From the time I was six and ran away to spend the night under the sheltering branches of an avocado tree, to those moments when I find a really big beauty and slide down to settle in the lap of its roots and meditate – I love what trees do for me. Like the mythical World Tree that links the heavens, earth and the underworld, their vibrant energy breathes life into my body and soul. Trees heal.
But as my readers know, I harbor an inner Grinch over Christmas, the mass slaughter of trees. The decorating of trees with glitter and cheap shiny paraphernalia. There was a time when the ancient practice of tree worship had a seductive hold on humankind. Trees were linked to immortality and fertility and their worship emerged in various forms. Some cultures used trees to capture the demon that held a tormented soul in its grip. From Africa to the Northern Plains states, pilgrims traveled thousands of miles to visit Wishing Trees, whose secret locations are carefully handed down from generation to generation.
Despite the slashing edits to the Bible by Constantine, there remain references to the power of trees. Jesus said there were five trees in paradise, which never lost their leaves and granted immortality. St Thomas alluded to the five manifestations of greatness to the five words for mind; sanity, reason, mindfulness, imagination and intention. Some believed that these five manifestations were somehow linked to the meaning of the five trees.
This tree worshipper gave her daughter a pear tree for her wedding. But even today, although my feelings have mellowed somewhat about Xmas, I still suffer a mild guilt from bringing that living green inside. I know that tree farms make a difference and there is the added blessing that many of these farms tithe a portion of the monies to non-profits.
The ornaments Chloe and I accumulated are a different story. While searching for some documents, the memories of Xmases past came tumbling out of a small box high on a shelf. Worn with pieces missing, this odd collection is no less dear to me for its tattered condition. It has the patina that only love can give. A seashell Chloe had found on Venice Beach; a pair of wooden clothespin dolls – the boy painted black with a crooked red pipe cleaner halo. The girl is dressed in a long gold skirt and has a strapless top knotted in the front. Her long blonde hair sprouts straight up from her head. Miniature dolls that belonged to my mother - a fireman in a felt suit and red cap; a baby with hand crocheted dress are followed by a clay heart from Chloe’s Waldorf School days. It was broken in half. As I held the two pieces, I thought about my daughter, who will be spending Xmas in Lebanon with her husband. (The good news - I’ll be seeing her before Xmas and after.)
The brightly hand painted clown hat we used to cap our Xmas trees is going on the plane with me this holiday season. A lovely touchstone, a token of deep connections that exist across distance and time. Perhaps, there will be a tree near the house where I’m staying. If so, I intend to give it the hat in honor of all the trees I’ve loved and will love; the wild, the old, the new and those that are still a seed.