- diseases of the reproductive system. Meanwhile, it came to light that Agent Orange (composed of two chemicals, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T) was badly contaminated with dioxin. Remember that word, dioxin, because I will be writing more about it next month. During these vast spray programs, it was discovered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, a federal agency in Atlanta) that the dioxin-tainted Agent caused central nervous system birth defects, including hydrocephalus (excessive liquid in the brain cavity), spina bifida (a defect in which babies are born with an open spinal cord) and anencephaly (children born without a brain or spinal cord, who cannot live). The facts were hidden from the public and the poisoning continued; EPA covered up the fact that high dioxin levels were found in drinking water in the forest. Dioxin attacks at the point of reproduction, the formation of the fetus. It is a kind of sexual poison, and in not-so-high doses, it actually turns off sexual desire, reduces sperm counts and turns male babies into hermaphrodites, possessing attributes of both male and female. Many of the same effects are seen in wildlife.

In the spring of 1975, residents of the forest began their struggle against the federal agencies, and by the fall of 1984, after suffering much grief, loss and poisoning, and enduring mind-boggling coverups of the truth by the government, 2,5,4-T was withdrawn from the market outright, and spraying of 2,4-D on federal lands was stopped. The story is told in the book A Bitter Fog by Carol van Strum, my close colleague who lives in the Siuslaw, and who has taken many hours of her life to explain this history to me.

As we drive through this sunlit forest in the peak of late afternoon, I can feel the lives of the trees all but speaking their gratitude for the right to live in peace, and all of the past seems like some strange and impossible history. But when we get to the Oregon House, a small retreat center and hotel located on the coast, I call Carol and thank her on behalf of the kids, critters, weeds and rivers of the Siuslaw. And there, beside me, is the awesome Pacific, into which all rivers here flow, which was spared tons and tons of horrendous poison from being dumped into her waters.

Erotic spirituality, the theme of the workshop, is a little like the reforestation of clear-cut land. You can't bring what was back to being, and anyway, you can't even be sure of what was because it no longer is. I never paused to think that the all but one of the beautiful forests I have roamed, slept in and made love in were once land stripped bare. But then I think of Redwood Forest in northern California, and it becomes clear.

Workshops like this draw a diversity of what you might call ordinary, middle-class people: a computer programmer for Intel; a social worker; a mom/housewife whose husband does not know she is here. At 36, I am the youngest person in the room, a phenomenon I've been noticing since I was about 18. Everyone is here to nurture along the second growth of erotic lives once-cut bare to the ground by guilt, control and emotional pain. Most people figure out that they want this after a few divorces, experiences of being raped, and playing the usual game of turning their sexual pleasure into an economic commodity.

When the pain and difficulty become obvious, some people -- though a scant few -- seek out help of people like Taj. It's a beautiful thing to see.

The notion of erotic spirituality, as it's described by participants and the workshop leaders, sounds a lot like sex in the context of love and respect. How we got away from that is a long and horrid tale, most of it involving the abuse and control of women. This has happened in the context of a culture dominated and controlled by men and by the image of a male god, which has necessitated the crushing of organic (Pagan and other native) religions which honor or are created in the image of the feminine.

In the world we know, sex, and therefore intimacy, have become so hotly politicized, so covetously seized and possessed by the churches, that most people no longer feel free to experience their own life force. Call it guilt, call it fear, call it pain and scarring, but to me it's all about as sane as a daffodil feeling like it doesn't deserve to be yellow, or a conifer craving a good blast of Agent Orange.

Workshop participants talk about their desire to be free to experience intimacy and pleasure. To do this, we consciously create a safe space; we agree that nudity is normal, that sex in this space is normal, and that politely asking for sex is normal. For a moment, the games are off and simple honesty is allowed. There is, in this and most workshop spaces, an unusual degree of honesty; real discussions are had. Taj is a master of guiding the energy into healthy expressions of erotic love in her workshops. People are not exactly leaping onto one another or stripping off their clothes; the direct approaches are tentative; but slowly, a feeling of safety grows up among the participants.

On the second day, we participate in a process using breathwork. We are grouped in pairs, with men having been selected by the women in a closed (female only) meeting. A healing process, conducted with one's partner nude, and engaging in a special connected form of breathing that shifts awareness to a more sensitive level (similar to Rebirthing or Holotropic Breathwork), takes up most of the afternoon. In my process, working with my partner Valarie, I feel grief, loneliness and the pain of one particular long-term relationship begin to clear from my body and my emotions. Working on her, we both know that, since leaving her sexless eight-year marriage late last year, I am the first man to touch her. All around us, the sounds of human pleasure and emotional release fill the air, as bright afternoon sunlight floods in the windows and mixes with the tumbling and crashing music of the ocean and soft chanting on the sound system.

Though everyone has had a different experience, everyone has taken a step toward wholeness, small or large. And I know, intuitively, that this state of wholeness and peace, of being in tune with one's own erotic nature, is all it would take to create a world of people who are willing to find another way besides clear-cutting forests and having lethal chemicals dumped on our heads, or anyone else's. A world where there was another way besides war. For as long as we are in pain, we will not feel the pain of the planet, or of one another. For as long as that aspect of our sexuality that vibrates with nature, with Goddess and with God, is forgotten, damned or denied, we will, as far as I can see, never know where to begin to set things right.++

Deborah Anapol can be reached at

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