Spirit of the Land

I am Willow: a Piece of Hope

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When I first thought to write this story I was full of anger and anguish. About 8 days have gone by and I feel somewhat differently about everything. So much had coincided with my experience this past week, that at times I felt overwhelmed, with little hope for the future of this planet. The recent tragic loss of so much life in the Greek village of Mati near Athens, accompanied by raging wildfires throughout California and other parts of the world grieved me immensely. All I could see was destruction, along with my own recent personal experience that left me in tears and triggered the onset of immense sadness and overwhelm at the state of the world. And yet, I'm sure there were miracles that occurred in Greece, like the story of this little dog that survived against incredible odds. This is my story about Willow.

I grew up alongside a tributary of Cayuga Creek where the waters sometimes reached the level of our home and occasionally flooded our basement. One summer we had left for Germany to visit my grandparents and other family, only to return to a basement flooded with water with many possessions lost. The tributary ran behind our house that had been built in the 1950's. My father had painstakingly planted most of the trees and shrubs that grew on our property. In the backyard was a Willow that I often climbed or played under with my cats. When my parents sold that house, the new owner eventually cut down all the trees and hedges that had given privacy, shade and beauty. At the time, I didn't realize the significance of Willow in my life nor all that tree had been doing to absorb water from a development that had likely been built way too close to wetland. Willow would continue to play a significant role in my life.

When I moved to my current home, the remnants of a Willow tree that had once stood tall lay in a heap next to a wooded area of the property. The tree had been struck by lightning during a storm and its stump later burnt to the ground. I wrote a story of my experiences in The Renewal of Willow. It wasn't until many years went by that I realized the immense need for this Willow tree and her water absorbing/purifying qualities due to the many problems I experienced with the land, which held an underground spring, if not several. I planted many trees to replace her like Sycamore, various smaller trees of the Willow family, as well as numerous gardens, while existing trees matured and meadows were allowed to develop. However, Willow's power and ability to transform were undeniable. The land was former wetland located in a town that had overdeveloped its floodplain areas and often allowed developments or redirected water where it should not have.

In this same town where I now live is a beautiful park that has been undergoing immense transition over the 8 years since we moved here. Many of the older Pines, Firs and other trees have been lost to insects and/or disease or are currently weak, yet many new trees continue to be planted year after year by the park's crew. Many of them most likely I will never see mature for various reasons. The park is full of wildlife. Last year an old Willow tree had fallen over due to strong winds and storm that have been becoming more and more frequent in our area. I was happy this spring when the Willow still lay where she had fallen. No doubt management of the park knew her ability to renew and had left most of her trunk intact with only the branches taken away. 

Last week while walking in the park with my dogs, a Red Tailed Hawk drew my attention. It seemed to have prey in its mouth and flew to where this Willow had fallen. It was an area I had not walked in a while. Much to my delight, the Willow had renewed herself and was now a fountain of bright green cascading branches. My heart swelled to see how beautiful she was though now just probably about 6' tall, a fraction of what she once was. The Hawk sat on her torn up roots, a perfect place to eat his mouse meal and survey his hunting territory. As he flew away, I walked up to the Willow to get a closer look and caress her shining, light-filled leaves. I was happy. She gave me hope that even though something terrible could happen amidst a natural disaster, the power of restoration is always there as long as Nature is allowed to be.

Willow has long been seen as a tree of healing due to  her inherent anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties found in today's aspirin. She is also associated with magic, poetry, and music. The goddess Persephone, whose story is one of rebirth after descending into the darkness of the bowels of the Earth, is associated with Willow trees. As time goes on, I realize more and more why I relate so much to this tree and what she has taught me throughout my life, which has followed a path that was never straight and narrow, but ever winding in sinuous ways into the unknown.

"Willows are water loving, and water is an archetypal symbol of the feminine energies of birth, creativity, intuition and the moon. Willow is a magical and healing tree."-- Ted Andrews, Nature-Speak

Three days after visiting Willow, I was walking late in the park. It was almost dark as I stopped to talk with one of the park caretakers that I have become friends with. I took this opportunity to tell him about my experience with the Willow and the Hawk. He hesitated with his response and asked "which Willow?" I replied "the one not too far from here." With sadness, he replied that the Willow had been cut up and grounded that very morning. He had not been there and his supervisor had given the orders to other workers. I could not believe his words. How could they? It was obvious this tree had survived and had still been very much alive. I had just seen its display of vitality the other day. What were the chances of all this happening in a matter of days?

His reply suggested that this tree may not have been part of the 'master plan' and yet he even added "a master plan is what you make it". It was clear this tree had not fit the criteria of ecology management in the park. The Willow's rebirth had not fit into that square box that so often is held by park management and institutions. Given the flooding problems the park had experienced during torrential downpours in recent years, it seemed a huge mistake to me to kill this Willow. Such a water loving tree was at home in this park when so many others were dying or struggling because they could not handle the land and water energies in the park where nearby Cayuga Creek had been dammed and partially redirected.

I thought in anger, how very typical of the male dominated world, where the feminine power is so often intentionally suppressed, controlled or destroyed. The power to heal is contained within all humans, but even more so in the feminine energy that gives birth to all life. Here had been a perfect example of this sacred tree's ability to heal and renew herself, and despite her obvious demonstration, her life had been snuffed out by men who were just following orders from another man without questioning their validity or appropriateness.

In the dark I walked over to where that green fountain of light had once sprung and that night I grieved immensely for that enduring tree that had just a few days ago given me such delight. I was so angry at the ignorance of man and a supervisor's decision to snuff out the light of this miraculous tree that is known for her regenerative abilities. The following day I took my dogs and walked over to where the Willow once was. There was no Hawk. There was only mulch where the green cascading branches once stood. I looked amidst the rubble for branches but there seemed to be none. Of all the times for workers to be meticulous! But there, amidst the ground up remains of Willow, was one tiny branch that had not been carried off. It had so little life left in it but I carried it off anyway and continued on my walk.

A mature Willow (not the ones in this story)

A mature Willow (not the ones in this story)

I had little hope of this branch sprouting, but I put the sprig in a glass of water to see if it would root. Willow is a tree that has the unique ability to sprout roots simply by placing a branch in the ground. The daughter of the Willow tree that once stood on my land, lives on a neighboring property now tall and grand. My neighbor a few doors down, once told me he loves trees and years ago had taken a small branch and placed it in the ground on his property. Now its grace and majestic branches provide shade and water absorption for his land memorializing the Willow that once stood here.

Today is Lammas or Lughnassadh, the day of celebration for the first grain harvest- a day of giving thanks for abundance, practiced for centuries by English-speaking and Celtic traditions. As I looked at my tiny Willow sprig in the jar this morning, I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than a miraculous display of enduring life in front of me. Much to my surprise, tiny nodules had appeared where new roots were growing and there were two new sprouts of leaves. The sight of this new growth gave me a moment of joy. A seemingly insignificant thing many would say, but Nature has always spoken to me in symbolism via tiny details or little things that happen on my path. I am grateful for this tiny message received today. Perhaps I will be a majestic tree once more, this surviving branch says to me. I am Willow...

 

Copyright 2018 Clarissa Harison/Awen Environments. All rights reserved.

Persephone's Hive

A view of Hope's Garden, a naturalized garden filled with wildflowers that was once mowed lawn and former wetland where many trees were dying. In the distance, the former location of my hives behind my beekeeping gardening studio.

A view of Hope's Garden, a naturalized garden filled with wildflowers that was once mowed lawn and former wetland where many trees were dying. In the distance, the former location of my hives behind my beekeeping gardening studio.

My new hive of honeybees arrived in the middle of the night during the new moon in Libra. It had been a disappointing summer for me with my bees. The one hive that had remained from last year, after my stronger hive disappeared completely one day, had survived an unusually warm and wet winter. I was thrilled when I saw in the spring that they were still alive and active. However, as the warmer weather arrived and I opened the hive, I saw that it was all full of mold and that most of the bees had eventually died leaving only a a small group of loyal bees surrounding their Queen. I almost didn't see her as I opened the hive, but there she was having fallen to the ground. I named her Milagro, Spanish for miracle.

I carefully placed the enduring Queen in a new hive box with the remaining bees. The box had to be located right where the other one had been because otherwise the bees would not find the hive. I knew that I had made a mistake in placing this hive behind my studio shed given all the wetness in the hive and the loss of so many bees. Despite being elevated and insulated from the wet land where there was an underground spring, the dampness had permeated all parts of the hive. I had to find a new location but I couldn't move this hive to a sunnier area on my property. I had to leave that up to them.

I decided to place an empty hive box in a sunny area right in the center of a six-sided mandala garden I had originally created when we first moved to the property. Interestingly the six sides correspond to the shape of the honeycomb, something I wasn't really thinking about when I originally created it. Little did I know at the time that this garden would eventually surround one of my bee hives. Much to my surprise, my bees did eventually swarm to this empty box. I even saw the magic of that day as all the bees swarmed round and round the gardens above their new home. It was an incredible moment. A few days later, I saw a new Queen outside the hive box, something she only does when she mates. I knew the old Queen had died. It was both sad to know the Queen that had survived beyond all odds had passed shortly after taking one last flight of freedom (she remains almost her entire life inside the hive laying eggs) to arrive in her new home and yet it was also exciting to know a new one had been born.

Sadly, this new Queen and her bees only stayed a few weeks before they swarmed once again. It was that kind of year. It seemed the bees were searching for something. What it was, I may never know, but it seemed to reflect the uncertainty within my own life and the swirling of activities around the world, whether they were natural disasters or human caused activities.  Somehow I sensed that they were telling me a phase of my own life was coming to an end. The next few days I felt the terrible silence in my gardens. It became very noticeable as there seemed to be no bees of any kind anywhere on my property, not even bumblebees. I began to question whether some aerial spraying had been done somewhere. The fear began to set in as I began to feel that all these years of creating a wildlife sanctuary had been for nothing and that possibly something awful was happening in my area to make all the bees disappear.. 

My fear prompted a conversation with one of my shamanic teachers who suggested I communicate with the Spirit of the Land to determine what was going on. As a result I journeyed and did a subsequent offering to the land of fruits and granola to honor the Insect Kingdom. Almost immediately the next day a new swarm made her home in my empty box once again and the same day, a friend told me that he had also caught a swarm for me. The arrival of these new bees coincided with major flooding in our area of a nearby creek. My joy was to be short-lived, however, when a few days later this new swarm disappeared also and eventually my friend's swarm did too. That's when I began to give careful consideration to whether I would continue beekeeping at all. Nevertheless, I could not ignore how quickly the Insect Kingdom had responded to my communication and offering. Our co-creative relationship had been profoundly renewed.

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Eventually bumblebees and other wild bees returned but I still missed having a hive of my own but I saw how quickly I could move into fear and think the worst. I knew in my heart that despite what I might see around me, I needed to maintain my focus and trust all the work that I had done. My land had become a sanctuary for all lifeforms, a haven where wild bees could nectar endlessly and even wasps were respected. Despite what I might see temporarily, I needed to have faith in the natural world around me.

Some time had passed when my friend told me his nephew had caught another swarm for me, but I had mixed emotions. It was very late in the summer and the bees would not have much time to build their hive and store their honey. He mentioned that his nephew could continue feeding the bees and keep them over winter. Somehow this idea didn't sit right with me. I felt that either they should remain with his nephew or I should have them. It was shortly before the Autumn Equinox that I decided this new swarm should be here. After all, I had loads of late blooming flowers on my property that would help them and also some empty frames that still had honey on them. I would do my best to strengthen them and take the chance.

After the bees arrived one night, I stood before the hive as they fanned themselves from the heat of the trip. Several bees flew onto my clothes as I held the flashlight. They were sensing me and their new home, but then I became a bit nervous. One bee eventually found her way inside my sweatshirt sleeve and stung me. The sting, however, never produced a reaction in me, as though our energies were already aligned. I found their energy to be very gentle yet strong and somehow I sensed this new Queen and hive were already in resonance with me. I felt hopeful once more that they had arrived for a reason.

I named this new hive after the goddess of the underworld, Persephone. These bees had arrived late in the year and in the dark of night. They would spend much of their time inside the darkness of their hive before they experienced their first spring on my land. Persephone is the daughter of Demeter who was fated to spend part of her life in the underworld but in the spring she brings forth the flowering of the meadows. The archetype of this goddess is one I resonate with and somehow I felt these new bees represented the energy of rebirth on my land and in my life.

Several months have passed since Queen Persephone arrived. I have continued learning from these bees particularly about how to let go and just go with the flow. She has taught me about my own inner shadow and how quickly my thoughts can move to fear and worry. Several times this fear would creep up quickly as I became angry about mistakes I had made which occasionally caused the loss of some of my worker bees. Usually this coincided with other things that troubled my mind. I also worried the bees would have enough honey stores built up for the winter and whether they would survive.

So far we have had a very warm autumn and the bees have been out periodically. I have occasionally fed them raw honey and comb that I had left from my other hive. Feeding sugared water, as is commonly done, was not an option for me. The bees have always been grateful for the honey I have given them and as time went on, I realized that I had no control over whether they would survive. It was all up to them. I could only do my best. Those times where I made mistakes were learning lessons for me about the bees and working with my own emotions that surfaced. I know that all is well. Queen Persephone is yet another teacher and grace has fallen upon my land.

 

2017 Copyright Awen Environments/Clarissa Harison.