This post is a tribute to the previous owner of the handful of acres and modest ranch house where my wife and I now live.
Elfriede* passed on at the age of 93. Just eight of us stood round her grave on a cold January day, each with a funny-sad story to tell about her. Elfriede’s short stature — a few inches under five feet — belied her remarkable toughness: “elf-strength”* indeed!
A survivor of a German concentration camp from which she escaped as a teenager, she made her way to England, where she met her husband Ed. The two of them eventually settled in New York City, and there they saved up to buy a Vermont property first as an escape from the city’s heat in summer, and then as a retirement house. They built and lived in the garage first, then constructed much of the rest of the house. Though it’s generally solid, it does offer its share of the quirks and kinks any owner-built house shows in abundance: odd wiring in places, uneven insulation, pipes stopping in the middle of one wall as if simply abandoned, and so on.
From the lavish plantings of flowers to the small fish pond downhill from the house to a variety of ornamentals bushes and shrubs, we have much to thank her for. But as I gather materials for a Beltane workshop this coming May, I send particular thanks to her for planting as many of the nine sacred woods as she did.
Which trees belong to the exclusive grouping varies by culture. (To the right is one Scottish version.) Already I’ve located five on the tally I’m using (Rowan, Birch, Willow, Oak and Holly), and I suspect I’ll eventually find all nine, and more.
My confidence stems from details I’ve already mentioned, and from moments like the following: Some eight years ago, on an overcast day that threatened rain, my wife and I arrived at what was then still Elfriede’s house for a second visit. We found she’d set a kitchen knife in the western yard, sharp edge toward the approaching weather front to split and shunt aside the oncoming storm.
Such European kitchen magic, along with Elfriede’s delight in all growing things, meant the modest property surely promised some rich botanical finds once we had the leisure to explore it properly. This “green vibe” definitely contributed to our ultimate decision to purchase the house. The land simply felt good.
So I raise a glass to her now, and I will again when I light the sacred fire on Beltane 2017.
*”Elfreda, Elfrida, Alfrida, Elfrieda, Elfriede, Elftrude, Elftraut is a female given name, derived from Ælfþryð (Aelfthryth) meaning “elf-strength”. The name fell out of fashion in the Middle Ages and was revived in the 19th century in both England and Germany.” — Wikipedia
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Images: Nine Sacred Woods.