“I was a little shaken, and I later concluded that this was a witness tree.”
On Friday, May 4, psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen spoke to a packed audience at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Fe on the subject of “Trees and Tree People.” Her most recent book, Like a Tree, inspired the talk, but she ranged widely over spiritual, feminist, and earth-conscious subjects. There were a number of men in the audience, but it was overwhelmingly female, of the vintage addressed in Crones Don’t Whine.
Bolen is Asian, and she speaks with the quiet eloquence and humor that comes with wisdom and a lifetime of study, teaching, and activism. A major advocate for the World Conference on Women, she has created a body of work on archetypes and sacred symbols that seeks to restore stature, dignity, and purpose to the feminine. My favorite works include Goddesses in Everywoman, The Tao of Psychology, and Urgent Message from Mother. I have just started Like a Tree, which provided her with the means of transmuting the devastating destruction by her homeowner’s association of a Monterey pine that graced her home in California.
At the beginning of her talk, Bolen explained her understanding of “tree people” as individuals who are very aware of trees; who have special memories of playing in trees as children; who sense a presence, a spirit, and sometimes a voice in them. At the end of the talk and by odd coincidence, a handful of people stood up and addressed various cottonwood issues, including what seems to be a growing concern that they are not reproducing here as usual. As we left the lecture, my sister Kate. who had also attended, reminded me that I have a special memory of a cottonwood, and I decided to share it here.
We played around cottonwoods growing up in El Paso, and there was a very special member of the species here on a property where I lived for two years before it was sold following my divorce. It was a wonderful estate, a large hacienda and a casita under big trees with the acequia running through it. There had been trouble on the grounds associated with the caretakers, and the Realtor recommended that we have it energetically cleansed by a shaman (only in Santa Fe). Lena Stevens of the School of Shamanism came over one afternoon and spent several hours on the grounds performing ritual. She knew of recent events but said there was also an issue of unresolved grief, possibly historic in origin, in a particular area of the garden.
As she was leaving, she told me that two special trees were the guardians of the property, a giant elm near the front of the house, and a cottonwood in the enclosed garden. She suggested that I touch them at some point and thank them for their protection. I readily agreed, having had some training in shamanism and written a memoir (Lizard Diary) about my experience with a power animal. The day came when the moment seemed right, and I first approached the big elm. It was encircled by a stone wall, and I stepped up and put my hand on its trunk and expressed my gratitude. Then I walked through the gate and approached the cottonwood, an unprepossessing tree backed up against the coyote fence. This time as I put my hand on its rough bark, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion, and tears of unknown source welled up in my eyes. I was a little shaken, and I later concluded that this was a witness tree. A terrible dog fight resulting in the death of both animals had occurred a few yards away, and there had been violence in the nearby hot tub. The tree was also in the area that Lena had identified as the location of some historic tragedy.
I hung a bird feeder on the cottonwood to cheer it up and later moved a desk into the main house where I could work with a view of the garden–and the tree. I was working on a creative project there one evening when I happened to look up. Instantly the idea for a story was with me, as though it had landed on my desk like a bit of seed fluff from the female tree. I soon began to work on it, thinking all the while that it was the gift of the tree. It was very different from anything I had ever written before, and the main character was a man. I always loved the story, but I was never able to get it published. My sister made me think that it needed to be presented in context, so I have decided to share it here for the benefit of other tree people. Read Full Post »