Tree Allies

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.

Natural, Sacred and Wild

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Sometimes the state of the world seems overwhelming, but there is always inspiration to be found in our natural world. We are part of nature and nature is part of us. Many of us have forgotten that state of wonder and joy that we knew as children, that connection to the Earth and all things. but nature is always there for us ever renewing with the capacity to reawaken that which was lost.

Let the trees bathe your breath
Let the meadows embrace you
Let the mountains and bees remind you
Let the sky flood in and
Allow the clouds to guide you
Let your undoing be as total
As your becoming is beautiful
And when the living world
Has climbed inside enough
For you to feel
Four legs, scales and wings
May you finally know yourself
Alive as all things
Indivisible and responsible
Reborn into wholeness
Natural, sacred and wild.
— Clare Dubois, Founder of TreeSisters

The TreeSisters organization is doing amazing things to empower women (and men) to change their lives by becoming a restorer species through the revitalization of this planet. We all need to look beyond the chaos in this world and the needs of our everyday lives and begin envisioning a new future. How can we begin giving back to this planet which nurtures us and provides our every needs? How can we alter a future that seems bleak? If you seek inspiration and would like to get involved, visit www.TreeSisters.org or www.billiontrees.me for more information on restoring what once was and creating a new relationship with our beautiful planet. It just may change your life.

The Allure of Sumac

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Staghorn Sumac is a tree that has intrigued me for many years, yet I knew relatively little about it. This year the brilliant display of its leaves triggered something in me that was very profound. I simply could not get enough of its brilliant reds and oranges as I walked my dogs along a local trail that I had recently been acquainting myself with. Since the trail runs east and west, along with some incredible sunsets, there has been such a brilliant display of reds, oranges and greens in recent weeks. The Staghorn Sumac has become a new friend amidst an already huge list of trees that I love.

I have two young trees that appeared a few years ago on my land as it has been slowly regenerating and enlivening. I have allowed them to grow in the middle of two gardens because I know I will love the eventual color they will bring in the fall to my landscape. In Europe, Staghorn Sumacs are highly regarded ornamental trees but here in the US, because they grow easily in the wild, they are considered invasive in some areas despite being a native species. I tend to believe that every plant and tree has a purpose and knows better than we do, what needs to be in a certain landscape. These trees provide food for songbirds and other animals as they anchor the soil and prevent degradation of the landscape while slowly revitalizing it, not to mention the sheer beauty that their color provides for the human eye. The brilliant red color is linked to the 1st chakra, the energy center that is primal to our sense of groundedness and foundation within our body, as well as our sense of safety and well being in the world.

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I felt this tree was calling to my heart so I decided to learn more about it and found out that the cluster of red fuzzy berries on the female trees, were actually edible and highly nutritious. I was pleasantly surprised to find out they are loaded with vitamin C and other antioxidants. The tree has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans in treating digestive and respiratory issues, as well as overcoming infections and healing wounds due to its antifungal properties. If I follow the doctrine of signatures and just look at the brilliant color of its leaves, I feel that this tree helps to restore balance to the heart and circulation, not just to humans, but also to the land it inhabits.

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Staghorn Sumac belongs to the family of trees and shrubs called Anacardiaceae which interestingly contains the word 'cardiac' meaning relating to the heart. I know these trees are helping the land breathe again, as they are often found in hedgerows alongside roads or where the land has been somehow disturbed. I also found references to its use in circulatory problems which didn't surprise me because I feel that this is the tree's purpose- to restore balance and flow of energy and to heal with its softness.

I love the soft, silkiness of the Staghorn Sumac's bark. That soothing feeling reflects a gentleness of the properties of this tree that decorates our wild landscapes. I trust that its medicinal properties also gently heal the heart and all the cells of our body as we ingest this gift from the Earth. There is something so vibrant and yet so primal about this tree, that I know I need to develop a deeper relationship with it. What better way than to create a drink from its berries? This week, for the first time I sampled the nectar of the soft, fuzzy berries after allowing them to seep for 24 hours in water. The drink is tart, yet refreshing and nutritious. After my test run, I decided to gather some more berries and made a large batch. I'm excited to get to know my new ally more intimately and reap the benefits of this medicinal tree. After drinking a full glass yesterday, I could feel the richness of my dreaming returning to me and I'm looking forward to my daily ritual of sipping this newfound nectar.

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Copyright 2017 Awen Environments/Clarissa Harison. All photos and content subject to written permission by author.