Dawning our masks and coats, Hubby and I head out for a walk. Our stretch of the road is more like a narrow country lane in the UK, lined with towering Douglas-firs and western hemlocks. There are alders, arbutuses and maples scattered here and there – enough to leave a bed of fallen leaves along the roadside. We tread carefully, one behind the other, as cyclists and cars tussle over their rights to travers the road, a reminder that this grove-like street is a part of a bustling, albeit rustic neighbourhood.
I have always had an affinity to trees. Perhaps it started with the small spruce sapling that my dad found in a thicket somewhere and brought it home, calling it “Kate’s tree”. He planted it in the front lawn of our city home where it continued to grow and thrive. When my parents moved us to a new neighbourhood, my dad told the realtor to add a clause stating that ‘Kate’s tree’ was not part of the sale; it was coming with us to the new house. This stately conifer and I grew up together and even though I eventually moved out and my parents downsized to a smaller home, I still went back occasionally for drive-by visits with my tree.
I now live in the Pacific North West on the traditional lands of the Salish First Nations for whom forests were a place where they could feel the Creator’s presence. According to one legend, the Creator recognized the kindness of a man who was always giving away his belongings and food to others and declared that the red cedar would grow where he was buried and that these trees would continue to help the people. The yellow cedar grows on the slopes of subalpine mountains and the Nuu-chah-nulth people from Vancouver Island suggested that these were transformed from three young women running up a mountain, thus accounting for the soft inner bark that reminded them of women’s hair.
The Salish weren’t the only people with a spiritual connection with trees. The ancient Celts believed that the divinities of the trees had power over vegetation and therefore sacrifices were made to appease them and insure their survival. Irish mythology suggests when the Milesians arrived in Ireland, they banished the natives to the underground or other-world. These natives are the faerie folk who live underground among trees and bushes and come up to the outer-world through the base of the fairy trees. These ‘wee-folk’ were respected because of their enchanting powers and their ability to bless as well as bring bad luck.
According to Greek Mythology, nymphs known as dryads watch over and care for the trees they are born with, having interactions with mankind throughout history. The story I remember was written by a Roman poet named Virgil. He related the tragic romance of Eurydice, the beautiful oak tree dryad and Orpheus. After her untimely death, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and back to save her. And just as they reached the land of the living, Eurydice faded away.
I wonder if the old legends and mythologies were a way to recognize what we know now; that trees are living organisms with which we have a strong connection, bound by the joys and sorrows of those who have roamed and lived in their shadows.
Charli Mills hosted a Special Collection Flash Fiction Challenge in support of a gifted poet and writer, Sue Vincent, who is facing a difficult challenge in her life at the moment. In 99 words (no more, not less) we were to write a story about ‘life as a river of consciousness’. As always, we were to go where the prompt lead us. In my case, life as a river of consciousness became the river’s stream of consciousness.
I am a river born from the rattling-cold mountain streams, a peaceful current sliding around rocks and meandering amongst the trees, on my way to the sea. Silver-coloured fish hide beneath my surface while armored turtles plod covertly along my bed. Iridescent and blue, playful dragonflies swoop over my waters catching their prey and howling coyotes come out at night and frighten the gentle deer away. People rarely visit me, but when they do, they usually come alone or in twos. They always sit and listen to the gurgling of my waves, while I give comfort to their souls.
Feature photo by TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance