Updated: Sep 22, 2022
I received a text from my friend the Angel Bird at 7.00am that said “HKS Art & Culture in public Life Symposium”. I thought it was something in Hong Kong, as I had just woken from a dream where I was with my father in some kind of hospice place in Hong Kong, and the director was telling me about a program, they had. It was to help the dying with the shame that they felt in passing away, and it involved having animals to comfort them. I was struck by the information about shame, but thought of course animals would help with the anxiety someone might feel. My father got angry and began to argue with me; but that’s beside the point, save that as the patriarchal figure he could be representing authority or the conventions we are often bound by, and that I sometimes forget to understand.
I clicked on the link and listened in to a panel discussion on climate advocacy through the arts at Harvard Kennedy School, and so began Digital & Stones first purchase of land for conservation through conserve.org and art for acres. 8 acres of Cloud Forest in Guatemala. One of our companies vision goals is to offset carbon footprints and to partner with land conservation. The intention is to house virtual memorials in the cloud and attach them through gps system to a sustainable practice of conservation and restoration.
The unifying principal of art is the meaning of life and death. All art is religious expression when you understand the origin of the word Religion, and that it comes from the latin religaris - which means to reconnect.
Clouds are the connection to release us from the terrestrial. Floating between earth and the upper reaches of the atmosphere, they are the endless reciprocal exchange between the ethereal and earthly, moving between formlessness and form. In some cultures the clouds are the well spring of fertility, both life giving rain and fertility principal itself activating the receptive earth. In the Q’eqchi’ Maya language it is said “the forest draws the clouds” and “the forest catches the clouds” (li kiche’ naxkelo / naxchap li choq).” This is exactly what a cloud forest does. Cloud forests draw clouds and cloud forests catch clouds. Or in the parlance of biologists, cloud forests filter clouds in a process called lateral cloud filtration. They become virtual water factories.
This 80-million-year-old tropical Cloud Forest located in the Northern Highlands of Guatemala is rated among the highest carbon sequestration forests globally; conserving the land is good for a stable climate. Each acre protects approximately 156 metric tonnes of stored above and below ground carbon. So our 8 acres are the carbon lock box for 1,248 metric tonnes of carbon. The location receives about 1 inch of rain a day: wetter than a rainforest. The land will remain wild because of this gift and will be presented for National Park status, ideally to be granted in 2025. Thanks to this conservation, we are on the path to preserving the last large remaining cloud forest in Central America.
This jade green tropical forest is home to jaguars, resplendent quetzals (“bird of death, bird of life,” in ancient art and legends it is the spiritual protector over the heads of kings) and many species yet-to-be-named by science. The forest is on a limestone mountain that spans from 2,000 to 8,000 feet and is the watershed for 13 villages. The conservation was requested by the local communities spanning a ten-year biodiversity review and due diligence phase and the 8 acres will be conserved in a traditional manner: purchased and held in a conservation land trust. On-the-ground conservation work is being done by the local leader, Fundaeco; the conservation support is provided by Global Wildlife Conservation and Rainforest Trust.
The Mayans believed their deities lived ontop of the mountains and high forests which were often hidden by clouds. Many were immortalized in the limestone Stelae from these mountains, the most beautiful lithographs and drawings of which were created by Frederick Catherwood in 1839. Chaac the ancient Mayan God of rain was often adorned with Jade axes and Jade serpents that he would throw at the clouds to produce rain, his actions ensured the growth of crops like maize maintaining the cycles of life. Jade with its green color associated with water, vegetation and young maturing corn was related to life and death through personal adornments or accompanying objects in burial and death rituals like beads of jade in the mouth and death masks. The Mayans would prepare high ranking officials and Kings for the next life by placing a jade mask over their face, confering them to eternal life that the human body did not possess. This cementing and transformation into a god, was deep in beauty, creativity and a transcendence of death. Through the artistic interpretations this rich relationship between the earth and the cosmos became a physical gift to the sacred, the intangible - to the gods that gave them life. It represents everything abstract through the corporeal, the notion of eternal life to the humid giving air of the cloud forests.
I think back to that dream, and the “shame” that was being felt in dying, and the words original meaning “to cover”. I think of the Jade Masks covering the face of the officials to make them immortal, was it to hide their shame in being mortal? When man feels the coming of the ego consciousness that separates him and makes him feel apart from the animal and plant kingdom, when he leaves the original paradise of unconsciousness, he feels shame. So thought Carl Jung. The development of shame is an old story from the book of Genesis chapter 2 verse 25 It was after Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that they knew they were naked. God cast them out from the garden of Eden, they became conscious, and were ashamed and they were forever separated from the paradise of their innocence. The Physical gift of the sacred is our land, it is our trees and forests, the life giving force of nature that exists beyond us and in spite of us. It is our duty to protect our paradise on earth, make it your eternal legacy.