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Photo taken by contributor Jan Austin Smith, a 27-year-old man living in Northern California. Jan has been around people with mental health issues his whole life, including his mother, a psychiatrist, who has depression, and his closest aunt, who is bipolar. Jan has also suffered from depression and anxiety himself, which has been hugely exacerbated by disabling chronic nerve pain in his knees, and 5 knee surgeries. He thinks that mental issues are so maligned in the dominant culture, it is tragically sad. On his website, TheRewildWest, he writes about human, Earth, and animal liberation, as well as displays his beloved nature photography. He’s also a novelist, and editor/book reviewer for the Green Theory and Praxis Journal.
About this photo: “This is a picture of one of my favorite trees, the glorious Ponderosa Pine, who live all over California, especially in the mountains. I love their deeply furrowed trunks, how they look like they’re fitted with puzzle pieces. I call them the “Phoenix Trees”, because they are a species whose seeds only germinate through fire. They literally rise from their own ashes. They are deeply symbolic to me, symbolic of the inevitability in our lives of fires, of struggle and devastation, and yet we must learn to be strong and weather these firestorms. And sometimes we can be taken all the way down, feeling like we are destroyed and can’t possibly go on. But we can, and we must–we can rise from the ashes of our own tattered psyches and grow anew. Trees and forests give me such a sense of peace and strength; we can learn so much from natural communities, if only we’d breathe deeply and be quiet and patient and learn to listen.”