Life is Old There; Older than the Trees


There’s a wildfire in Shenandoah, but we didn’t see it yesterday.  The Green Man and I drove up into the Blue Ridge Mountains to an experimental grove of American chestnut trees.  As we climbed, we went backwards in time; Spring becoming less and less pronounced than it is down here in our Shining City on a Swamp.

We saw wild mustard flowing like a river of sunlight and gold all along the highway.

We saw two turkey vultures circling high in the sky and then saw the deer carcass — victim of a traffic accident — that a large flock of them were cleaning.  That’s magic for me:  Isis’ birds, and Maat’s, and, here in the New World, representatives of Iac and Heresa Heri, who brought light to the world.  And seeing them always reminds me, indirectly, after I get over the goosebumps, of Robert Coffin’s poem, Crystal Moment:

      Once or twice this side of death
      Things can make one hold his breath.

From my boyhood I remember
A crystal moment of September.

A wooded island rang with sounds
Of church bells in the throats of hounds.

A buck leaped out and took the tide
With jewels flowing past each side.

With his head high like a tree
He swam within a yard of me.

I saw the golden drop of light
In his eyes turned dark with fright.

I saw the forest’s holiness
On him like a fierce caress.

Fear made him lovely past belief,
My heart was trembling like a leaf.

He leans towards the land and life
With need above him like a knife.

In his wake the hot hounds churned
They stretched their muzzles out and yearned.

They bayed no more, but swam and throbbed
Hunger drove them till they sobbed.

Pursued, pursuers reached the shore
And vanished. I saw nothing more.

So they passed, a pageant such
As only gods could witness much,

Life and death upon one tether
And running beautiful together.

In my memory, I always edit the first lines so they read (much better, I think):  “Once or twice, this side of Death,/Things can make you hold your breath.”  And the association is always how sad I feel for the deer and how glad I feel for the vultures, and how grateful I am to them for their work.

When we reached the grove, we wrapped a cloak of invisibility around us so that none of the workers, or joggers, or schoolchildren on field trips would see us entering the gated-off grove, would hear us invoke the Powers, and Spirits, and Beings of the place, would notice us pouring libations of American spirits.   This is just simple courtesy in my book; there’s no need to scare or confuse people.

Within the grove, we have one special grandmother tree and we went straight to her.  Whenever I approach her, I have to get through Grandmother Spider who seems to guard her and to challenge me:  “Do you really want to get close?  Do you come with a clean heart?”  We worked it out as we always do, Grandmother Spider and I, and I spent a long time just hugging our tree, sensing how she’d come through the Winter, delighting in her sun-fired-tiny-green leaves, held proudly up to the cloudless sky.  We joined hands, the Green Man, the tree, and the Witch, and made the deep connection we’ve come to expect.

And then we left, dropped our cloak, and found a tiny mountain diner to have lunch with sweet tea, biscuits, and collards.  We drove back down through Spring, past the river of wild mustard, past the turkey vultures still hard at work, into our Shining City on a Swamp.  This is the work of Witches and Druids.  Our work is to turn the Wheel and round and round the Wheel must turn.

Picture of a chestnut tree by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.


4 responses to “Life is Old There; Older than the Trees

  1. It was a magical day, as always. 🙂 “Our” chestnut is thriving, and She will once again populate our beloved woodlands, with her progeny.

  2. I am so excited about the work being done to save the chestnut. I arranged for several seedlings to be planted in my village. How old is your grandmother tree?

  3. The New Yorker recently had a article about restoring threatened species. It was mainly about corals, but a section in the middle discusses chestnuts. Evidently, a major source of the damage done by the blight is oxalic acid release. The researchers involved have spliced a gene for an oxalic oxidase into the chestnut that seems to be working. The trick was to not only splice in the gene for the enzyme, but also an efficient promoter sequence. Don’t know if this is the answer, but as a once upon a time molecular biology major, it’s my kind of magic.

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