We live in a forest at our summer home in Northern Arizona. Our cabin backs up against the Coconino National Forest, so we are immersed in tree life. The vanilla scent of the Ponderosa pines wafts across the back porch in early morning.
I feed the crows peanuts and the neighbors put a feeder out in the forest, so the crows are particularly attentive this summer. Unfortunately, so are the mother raccoon and her four babies.
The forest is, in fact, teeming with wildlife. My husband erected an infrared game camera at the edge of the forest. He and the neighbors keep the area stocked with water and a salt block. In the last month, our little feeding station has been visited by elk, pronghorn deer, a coyote, a grey fox, raccoons, rabbits and a small gang of javalina.
If you live in the forest in the West, fire is always in the back of your mind. This summer started with extreme drought conditions, and the forest fires in California have been some of the worst yet.
The forest gives us advance warning of the inevitable afternoon storms. The trees sway as the wind starts, and their restless branches whisper, “rain, rain, rain.”
The ominous grey clouds begin to build up against each other to the north or east, giving me just enough time to gather the morning newspaper and move inside to feed my suddenly uneasy dog, Teak, some calming treats. Then lightning flashes and thunder booms, shaking the house and driving poor Teak into the laundry room, nose buried behind the laundry basket against the wall. The ratta tat tat of the rain on our tin roof follows right on the heels of the lightning. We’re in the mountains as well as the forest, at 6800’ elevation, and the storms are abrupt and ferocious.
Storms in our desert place in Phoenix are different, they usually start as a dust storm (see last week’s blog on haboobs). The trees in the desert are different too.
These guys are survivors.
We also have citrus trees, a lemon and a tangelo. In the spring, our back yard is saturated with the sweet scent of their blossoms, along with the Juicy fruit-gum scent of a Texas Mountain Laurel, with its purple, Wisteria-like drooping blossoms.
We speak to trees and they respond. We snuggle among their roots so they can comfort us, and we climb their branches and get a unique view of the world. We touch and smell their rough bark and feel a deeper bond with nature. We look up through their branches and see a dappled world beyond.
What is your favorite tree? Even the most urbane of us will have a tree we like the best, whether it’s a beautiful tree in the park or by the road, a special tree from childhood, or a favorite species.
At this point in my life, it’s hard to choose. The apple tree by my swing set when I was little. It taught me to love apples, right off the tree.
Or the huge, massive oak in the front yard of the first house I bought with my own money. I called that tree the squirrel condo, by the way, plenty of acorns to go around.
Maybe the beautiful maple tree at my grandparent’s house. The one I climbed every day after school. It knocked the breath out of me, so I couldn’t call for help, when I fell out one time. But I kept climbing.
Those mystical redwoods rank high on the list.
And, of course, the vanilla-scented Ponderosa pines I live with now. I’m so grateful I met them while I can still hike. The dogs are grateful also.
All around the world, trees hold a special position as totems of spiritual identity, as well as markers of our cultural heritage and qualities. The Welsh yew is a tree of national pride and has been a sign of cultural resistance, as well as the mysteries of Druidry. The Oak stands for strength, nobility, patience, and guardianship. With a root span as deep and spreading as the branches above, it is a living symbol of, “as above, so below.”
Legends of a “World Tree” abound in most cultures, such as the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life of the Hebrew Kabbalah, and the sacred oak groves of the Druids. The Yggdrasil World Ash Tree in Norse myth rises up from the center of the earth, its branches forming the heavens of the gods, and its roots striking down into hell, where a serpent is entwined at the world’s dark core.
For most any favorite tree you pick, there is likely a myth, a legend, a botanical or magical use.
In fact, our thoughts about trees has barely scratched their surface, so let’s continue next week. For the next blog, I think I’ll start looking for faces in the trees during my forest hikes. I’ll share those faces with you next week, along with how to find “messenger” trees, Celtic tree magic, and an ancient language derived from trees.
In the meantime, you can look for tree faces too. Take a picture, and show me what you find.