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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Strube

Read the Writing on the…


Were you expecting that? Nope, me neither. I was expecting to enter a silent forest where I could gladly spend my afternoon contemplating existential crises or some deep zen poetry. But the bamboo forest is anything but silent. In fact, you can’t walk more than a few yards before you are surrounded by sprouted shrubs yelling secret poems at you…

None of which I understand.

This is so typical. I finally hear a message from the heavens and its written in bloody Hanzi.

When I first stumbled upon the writing on the bamboo, I thought they were simply trail markers. But on second consideration, there was no road through the forest. Night was falling and the words followed no linear path (oh wait, this could be a sentimental metaphor for life, but I’ll opt to leave it out.) Either way, the origins of the writings were troubling to me. If they weren’t trail markers, there were only a few viable options:

A. The forrest had been ravaged by warring Panda gangs, delineating their East/West territories with angry graffitti scrawl, similar to the Bloods and Crypts, but without all the blood… or the crypt… only fuzzy warring bears wielding felt tip Sharpies

B. Someone forgot to tell the locals that you have to shave trees before you can use them for calligraphy paper

C. God really has given up on corrupt America — as Borat predicted —  and has turned his allegiance to the Far East, where he is writing his messages to any forest dweller who will simply meditate and listen

D. Rural China is the new filming locale for Bill Cosby’s hit show Picture Pages, since it got axed from cable television in 1987. We still love your singing marker, Bill. Thanks for saving the trees.

I’ll let you decide which is true. Whether or not you believe me, you do have to pay attention anytime writing appears to you on a looming shrubbery. After all, the phrase “writing on the wall” didn’t emerge out of vapor and people have been oohing and aaahing over mysterious hieroglyphics for centuries. Stemming back to the Jewish Talmud, there was a sacred story about an alcoholic named Balthazar. One night, Bal got so miffed when he ran out of wine goblets, he decided to use the holy temple relics as his latest Merlot cup holders.

Bad move, Bal. Never put Merlot in anything but crystal.

Suddenly, dismembered hands appeared and wrote mene mene tekel upharsin’.  Like me in the bamboo forest, Bal didn’t really get the code words, so he phoned a friend named Daniel, who tells him that his days are numbered and his kingdom will be soon go to shite. That night, Bal bit the big one. It was a quick working code apparently — hence, the phrase, read the writing on the wall…  pay attention to floating fingers or else!

The idiom has progressed slightly since then. No one really thinks of fat slain drunks anymore with the expression; we use it more to denote an important message from the Transcendent Obvious. But how much more exciting would it be if someone told you to read the writing on the bamboo rather than the wall! Really, walls are always show-stoppers. Trust me. China has a great wall and it stopped just about everyone. But bamboo is alive and growing. It means the message can be crawled upon. Surely the supernatural sends secrets that can be climbed rather than merely read from hallowed rock! “Suck the marrow,” Thoreau told us from his own forrest home, and bamboo does appear like giant green bendy straws.


When I realized I couldn’t read the writing on the bamboo, I decided the only natural next step was to play with the text. Yes, when you can’t read the script, play on the words (pun tragically intended). When you can’t grasp the spiritual writings, crawl over them. Bend them. And keep climbing until you find the message.   

We all come to nature for different reasons. The message here was as plain as Hanzi: Being in bamboo makes me feel like a banche. Nature awakens my soul. Did I mention I could settle down with Tarzan any day of the week, and my ideal house has a stream running through it, a Redwood in the living room foyer, and enough cedar wood to stock a sauna. 

And my ideal China was this very space, mountain mist hovering over stalks of green climbing poles.

Part of me wanted a panda to crawl out from the fog, while another part longed to see sword fighters leap from pole to pole, wearing nothing but Robin Hood leotards, back-flipping gracefully to Tan Dun violin-ridden soundtracks. But no pandas or princes arrived. However, the writing on the bamboo did.

I still had no translator, but thankfully, I  did have the pocket guide to Soulful Living: Greatest Spiritual Hits in my back pocket, as I don’t ever go into the forest without transformational literature. I did the old, sovereign, flip open the book/place my finger on the text/be assured of the holy message form of divination, but don’t judge me. I needed a translator for the bamboo messages. It read:

Trust the power within and use it. The awakened heart is a necessary condition for being able to receive the light. Love alone awakens the Divine in you, so let yourself become Love, Lover, and Beloved. Finally, discover the ways in which you are exceptional, the particular path you are meant to follow, for this is your business on earth, but above all else, lay down, place your hands on your chest, feel the pulse of life and stay there, churning your heart’s soil. And then, step back into the mystery.

I placed the book down, grateful for words, and for the place beyond words, and let the silence be enough. With book in hand, thousands of screaming trees around me, and a beating in my soul, I did the only thing I could do.

I started to dance.

May you all find yourself a little more free today, your step a little sweeter, knowing that signs are all around us, even if you don’t have a clue what they are saying. Our job is to beat, to trust, to love, and to match our feet with our pulse, until the Love becomes our Light again. Peace — my dear ones.

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