When I first moved to this neighbourhood I was in the grips of a terrible panic. It probably began as postpartum anxiety – my son was only one and a half then – but due to a debilitating lack of sleep with baby, the anxiety and compulsive fear behavior remained. It was extremely difficult.
I turned to my altar and prayer for relief, somewhere I hadn’t been for at least the past 10 years. I prayed daily and in earnest for every little thing, I set up altars and tended them with care. I felt some relief but complained of feeling no connection. I asked for a teacher and none came.
But then that Spring, funny things started to happen. During our many walks outside we came across animals in need; a baby crow with a broken leg, a dog lost in the depths of the forest on the side of a mountain, a cat lost away from his home, the little sewer rat that walked right up to my feet out in my yard, the poor limping coyote who was being chased by a neighbour in an SUV. I also came across other things – one day the remains of a cat, another day a dead crow in the gutter. I’ll never forget this, when leaning over to look at the cat tail I found, I ‘heard’ this excited little voice that was not my own say:
Pick me up! Take me home!
Of course at the time I was shocked at the notion – why on earth would I do that?
Months later I did take the crow home to bury, but ended up throwing it out for fear of what my neighbours would think.
During this time I came across a tree in our neighbourhood that stood out from the rest. It’s a huge old maple with beautiful gnarled bark and big strong roots that lift up the earth around it. It’s a city tree so, beside a sidewalk and in front of someone’s house, but to me I always saw it in the midst of a huge forest. My little one and I would run around its base looking for the secret door to the Otherworld. We called it the Grandpa Tree.
One day while walking I came upon the tree in a very different way. I looked up at it and suddenly saw it as a Being, separated from our definitions of ‘plant’, ‘tree’, ‘leaf’. It was a monstrously huge giant with lofty long and octopus-like appendages reaching for the sky. The bark curled into noses, lips, eyes looking out at me. I was astonished. Scared really. Butterflies in my stomach, it took my breath away.
I felt like this tree revealed itself to me, it’s true nature. I began leaving it offerings when ever we would go by. Milk, coins, tobacco or bits of whatever I was eating at the time. The tree in turn would leave me gifts sometimes; a heart-shaped rock, heart-shaped leaves, an arrowhead rock – always in the same place at its base. Eventually I wasn’t able to ‘see’ the tree anymore in this way, but I can still see the faces in the bark.
I felt a connection to the land and the animal communities in my neighbourhood because of these experiences. I had taken oaths that year in private, to be an earth steward and warrior, to live my life in devotion to our planet and all the creatures that live on her. I realized later that all of these experiences were actually answers to my pleas for connection, opportunities to interact and relate to Mama-nature on a deeper level. I asked to be a steward and was given animals in need. I asked if anything beyond my little reality was real and was given the Grandpa tree.
I wasn’t always able to respond to these opportunities (two babies in tow made it difficult) and eventually they stopped happening. Later I wondered if I had failed in some way, if I was supposed to take in the baby crow even if it meant putting the children in my charge at a disadvantage. But in the hustle and bustle, I had moved on at that point anyways. Fall had come and a teacher had appeared to me finally.
It occurred to me later that perhaps linking with the sacred can be like this though, experienced in moments of time that come and go, rather than all the time or all at once. After all we are human beings living in this human existence, we have to be able to function in it as well.
I also realized that perhaps this was showing me where I needed to listen to my own inner voices and intuition and not let stronger voices or notions of ‘what is proper’ override my own (my husband telling me the dog was fine, leave it alone, or worrying about my neighbours). After all my relationship and my vows and responsibilities to Mama-earth are between me and Her, not anyone else.
I recently was told that when animals, plants, trees come across our path in this way they are inviting us into an alliance, in this world and in the Otherworld. I was told to call on the tree for protection.