( My Norfolk pine(s) soaking in the sun…)
Each November as we enter the dark time of the year I begin my celebration of the trees. In retrospect this honoring of trees probably began when I was a small child who followed her mother into the woods each November to tip and gather branches from the evergreens to make a wreath.
By the time we return to Nature’s time I have gathered graceful boughs, arranged them around the house and placed miniature lights on the surface of the fronds. This year I have a Norfolk Island Pine whose base is also ringed with white lights. When the sun makes its descent and dusk gathers me in her embrace the twinkling blue, green (to symbolize my love for earth and sky) and white lights ( to symbolize winter) of the boughs bathe the house in a warm glow as I give thanks for the life of every tree on this planet. This year the house is festooned with greens from juniper, pinion, spruce, and cypress.
This lighting of the boughs and intentionally giving thanks will continue each night for me until “First Light,” or “the day the Bear Returns to Life,” an ancient Indigenous feast that occurs on or around February 2nd, the first celebration after the wheel turns at winter solstice.
In addition to the boughs I recently constructed the frames for the two wreaths that will soon grace this house just as they have every other home we have lived in.
My “Thanksgiving” consists of lighting all the tree boughs, sitting on the floor by the wood stove, weaving evergreen branches into a wreath, and remembering special trees that I loved, some that I lost…
My grandmother’s golden apple tree was the first…As a child my grandmother would awaken me on moonlit nights to gaze at the deer that gathered round to eat the golden apples that fell to the ground each fall. Memories of the bountiful tree, a white moon, the silhouettes of the does or bucks (they didn’t come together) must have transported me into another dimension because that memory is etched so vividly in my mind. When the old tree began to lose branches my grandfather chopped her down, and for years after I “saw” a tree where none existed.
The summer before last I returned to Maine and discovered to my horror that the cedar I had planted as a seedling about 15 years ago had been so decimated by hungry deer that virtually all her leaves were gone. Only a parched skeleton remained standing. I knew what I had to do. It takes trees a long time to die, and to shorten her suffering I took my handsaw and felled the tree with such a multitude of tears flowing that I couldn’t see. I not only had lost a dear friend but I lost my House Guardian, for this tree had been planted with this clear intention. Like the golden apple tree I “saw” my cedar every time I walked out of my house for the four months I stayed there. Tree spirits/souls are powerful beings and their presence remains long after their death.
That same summer, about a week before leaving for Abiquiu I was walking in the woods when a cedar seedling spoke to me; “uproot me, I will come with you,” she whispered in a small voice. I listened. Following her directions I bent over and gently nudged the moist soil with my fingers and just as she had instructed the tree dislodged itself almost without assistance. Frankly, I was stunned, but knew too this tree would be coming with me no matter what (by the way, the last thing I needed was another plant in my car). Presently she reposes in a pot on the windowsill behind the pine. Trees like company. This little cedar has doubled in size within the year. So here in Abiquiu, I have two trees living inside the house and the story of how the pine came to me is a particularly joyous one that I want to share…
When I moved into this adobe my very sensitive and caring friend Iren showered me with gifts… three of her magnificent paintings hang on these walls, and she also gave me her tree!
The hardest part of leaving Maine was leaving my Norfolk Island Pine behind. She had been with me for so many years and now here she was again in another incarnation! I couldn’t believe it. I immediately re – potted my new friend and that’s when I realized that like my other pine, this one was actually a miniature tree forest with three trees in one container! All summer I talked to her/ them, touched multiple fronds lovingly, and looked for new growth. But it wasn’t until September that I noticed the first emerald sprouts. Delicate lacy fronds were inching towards the light. Since then top knots have doubled in size and each of the three trees has new luminous green growth. I am so thrilled, so grateful; those three trees and I have become part of each other in a very short time.
I can’t finish this tree reflection without including my outdoor tree, a newly adopted juniper that is about the same size as the cedar I lost in Maine. Last summer was the most devastating season I have ever lived through in 74 years. The heat was intolerable. The terrifying drought withered grasses, trees and bushes lost leaves prematurely, wildflowers ceased to bloom, sagebrush and scrub stayed gray with thirst and worst of all for me was the fact that I could hear the trees screaming for water. All plants can live without nutrients for a time, but none can live without adequate moisture. Trees by the hundreds of thousands were also burning in wildfires that were out of control and the smoke from dying trees made me physically ill. With death stalking me from every direction, I was overwhelmed with fear and grief.
In feeble protest, before the dawning of each day, I watered my solitary juniper. I couldn’t save them all but maybe I could help this one… it seemed like such a hopeless, even pitiful action, yet I continued watering. Today I look out the window at a thriving juniper, one who has added a foot to her girth and height and I remind myself that even saving one tree means something…
This year my prayer for the trees is that they receive enough moisture to set buds, continue to photosynthesize, transpire, to find and absorb enough water underground to sustain them, to communicate through their complex root systems perhaps developing new strategies for surviving Climate Change – or not. Most of all, I hope that each tree can rest; the drought has stolen so much of their precious life energy…
On my Thanksgiving day as I weave each bough into the Circle of Tree Becoming I will be saying a prayer for their continued existence, reminding myself that without trees to provide us with oxygen to breathe, life as we know it will cease to exist.
In a couple of days when November’s full Beaver Moon rises over the trees I will also ask for a World Tree Blessing.