(author inhaling sweet scent, gathering a few boughs, bowing her head in gratitude)
In a couple of weeks All Hallows will be upon us marking the end of the Celtic year. Those of us like many Indigenous peoples who use this wheel to define the boundaries of our seasonal space will move into the space – in – between until winter solstice. Reflecting, I am struck by the fact that my body has been submerged in “Great Sorrow” for eleven long months…
The grief I embody is both personal and Plant/Earth based. The boundaries began to blur between self and plant last November when I lost a passionflower, a beloved friend of 17 years. Now the two have completely merged, so that when, for example, I am confronted with the fact that my body cannot tolerate extreme heat and ongoing drought and I become ill from the smoke that is killing much beloved trees by the millions in unprecedented forest fires, the grief of one bleeds into and merges completely with the other. The Tree Woman in me is literally dying.
What can a statement like this mean? One answer might be that on a personal level I associate the ‘tree woman’ with my mother who in her sixties gave me a juniper to care for without explanation. At the time, I felt the strangeness of this gesture, wondering what this passing of the torch of trees might have meant. My love of all trees including junipers has been a part of my life since I was a child who first remembers falling in love with an apple tree with golden apples outside my grandmother’s window. During my adult life two to three hundred year old apple trees sheltered my home by the sea, and later when I moved to mountains I planted crab -apple trees and lived in a forest of mixed maple, oak, ash, pine and juniper all of which provided me with dappled shade and protection from wind, winter storms, and sun. In the fall of each year the maples caught fire torching the sky with wonder.
When I moved to New Mexico at first I fell in love with the native gnarled junipers that dotted the sparse desert hills. More recently I have adopted a guardian juniper just outside my door that has grown a foot under my loving care during this summer’s horrific heat and drought. Why? This tree wants to live; and I have watered and loved her like a mother… The Cottonwood Matriarchs whose now golden fall canopies bow and grace the earth still offer shelter to a family of owls. Every time I walk under one I give thanks for all trees. Trees and plants are the legacy of my Motherline, which ends with me, a source of grieving on a personal level, I see now.
But the tree mother in me is also the one who has endured unspeakable family sorrow as well as the loss of trees and animals that I love. This woman who has fought to keep her family relationships intact has failed. Her deep abiding love for Nature hasn’t helped change the trajectory that we are on. This mother needs an infusion of hope to go on; she is losing precious life energy.
On a collective level the trees are the lungs of the Earth. Without their presence all oxygen breathing animals including humans will die, and yet this obvious fact appears to go unnoticed as we prescribe more “controlled burning” and ever more extreme logging. As trees disappear by the billions humans continue to clear more land for building, for grazing animals, and for agri – business without a thought to what the consequences of this mindless behavior will mean for us and for the planet. Then there is the problem of disappearing wildlife. Trees offer shelter and food for the birds, create habitat for all forested creatures and keep moisture in the earth during times of extreme drought. At present The Earth has caught Fire a result of global warming and still we “soldier on” with the same destructive practices. So many stadning Tree Mothers are withering, dying from lack of adequate nourishing mineral rich water.
Just as my Motherline ends with my death and hope for authentic change dims I am also carrying the awareness that the lives of all trees are numbered. The first of these truths makes me sad, the second spirals me into depression, but it is the latter that crushes my spirit. I am myself and the spirit, soul, and body of every tree and plant. We have been fighting to stay alive, for now (The word future has no meaning in this context). And all this effort has come to naught. And it has been made so much worse by endless rounds of denial on the part of individuals and the body politic of the collective. Most repugnant to me is the refusal of people to take any position on this catastrophic collective situation; this leaves the door open to false hope, so called positive thinking (another lethal form of denial), acceptance (We are supposed to be “accepting” of femicide with respect to women, trees, the earth?), and an irrational belief in the “magic” of mechanistic science to ‘fix’ our problems. This latter reliance on science serves no one, certainly not the trees who are screaming to anyone who will listen.
Mythologically, trees and women have been linked since the dawn of humankind. In story they frequently shapeshift into one another. And why not? Trees are expert communicators who thrive in a culture of containment and community. Their “tree culture” is based on nurturance – caring for self/others – those who are in need, communication, and the sharing of resources like water and food. Trees thrive on the interconnectivity between all species.
In the same vein, it is women that historically created human culture, sustained it until about 5000 years ago, when this egalitarian matriarchal culture that valued community, nurturing, relationships and peace began to be overthrown by warring peoples, a practice that continues to this day. Ironically, it is women’s perspective that is our only authentic hope. Women, if given the chance, could address the imbalances in the thinking/behaviors that are behind the destruction of ourselves/other species/the planet if only their VOICES were heard.
Unfortunately, the voices of women are muted as we recently experienced when Dr. Ford courageously came forward to testify against the nomination of a man to the Supreme Court who had attempted to rape her as an adolescent. This woman had nothing to gain from her disclosure, was articulate and soft spoken as she stood up to her abuser (women are never allowed to express anger although men can cry and have tantrums) and yet she was deemed not credible enough. Millions of women including myself have been submerged in the collective grief experienced by all women who have been abused not just today but over thousands of years. Again and again we are shown that women’s voices don’t matter. We are dismissed and silenced, ad nauseum.
There is a direct relationship between women who are assaulted and the trees/plants that supply us with the oxygen that we must have to breathe. WE ARE BOTH BEING RAPED, and this grievous assault continues to be sanctioned by a culture hell bent on destruction of women, trees, and the planet herself.
How can it be that no one is listening?