The Father Tree

Yesterday was Autumn at its glorious best.

The sky was bright blue, clear but for a few slowly forming stark white clouds that merged into light overcast as afternoon progressed.

I went out on a walk with my camera. It was the first time in ages. Not only did I not blog all Summer, I stopped taking photographs as well. I got some of a thrush feasting on blackberries.

Thrush 1 Thrush 2

I took rose hips
Rose hips
and turning leaves. I walked with meditative deliberateness, aware of each step and noticing any slight movements or sounds. It was an alive walk. I felt alive in a way I hadn’t for many months. The world was alive, even as it was beginning the process of retreating and dying back for the Winter ahead.

I did my last picking of blackberries of the season. And I assure you there were masses left for the birds — it seems unfair that the biggest and plumpest ones are way out of reach for us — but I smile at that thought and wish the birds well in their feasting. I walked through the local recreation ground on the way to the Harvest Festival and Fete and also on the way back. I stopped to notice that the huge Oak Tree had lots of acorns this year and fewer knopper galls. This made me happy because last year there were no acorns that I could see when I walked by a few times.

I spent more time approaching the Oak on my return. It seemed to be something I needed to do. I felt a deep sense of reverence for this huge wide spreading tree. He is a magnificent specimen.
The Father Tree

I paced out the diameter of his branch extension and it is 260! That would be feet! I walked around the trunk as well and it came to 16. It seems a very slender trunk to hold such huge branches, but it does.

As I circled in towards the trunk, after pacing it all out, I bowed to him, I have always thought of this tree as he, and when I got close enough I reached out my hand. Immediately there sprang between us a link, some connection. By the time I was close enough to touch the bark he began to speak to me. ‘Welcome daughter‘ were his first words.I pulled back a bit and shook my head. This tree had never spoken to me before.

There is a bigger, older Oak on a field boundary out beyond the village in the opposite direction whose name is Reverend Mother. She is very conversant. Last spring when I was walking there she asked me, it felt more like pleading me, to save some of her children. A number of very small Oaks were growing where they would be smashed by the tractor when it came to plowing. A few days later, I went back and working through the hard ground managed to retrieve two healthy seedlings. They are in pots and doing well, growing at the slow Oakish pace.

After a quick regrouping, I moved towards him again. There was a rush of recognition, from where I could not tell you. He told me I must visit more frequently. He assured me my roots were as securely placed in the soil of this land as his. A reassurance I had not expected. He flooded me with strength and energy. I am sure he is capable of being strict when he wants to be, but yesterday he was all gentleness. Maybe so he wouldn’t scare me away.

On the rest of my walk home, I thought about my genealogy in relation to trees, to specific trees and groups of trees I have made connections to and with since moving to Somerset. I wondered how would I plot, quite literally, my family tree. Though I know I am a daughter of the Yew, I see that at being in the sense of Yew, or a particular Yew (whom I’ve also written about) as, in relation to me, a grandmother/generational matriarch. My connection to the Yew is long standing and sacred in a way that other trees aren’t to the same depth, though Willow is very close in this regard. But I am sure now the other relationships will also deep, broaden and strengthen.

So, thinking about the trees who ring me with their energies for protection and in presence, the list might read like this:

Grandmothers: Yew and Willow
Mother: Beech (Whom I have written about as the Queen Tree)
Father: Oak
Siblings: Birch, Apple, Hazel and Rowan
Uncle: Holly
Aunt: Hawthorn

This was an exercise to try and look at very personal way of relating to particular trees in my environment. Since it flowed so effortlessly out my my encounter with the Father Tree, it seemed a valuable way to comprehend my relationships with certain trees. For some the relationship is fairly generic, there isn’t a particular tree I can identify with the assignment that feels right, well, not yet anyway. This is the case for Apple, Holly and Hawthorn, but I’m sure there is one waiting for me to meet it. With these three trees I have a general connection, maybe because Holly and Hawthorns are hedge dwellers and Apples are orchard trees. They live in groups and so to perceive an individual voice is likely to be harder to discern.

I believe I have written before of the Oak tree in whose lap I ran to sit in on the way to the grocery store every week with my mother and brother. Looking back I would say she was more a Nanny Tree. She was a source comfort and familiar presence with whom I felt safe and understood by in a way I never did with my human family.

At the time I could not have said why I felt that way, and it was not anywhere on my young radar that over fifty years later I would feel a so much stronger protective and profound connection to the Tree Folk. If anything that experience enables me, all those years later, to accept the gifts of connection with and claiming by the trees who ‘people’ the land and landscape which I Know is home. These connections will continue to unfold and the understandings expand for me. It seems no accident that all this is following on what happened on the Autumnal Equinox.

This deep, broad and intense Knowing is so sacred that to speak of it is like liturgy and prayer for me.

So, this is a liturgy and prayer I am sharing with you.

Any Wednesday

Today I walked with the gods, ancestors and spirits who dwell in the landscape nearest where I now reside.

I walked passing houses storied by the people who live in them. Storied by their inhabitants through acts of love, violence, indifference, hope, and despair. Storied by those who chose wisely and with honour, and those who are trapped in decisions made in haste and acts of self-indulgent deceit.

I walked beyond these and also by the hedges and banks that are home to the small ones, furred and feathered, sheltering from the increasing and inconsistent cold. I walked alone. I walked shedding feelings of sadness, of promises made to me and not kept, of days never allowed to achieve the potential invested in them. I shed these. I walked. I took photos to focus my intention and attention on the world of nature all around me.

It was any Wednesday
as I left the tarmacked road
and moved along a different trail,
but it was not what it seemed.

It was any Wednesday
as I followed the beckoning of the stream,
and moved along the muddied way,
but it was not what it seemed.

It was any Wednesday
yet bore revelations most profound
through the yawning gate of deepest winter,
and I saw with newly opened eyes,
and I heard with unblocked ears,
and I felt with reawakened senses,
walking with and amid those
who long before walked paths
not so different from my own
in following the lure of the winter’s day.

I watched the robin watching me,
saw the wren dart past from a withered hedge,
listened to the wind in the bare branched trees
and through dry hedge leaves,
I saw the preening swans and flying ducks,
and heard the stream coursing relentlessly to the sea.

We do not know the musics
our ancestors sang to
nor the languages of their song,
but we can know what inspired them
in the squelching mud,
the sharp bite of cold wind,
the warmth of midwinter sun,
the tumbling of the stream’s waters
and the calling of the wild things:
the quacking of ducks,
the cackling of herons,
the crawking of ravens,
the thrumming whoosh of swans skeinning low,
the howling of hounds.

We can still see bold oaks
twisting ivy and whithered bracken,
a cheeky robin,
a furtive wren,
a flitting band of sparrows,
but we must open the inner eye
and allow the deeper ear to hear
and the mind to pause its ceaseless doubt;
we must be willing to walk and pause,
to greet and be greeted
to watch and be watched
to wait upon and welcome
those unanticipated,
those least expected,
those who are willing to pull back
the curtain between now and then
as yet is a step we take together.

It was any Wednesday
but no Wednesday nor any day
will ever be the same.

A Day too Still

Walking on a day too still,
the world all silent waiting,
wondering what portends,
querying the hush,
quiet enough to hear
Poplar’s leaves
drifting
groundward,
though in the distance
combines rake the fields bare.

Going farther
at the stone bridge can be seen
through Stream’s running waters
long tendrilled trailing grasses,
bright Stream Nymphs’ hair.
and the gathering of bubbles
over mini rapids congregating
air’s infusion linking
elements and Elementals.

On down the path
where Stream babbles singing water’s song
to mudded banks eroded
in days well gone and long forgotten,
hear Heron call when taking flight,
strain to see Woodpecker least spotted
rhythmically tapping muffled on a living tree,
see Old Yaffle airborne low,
and Moorhen crossing in front ignoring danger
eager to enter Stream’s bidding,
‘come join my swirling dance’.

Turning round where the path ends
at a mown and empty field,
no gleaning birds to see
the harvest truly past there,
back now observing elderberries
hanging heavy where once
flowers held heads high,
spider woven portcullises
drawn down before the blackberries
with stinging nettle sentinels
only the brave or foolish,
insect or walker,
reach for the fruit.

Then came out the sun
clearing clouds overcasting,
creating a less white sky,
the temperature rising muggy,
but the silence remained
etched into the space
marking fast the day.

The day the War began

When I first went outside this morning I could feel something different. A different energy. A false calm, and artificial pausing of the frantic energy in all the life forms around me. My walk was a challenge this morning. Too much was seeping into my awareness, to many images began to flood my interior vision, to many sounds assaulted my internal ears. I seemed to be walking in a daze, walking here and walking somewhere far away, in an alien landscape. My soul ached

Yes, the birds sang – muted songs.

Yes, the butterflies danced, but it was not the same sort of dance they danced yesterday.

Or maybe I perceived them differently . . . for though this morning was glorious, memory makes it harsh. Remembrance makes it terrible.

I watched the clouds tower up, rehearsing, remembering the rising storm clouds of the early morning of this day a century ago, that broke before midnight.

It is not possible for me to think back and not feel, feel things I shouldn’t possibly be able to feel. Not to know things I can’t possibly know. Perhaps because I have touched some to the history, lived and worked in the shadow of the energy of this day for many years, three decades ago. . .

In San Diego I worked for a woman whose stepmother was Helen Hayes Gleason Johnson, whose first husband (who died of typhoid in the 20’s or 30’s) was Arthur Gleason. He was a reporter of Colliers Magazine during the WWI and she was an ambulance driver behind the lines in Belgium. I worked for her step-daughter in the house Helen’s second husband built for them and that was their home in the 30’s to the 60’s by which time both my employer had inherited after the deaths her father and Helen.

Helen drove for the Red Cross. She was decorated by the King of Belgium after the war, being the first woman to be decorated as a Chevalier. I was privileged to have read all of Helen’s letters from the war and was supposed to get them to do something with prime source materials — an historian’s holy grail, but only a week before I had arranged to take them, the water heater blew up in the basement and flooded where the trunk was kept. The whole lot was soaked beyond retrieval.

But, several months before the water ruined everything, I spent a week going through the material. Two things stand out for me to this day, clear and in sharp relief. One was the letter I read that Helen wrote on a train going through France the day the war was declared and second was the piece of shrapnel, a chunk of metal the size of the palm of my hand that nearly killed her. I can’t remember the words Helen wrote, but I remember the feeling I had as I held the letter in my hands. I recall the sense of despair and the fear the leaked through time to me as I read the words — that letter opened a portal for me that has never really closed.

As others have commented there is no such thing as a glorious war, nor glorious warrior. The propaganda used to get young men to sign up and the fury unleashed on those who for conscience sake could not take up arms were both skillfully wielded to manipulate the masses.

I feel all this more keenly here, living in the UK, so much closer to the places where this frightful conflict unfolded and stalled and was pressed on. Trenches and gas and barbed wire and no man’s lands, and mayhem and palpable fear and bitter resentment.

What was lost to the world, to families and the sciences to literature, to medicine, to music — these are also things I think about. Also that without WWI and the misery and loss there might not have been the fictions of Tolkien; a terrible price to pay for Gandalf and Frodo and Aragorn, the Elves and the Orcs, Fangorn and Rivendell, Minas Tirith and Mordor. We might by now have a cure for some dreadful disease that threatens us. Would the Spanish flu have taken so many, wearied by war and weeping, bereft and unable to find hope and a reason to go on.

There is so much we might elect to conjecture and so much more we might wish we never had to consider, including that the so called peace at the end of WWI sowed the seeds for the rise of the Nazis and the Second World War. For, not one bit of this happens or happened in a vacuum. Not one little bit of that could have occurred without lots of other little bits that seemingly might, on the face of it, appear completely disconnected.

What is it then that I remember today? I am a rememberer. I am one who is called to live in a state and in the reality of anamnesis, of unforgetting. Today there is much to process. There are many threads to untangle. There are wide vistas to take in and the small sheet of paper, written with a pencil in a train carriage chugging through the French countryside, as the harvest was about be taken in, which landscape was soon to be altered beyond recognition. The ensuing conflict ruined lives and reshaped the entire social and political structure of Europe. This conflict toppled monarchies. This conflict bequeathed us Fascisms in Germany, Spain and Italy, and the rule of the Proletariat in what was at the time still Russia that in time transmuted into global Communisms.

What do I remember today? The weeping mother and the sobbing wife, the orphaned children and childless parents — on both sides of that War that did not end anything but our innocence.

The Grain does not know . . .

The Grain does not know that the Harvest is coming.

This message came to me over a month ago and settled into my awareness and went silent for a while. Several days ago it came back, chanting and pushing and insistent – a Lammas warning, perhaps.

The Grain does not know that the Harvest is coming.

I heard this originally pertaining to a certain dream series I had several months ago that were about an personal matter. But, it has wider meanings this time of the year.

As I walk out into the countryside, the delicate scent of camomile wafts from the field boundaries and on the path flies are zizzing all around me through the stinging nettles.

Camomile 1      Flies

Along the way I saw the one of the wheat fields had been harvested, and another had not.
Wheat cut            Wheat uncut

The grass is rolled for storage.

Grass baled

The maize tassels are turning russet brown in the bright sun.

Maize

The walnuts and conkers are ripening on their respective trees high above my head.

Walnuts             Conkers

I have not yet seen acorns, but not visited the tree who might bear them in a few weeks. The hazelnuts are already being harvested though shells are white and their covers are still downy green and soft, not yet nut brown and dry.

Early hazel harvest   Hazel cluster

The elderberries are still green and compact, though sparse.

Elderberries

However, some rowan berries are red ripe.

Rowan berries

I saw one ripe yew berry, the victim of hedge trimming, but most are still green.

Yew berry on the floor    Yew berries

The haws are turning on some trees and a few blackberries are making an attempt to ripen, but the dry spell, even after all our rains may bring a meagre harvest for the creatures to forage the hedgerows, and for the latter I include me.

Haws      Blackberries

The apples are blushing in the sunshine.

Blushing apples           Blush apple

The mangel wurzles are bursting from the ground; tatties are still flowering, though some are prepared to be taken from the earth.

Mangle Wurzles    Flowering tatties

Field tatties green    Tatties of havest

The Grain does not know that the Harvest is coming.

These photos are idyllic, pastoral, speak of the way of the seasons. The natural order of being. Yet, the words still haunt me. They make me squirm. They make me think deeply about every day in the bright, hot summer.

I find it difficult in part because summer has never been my best season, beyond the mosquito bites to which I am allergic and the absence of school when I was younger. I know that the light emanates from sun and shoots out into the bleakness of space. Some of it radiates this planet we call home in the precise amounts to allow us to live, unless we mess it up and lose the ozone layer and cover ourselves in too thick a blanket of CO2.

All that science acknowledged and intellectually understood, the part of me that deals with and senses and feels the energies of all that surrounds me tells me that the plants and the animals invoke the light and call down the heat at this time of year. This is the oppressiveness that I feel nearly every summer, except when their calls go unheeded and it is damp and chilly and mostly overcast. In the height of summer even the shade can feel too heavy as the leaves pull in the sun’s energy and they turn a dark green, and often crackle in the wind.

The Grain does not know that the Harvest is coming.

The summer is not passed. The harvest is beginning. The days are gradually contracting, but it is still hard to notice. The sun feels brighter and hotter, though we are slowly tilting away from its strength.
The wheat and maize are standing tall and stiff until they are taken down. The winds glide in graceful patterns over the barley fields. The oats shake and nod in the breeze. None of the individual stocks or stems knows their fate. None of them realise they work for us. None of them know we humans will in due course take their lives away. And we and the other creatures do so to sustain and maintain our lives in the great food chain by and in which we are all, as living beings, bound.

Sobering thoughts. Serious contemplations. In the wider understanding of consumerism, we may not giveth, but we surely have the power to taketh away – take away the life of any other creature or plant that is in our way, that we can exploit for gain, that we can create a demand for. And in so doing we destroy a little more of ourselves. We continue to reap what we cannot sow. In many cases what can never be sown again.

The Grain may not know that the Harvest is coming, but we do.

Experience transmutes to Memory

Yesterday morning I took a walk. I did not have an intended destination, I seldom do. As it was a lovely, sunny, breezy summer morning so I set off at 8am camera in hand, notebook and pen in my waist pack, phone and keys in their places.

I noticed the patterns of the clouds and vapour trails in the pale blue sky. I tried to decipher the messages in the sky oghams.

I caught sight of a magpie wheeling off of a branch in time to see and record it.

Magpie fleeing

Did not meet any of the dog walkers I know by dog’s name, Archie or Henry or Ben or Mink or Poppy, if not by the theirs. It was an amble. I headed down the street I usually do to leave the village. Turned down the lane I often use and after crossing the bridge over the stream turned left. I had taken only a few photos, by this time.

A damselfly danced before me, landing close enough . . .

Damsel fly

I’d not walked far, looking over the stream and across the nearest field when I caught some movement. I used my camera’s zoom to see what it was and this is what I saw.

1st Deer 1                           

I watched for quite some time, taking photos and then saw this as well

2 Deer 1                          

I continued to watch transfixed and then the two youngest walked into the field.

                         

More watching, more photos.

Another Bambi Shot                            Fawn Spots

Some dog walkers I didn’t know were coming down the path yammering away and I signaled for quiet. They obliged and I indicated the two young deer. They whispered there were a lot about but had not seen any this young. For a moment they shared the wonder, then went right back to their walk though speaking more quietly than when they approached.

I continued to watch as the two deer moved closer to me and the stream, unaware of my presence.

Heading this way                            Heading off

I stopped taking photos and in a few moments they vanished. I waited and then walked on down the path. They did not appear in the adjacent field . . .

I was amazed at the speed that a severely cut back old willow had regenerated in only a few months. the gyrating dance of the poplar leaves transfixed me . . .

Poplars

Leaving the path at its end I crossed two small bridges and entered a turnip field. I turned right off the usual pathway and where there were not crops I made my way to sit for time engaging the ash and oak across the field from me . . .

Gazing up through the leaves of the oak in whose shade I sat . . .

Looking up

Then my phone rang, believe me a rare occurrence. It was a friend asking if I’d like some raspberry pavlova left from a party she’d had the night before. Oh, yes please! As she was going out within the hour I got up, thanked the tree for the shade and asking if I could come back. Yes, you may. I walked a good deal more quickly back into the village. I walked along the stream and through the field and back on to the street.

The magic of the encounters had transmuted from experience to memory. What was a now became a then. Life and wonder, awe and sadness, because unpleasant things move that way, too. For the wondrous and delightful things it enables us to hold them to look back on with wistful fondness. For the unpleasant and painful it gives us the distance to let go when we are ready.

I got to my friends and she sent me off with the pavlova . . .

Eating it was another kind of wonderful experience, and different quality of memory. Raspberries, from her garden, cream and the crunch of meringue, delicate tastes of an English summer.

All that before elevenses. . . I wasn’t sure I could have topped it for the rest of the day. I didn’t even try. But, I was and remain attentive and open to what experiences and memories may yet await.

Dance with the dryads

Dance with the dryads.
Skip with the stream.

Enter a hallowed world
walk through this portal,
acknowledge the rowan tree,
may she allow you to pass.

Duck under enleafed boughs
a path darkened in summer’s deep shade,
only farther along will shadows dapple
playing hide and seek with sunlight.

Dance with the dryads.
Skip with the stream.

Who is it who calls me
insistently bidding me release
the bickering in my mind,
pulling my thoughts
and intentions that tie me in knots?

A stream runs by this path
north from the small bridge
away from the village the fields to greet,
willow shed of catkins,
elder holding brown flowers ,
hawthorn bearing green berries,
hazel with pale blushed nuts,
brambles soft flowers hidden with thorns,
then holly, ivy, ash and oak,
though a break in the trees
looking skyward the yew ogham
written in crossing contrails.

Dance with the dryads.
Skip with the stream.

Divine through the waters
ovatically listen
there is speech in the streamcourse
pushing past corners
tumbling over obstructions
given voice for its wisdom
a message you could not read
in the shrew’s entrails
so listen to me.

Abandon your camera
take out your pen
see with your ears
hear with your heart,
record and remember the
strange language spoken
between muddy banks
the speech of the waters
addressed now only to you.

Dance with the dryads.
Skip with the stream.

Pause here as the waters pass rushing
no longer a whisper, a hum, or a sigh
here the stream runs shouting
demanding your attention
near the end of your walk,
where two close set stones
guard a wooden armed bridge
and the two hawthorns
bend together to shield the way,
turn then return now.

Going back keep you mind calm,
do not let the old arguments
pick up where you left them,
step by step to straight-trunked poplars
sentinels conversing in whispers,
hoping not to be heard.

Dance with the dryads.
Skip with the stream.

This walk has now ended for the light
once more bright shining,
bird song is louder,
gravel crunches under your feet.

Remember the lessons
so much like a dream
the trees of this pathway
engaged with the waters
affirming your intuition
heightening your knowing
enriching your life.

For you danced with the dryads.
You skipped with the stream.