Yesterday my friend Iren surprised me with a gift – actually two – slabs of fragrant cedar that she had cut herself for firewood.
One cross section, a large one, irregularly shaped like a cauliflower floret took me back to 1971, the last holiday I was ever to spend with my twenty one year old brother who was my dearest companion and soul mate. That Christmas he had surprised me with another equally beautiful slab of sweet cedar with its red center.
A month later he shot himself and my world went dead.
The following year I spent in New York. My grandmother was dying and when my two young children (6 and 4) returned to Maine after her death my precious cedar slab had vanished. The neighbors who had stayed in our little house had probably burned it as firewood. I was devastated.
As children my little brother and I both gravitated to the cedar tree (white) as being our favorite tree of all, often picking twigs to keep in our room and carving small animals out of its fragrant heart wood.
When I moved to the mountains and built my log cabin the first tree I planted after my fruit trees was a white cedar. She became the house’s guardian spirit tree, and each year I decorated her during winter darkness and starry nights – the holy days that are celebrated in every culture with trees and lights, tucking a crystal star into her center that twinkled as she offered shelter and protection for winter birds.
Last winter while I was here in Abiquiu, my deer devastated the branches of this once magnificent tree that I had grown as a seedling. When I returned to Maine in the spring I understood that this tree would not recover from being girded and shorn of most of her branches, so I cut her down fearing a lingering tree death and hoping to hasten her demise. All summer, the doe and the fawn grazed on her branches and each time I walked out the door I could feel the hole she left behind… My house had lost her guardian.
One day last fall I was walking down the road and on a whim, gently uprooted a tiny cedar seedling, potted it and brought it with me across country to Abiquiu, intentionally. I did not understand why I did this, only that I needed to. Each morning, I mist her branches, and my hope is that one day she will thrive in Casita del Oso (house of the bear) eventually developing that dense teardrop shape, perhaps living in a pot for a few years…
Last night when I carefully placed my cedar slabs in my little bird room I could smell the tree’s sweet scent. I thought about my brother with the usual poignancy and sent my deepest gratitude to the woman who couldn’t have known what it would mean to me to be given this particular gift. Another circle was closing. It feels almost as if my brother is once again with me in some intangible way…
I can’t end this reflection without mentioning how important the cedar tree is to mythology. It is used by many Indigenous tribes as incense and as a purifying herb. Cedar is associated with prayer and healing, dreams, and acts as a protector (ess). Many rituals surround the felling of cedar trees that are used as sweat lodge poles and in medicine bundles.
In Greek mythology some women are actually turned into trees to escape being raped. The Egyptian Isis discovered the body of her beloved in a cedar tree, and eventually brought him back to life, long enough to conceive her child.
Women and trees have a natural affinity for one another. Mystics, or “sensitives” like me can often feel what a tree might be conveying without words. And during these times of world tree destruction the screams of many haunt our dreams.