Speaking Trees: a Reading   2 comments

danas reading

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheer

At MAGUS ’17, Dana (on the left — check out her excellent blog The Druid’s Garden) generously offered readings for several of us, using her set of tree staves. You can see four of us (I’m on the right) sitting bundled in every layer we brought with us — the weather had turned cold.

I’d sat in on a couple previous readings (with permission!), and Dana’s infectious love of trees and tree lore made each reading memorable and full of wisdom. With her combination of hands-on experience and extensive reading in herbals and Native American lore, each of us learned anew how Druidry has much to teach. I say “how” because any time spent in Druid practice shows us we go just as far as we’re willing to put in time and energy.

If we’re new to divination we may bring to it our skepticism, or an uncritical acceptance of whatever we hear, or a cherished obtuseness to anything outside our blinkered perspectives. Having run through these and a range of other even less useful inner “sets” in the past, I tried simply to listen. Drawing for an awen spread of three staves — past influences, present circumstances and future tendencies — can help give a sense of dynamics that may be working through some part of our lives.

My notes here are a merging of Dana’s reading, my own study and insight from subsequent meditation and reflection.

Here are the three staves I drew: birch, white pine and cottonwood.

Birch (genus Betula) is a common hardwood, with species ranging worldwide throughout the northern hemisphere. The northeastern U.S has perhaps a dozen species. The bark, famous for canoes, also makes excellent kindling, I’ve discovered, even when it’s damp, because its oils will still burn. With medicinal, cosmetic and industrial uses, the birch is widely used. It’s also a pioneer tree, adaptable to varied conditions, among the first to appear in pastures, meadows and burnt areas. As such, birches frequently represent beginnings, initiations, growth, renewal, and so on. The associated ogham is beith. As part of my Ovate work, I’m identifying the trees on our 2 and a half acres, and there are nearby birches to get to know.

The past is a beginning. It’s not destiny, but simply a direction taken. I find the past a surprisingly fluid thing. (The birch is flexible). Because as I grow and change, I perceive my own past differently, coming to value some difficult experiences for what they taught me, and seeing whole decades in a different light than they appeared at the time.

To choose just one example, my first serious relationship, shortly before I met my wife, dragged me along an emotional roller-coaster, passionate and full of drama at the time. But it taught me patience, dispelled a fair amount of romantic nonsense, and showed me that kindness more than anything else should grow at the core of my relationships if I want them to last.

Rather than a fixed past, I find it’s the future that’s fixed — at any single moment. But then the moment shifts, my awareness and choices enter in, and the future shifts as well. Taking a reading is like sounding the depth of coastal waters — it’s accurate for that interval, but you need to know if the tide’s coming in or going out. Twelve hours earlier or later, to say nothing of twelve days or twelve years, conditions will have changed. Birches aren’t especially long-lived, but they “open the way” for others.

White Pine (Pinus strobus), like the Birch, is a common tree in the northeast U.S. Other Pinus species flourish in Europe and Asia. A softer wood, a long-lived tree (the record in the U.S. is 500 years), the white pine is prized for woodworking, lumber, and medicinal properties. It’s the “peace tree” of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois, and it has also produced the tallest trees in the eastern U.S. (the famous sequoias take the prize in the west). Pine needles contain quintuple the vitamin C of lemons, and a needle tea is a healthful drink — a good medicine for me, because I’m prone to lung and skin problems. Algonquian tribes in the region knew other uses — the Adirondack Mountains in New York take their name from the Mohawk adirodaks, meaning “tree-eaters”, their term for the Algonquians.

As a guide to the present, white pine tells me, in Thoreau’s words, “be not simply good, be good for something”. And as a Druid, to me this means to be good at something, too. For a long time I’ve worked with words, making a living as teacher and writer. Druidry urges me to expand my knowledge and practice, and learn my neighbor trees better. It’s time to give back more, to support trees in distress, learn the landscape and do my part to help the biome as it adjusts to climate changes. (Both for its useful info and for its misleading title, spend a few minutes with “American trees have started migrating west and no one knows why“.)

As I delve more deeply into the Ovate grade, and improve my knowledge of healing, otherworld mysteries, and divination, white pine is a worthy signal tree and spiritual landmark. “If not this, then something better” has been my mantra during a protracted job search. Looking outside my accustomed region/specialty is both good job-search advice and good  physical-spiritual foraging advice, too. Go further afield.

Cottonwood (Populus species) is the third stave. Dana and I laughed at this one. At least the cottonwood she had in mind is not a native to the east, but a western tree, so this third stave seems to confirm and extend some of the energetics present in the white pine above. (Some species do inhabit the eastern U.S.)

Cottonwoods constitute a varied group of trees, including aspens and poplars. Populus trichocarpa is the first tree species to have its genome sequenced. It grows fast, and can reach nearly 60 feet (18 meters) in about a decade. Varieties of cottonwoods have flourished in unlikely places, and helped re-tree barren areas, notably the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Like the birch and white pine, it has food and medicinal uses.

As a tree speaking about the future, the cottonwood is a good reminder both to play to strengths and also to try out new areas, to adapt, to “do my own thing” while finding new niches where that “thing” can thrive. “Grow where you’re planted” isn’t bad counsel as a start — we all do that inevitably anyway, at birth. It’s flowering after that that’s the work of our days. “To go to seed” isn’t a bad thing, despite the connotations of “seedy”. How else to pass along who we are, what we’ve gained? To give back as we do, completing the cycle, walking the circle, answering the Druid call to service.

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Image courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers.

 

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2 responses to “Speaking Trees: a Reading

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  1. I love where you took some of these trees and the interpretations you offered!

  2. Thanks, Dana. Your work with trees and making tree staves of species that came to your attention has suggested flexible ways for me to proceed with Ovate — I’m finding I need to get “unstuck” with some assumptions and blind spots. Listening to neighboring trees is a prime practice for that. They’re the my most constant neighbors, after all. When they “go to work” or “come home”, they’re always here, right where we left off with our last conversation.

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