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Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

Learning from Our Elders: Teacher Trees December 2, 2012

american-linden-pic by pubs intl,ltd

American Linden tree.
(Img: Pubs Int’l, ltd.)

 

“A beautiful essay on deep listening…to trees.”  ~ Jamie K. Reaser, Courting the Wild series co-editor (with whom, by the way, it was a pleasure to work). She has made the essay available for free now via a link on the publisher’s website.

‘…The maple advised, “Be like the linden tree. It bends and bends in every wind, yet its roots go down deep, deep, deep.”…’ ~ Tina Fields

That line, which Jamie chose to highlight, is the core of the story. That is the advice a maple tree gave me when I was nine years old, and I’ve never forgotten it.


Click here to read Learning From Our Elders at Hiraeth Press,

or just read it on this page, immediately below.

I hope you enjoy it.

*

LEARNING FROM OUR ELDERS: 

TEACHER TREES

by Tina Fields

Featured in Courting the Wild: Love Affairs with the Land, ed. Jamie K. Reaser, Hiraeth Press.

*

I was con­sid­ered a weird kid. When I was nine, my frizzy, dark auburn hair was far from the stylish straight-and-​​blonde. I didn’t care what my clothes looked like or whether they even matched, let alone what label adorned them. I was far from ath­letic. I wore glasses. I used big words, and under­stood their mean­ings. While other kids gos­siped and invented small tor­tures for fun, I read, drew, and day­dreamed. As an only child, I was poorly versed in mind games, and usu­ally lost out long before I even real­ized the teasing had begun. When I grew up, I wanted to be a philoso­pher and a witch.

All of this added up to the bleak reality that I didn’t have many friends. Most of the time that was actu­ally fine, as I enjoyed the freedom that came with soli­tude. Fortunately, I found myself to be pretty good com­pany. But there were also chal­lenges. Like many only chil­dren, I didn’t need to seek accep­tance through pack con­for­mity. (I knew it was a lost cause.) However, childrens’ cruelty toward the introverted social outcast can be brutal, and there were times when even my closest friends would turn on me in an attempt to keep their ten­uous places in the school­yard pecking order. When pro­voked, I wouldn’t fight with them; instead, this taunting made me turn even more soli­tary. The people-cen­tered life felt hard, and I often turned to the more-​​than human world for com­pan­ion­ship.

In the park across the street from my child­hood home, a pine and a maple wel­comed my dogs and me with open, low branches. The pine tree was enor­mous. I’d climb the rungs of its ladder self, rising as high as I could go, and cling to its wide but flex­ible trunk as the wind swayed us back and forth. It felt ecstatic to ride the wind like that, espe­cially in a high storm. Upon my descent, I’d be cov­ered with pitch and pitch-​​glued pine nee­dles. My poor mother tried to freeze the hard­ened gluey gunk out of my hair and clothes with ice, only to give up in dis­gust time and time again, and hack it out of my lion’s mane with scis­sors. I endured all this with equa­nimity, as my tree time made me feel com­pletely wild and at peace. The maple was smaller than the pine and oozed no pitch, so it was my most fre­quent tree-​​of-​​choice. However, it was also harder to scale, so I’d only go as high as its second branch. This was a com­fort­able branch; just the right shape for me. I could sit upon it for hours, and I would, too, espe­cially when life seemed par­tic­u­larly hard.

Being aloft held its own sur­rep­ti­tious plea­sures: People would walk by down below, and never know I was perched above them, over­hearing every­thing. Giddy, I learned that most people rarely think to look up. By staying silent and observing other people’s behavior, I began to awaken to the dark holes in my own aware­ness, and decided to try to notice every­thing.

After par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult days at school, I’d enter the maple in the way some church goers step into con­fes­sional boxes. Climbing up, I’d wrap my arms around it, lay my cheek against its rough-​​barked trunk, and tell it my woes and dreams. Sometimes I’d cry. Day after day, week after week, for a couple of years, I wept my sor­rows into that tree.

SAC 2006 tree t-shirt design, by Tina Fields

Arborial consciousness t-shirt design by Tina Fields

And then one day, the tree spoke back.

This might sound crazy or like a make-​​believe story, but it really hap­pened. I was so sur­prised that I nearly fell off the limb. I didn’t hear its voice with my ears. Rather, the mes­sage came in a word and pic­ture com­bi­na­tion that man­i­fested in my mind, yet was not my own. The mes­sage didn’t feel like it orig­i­nated from within me; the words didn’t sound like mine. In my gut, I knew they came from this tree. It was a full-​​blown cou­plet of image and speech, bearing a mes­sage I remember and live by to this very day.

The maple advised, “Be like the linden tree. It bends and bends in every wind, yet its roots go down deep, deep, deep.”

I had never even heard of a linden tree before, much less had any idea what one looked like or how it behaved. It would not be until twenty years later, while living in Europe, that I would meet my first linden tree and feel as though I’d been reunited with a long-​​lost, much beloved rel­a­tive.

The ancient Greeks and the Slavs believed the god­dess of love abided in the linden tree. Other Europeans, espe­cially the Poles, regarded linden trees as sym­bols of divine power, family, faith, and valour. When Christianity arrived in the region, the linden became the tree of the Blessed Mother. In many a folk­tale, the Blessed Mother hid among the tree’s branches, waiting patiently to reveal her­self to chil­dren.

The linden’s white blooms are fra­grant, making them a favorite of bees and bee­keepers. Bees pro­duce wax for can­dles, honey for mead. Laws often pro­tected the pre­cious trees. To cut down a linden meant bad luck, per­haps even bringing tit-​​for-​​tat death to self or a family member. Such was the rev­er­ence for lin­dens.

The maple’s mes­sage to emu­late this unknown cousin rever­ber­ated in me from that moment for­ward. The world was sud­denly full of far greater pos­si­bility than I’d ever before imag­ined. A tree can speak? It’s con­scious? What else is hap­pening that I haven’t noticed or par­tic­i­pated in? I set out – and within — on a mis­sion of curiosity and deeper explo­ration.

Before that day, my par­ents had taken me camping many times. Every time, they had exhorted me to “look at the beau­tiful scenery!” but I ignored them, pre­fer­ring to read a comic book. No more. Suddenly the world was so much more than mere stuff. I went from being sur­rounded by dead matter to being part of a com­mu­nity of aware beings with desires, thoughts, and voli­tion. Life, motion, spirit abounded every­where. I began to realize how how utterly accom­pa­nied I was in the world and how much I was missing because I had not been looking with truly aware, open-​​minded eyes. I began to closely observe other ani­mals, plants, rocks, clouds, and to con­sider how best to serve our col­lec­tive well-​​being. I became inter­ested in mys­ti­cism and spir­i­tu­ality, and began to explore com­par­a­tive reli­gions, looking for human wisdom about relating to the numi­nous in every­thing.

Whatever hap­pened in the purely human realm took on far less import. Personality glitches or opin­ions of me, whether coming from other kids or my own self-doubt, seemed fleeting and insignif­i­cant. I was deter­mined to be kind, but to also put human inter­ac­tions into a much larger con­text. Like a tree, I stood in a forest of mys­tery and hope. And amusingly, as soon as I stopped caring what any­body thought of me, I attracted good friends and even became pop­ular.

Trees, each in their own way, have been my great teachers. They cra­dled me, brought me into con­tact with ele­mental excite­ment, and woke me up to the living world in all of its intense spir­i­tual mys­tery and innu­mer­able dimensions. They ini­ti­ated me as a par­tic­i­pant in life instead of a reluc­tant observer.

The influ­ence of trees has made me a better, wiser, and more aware animal who lives fully in an expanded world sprouting with pos­si­bility, fun, and friend­ship. I will honor these elders of other species as long as I live. I hope that they will con­tinue to teach us all, and that we young­sters along the evo­lu­tionary scale will keep actively seeking out ways to listen.

**********

When searching for a photo of a linden tree to include here, I came upon a fun site about word etymology. Its logo is a musical pun in medieval illumination style. Who can resist that?

Bill Casselmans etymology logoBill Casselman’s entry about linden trees has a component that blew my mind. It turns out that the root of its name means the very quality that was touted to me by my maple tree!

“Linden, like aspen and like ‘the old, oaken bucket’ was originally an adjectival form of Old English lind ‘lime tree.’ Many Indo-European languages have this root *len whose prime meaning is ‘flexible’ in reference, to flexible fibres of the inner bark, much like the basswood-linden-tilia labels. Compare Old Norse lind, modern German gelinde ‘gentle’ but first meaning ‘supple, flexible, soft,’ Latin lentus ‘slow’ but first ‘supple, soft, lazy.’ Other English words containing the same root are lithe, and perhaps linen and line, as Eric Partridge suggests, from an ultimate Indo-European root *li ‘flax.’ This would make *len an extension of the flax root meaning ‘flexible as threads made of flax,’ then of rope or cord made of other materials, like the inner bark of the linden.” (emph. mine.)

Another tidbit that I find here of personal import is the linden’s genus, Tilia. My mother’s name was Tilla. And what do the best mothers give their children but the combo of deep, secure roots and supple, flying freedom?

*

I love it when synchronicities like this show up. The first one affords the mind-blowing confirmation that the tree was right.

On the one hand, duh! So when do trees lie?  Yet on the other, how amazing is that to realize that this was not “mere” internal imagination, but actual communication. It’s so easy to default to lowest-common-denominator cultural normative thinking, and no matter how many times such things happen to me and how many times I’m shown that ‘there’s more in heaven and earth, Horatio,’ etc., I’m still always amazed.

Some might consider this focus on synchronicity to be overly magical thinking but to me, such occurrences signify that I’m in sync with the Tao; the flow of mystery in this planet and beyond, of which each of us is one small musical phrase. And since it makes the world more fun and encourages me to be even more engaged in life, why not think that way?

Go forth and listen to a tree now, and see if it changes you like it did me.

*

Linden tree leaves (img: billcasselman.com)

(My essay is linked & presented here with permission of Jamie K. Reaser, co-editor. This version printed here has a few changes from the one published by Hiraeth Press.  Artistic license, y’know.)

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2 Responses to “Learning from Our Elders: Teacher Trees”

  1. HAwen Says:

    Wow. I understand your childhood well. The only child thing.
    Am taking homeopathy UNDA gemma tilia for seizures. Also good for migraines, anxiety, nerves,etc. Tao for me tofind this?

  2. […] writes in Learning From Our Elders about Teacher […]


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