The Dying Mother Tree, Enabling Life

The dying Mother Tree in the Orphaned Woods

It can take years for a tree to die.

A big limb broke off this old maple in The Orphaned Woods a couple of years ago.  And now another limb, almost as big, is hanging off the other side only being held up by one of the other branches. The tree is obviously dying.

Surrounding it is a circle of smaller maples.  From what I read in Suzanne Simard’s book, Finding The Mother Tree, I’d guess that this maple is a mother tree.

Which means that even when it’s dying, it’s still sending nutrients to the smaller trees that are growing around it.

When Simard did experiments with injured trees she found that “Facing an uncertain future, she[the mother tree] was passing her life force straight to her offspring, helping them prepare for the changes ahead.  Dying enabled the living; the aged fueled their young.”

She wrote...”I imagined the flow of energy from the Mother Trees as powerful as the ocean tide, as strong as the sun’s rays, as irrepressible as the wind in the mountains, as unstoppable as a mother protecting her child.”

I love the idea of giving while dying. Of passing my life force on.

This might just be a romantic idea of mine.  A way of softening the certainty of death.  But it does make me think about how my life force could possibly manifest. I’m not even sure what that means. But the words creativity, love, and hope come to mind.

A Moment And Eternity With The Mother Tree

Mother Tree

Surrender is surrender I thought dropping my arms from in front of me and letting my whole body lean against the Mother Tree.

I closed my eyes and tried to feel instead of thinking.

The sound of a woodpecker softened by distance was a constant layered by the call of a Bluejay and the soft warble of a bird I didn’t recognize.   Tree time, slow and steady, seeped past my clothes, through my skin and into my consciousness.

A hug without arms, the air around me became warmer, softer.

There were no promises that everything would be alright, only the momentary, eternal comfort of being in the presence of one who knows acceptance.

Now, when I visit the mother tree, I always get a little scared at the thought of someone cutting her down.  I think of the moss-covered logs I put in the woodstove all winter and cringe.

But the mother tree doesn’t worry.  She lives her life, dealing with what comes her way, the best she can.

I imagined myself becoming one of the small trees that sprout from her roots. Growing contentedly in the shadow of her wisdom.

But I’m only a visitor here.  Maybe next time, if we get another chance at life.

I open my eyes and kiss the Mother Tree a thank you where I laid my head.  I look at Fate who has been waiting patiently next to us and she runs off towards home.

Mother Tree

Fate knows the trees that I visit when we walk in the woods.  She runs up to them and waits for me.

Jon asked me if I name the trees I visit regularly.  And although I told him I don’t, I do think of them in certain ways, that I guess, in a way, are my names for them.  Like, the Big Old Shag Bark Hickory (which has always been male in my mind), or The Oak Next To The Pine Where The Tree Stand Was.

And then there’s the Mother Tree.

Her big bottom sits firmly on the ground, spreading out around her like a hoop dress on a crouching woman.

When I stand in front of her, my forehead is the perfect height to rest between two rounded protuberances that are evenly placed, like breasts.   One even has a perfectly centered bump like a nipple.  But, like the goddess Artemis, she has many of these “breasts” all around her trunk.

Her yoni is above her breasts, a grotto that I once placed one of my earrings in as an offering.

Smaller trees surround her, growing from her roots as if taking in her wisdom.

I’ve actually been reluctant to share a picture of her.  She seems too sacred. I don’t believe any photo I could take would do her justice.  Also, I feel protective of her and selfishly possessive.

But of course, she’s not mine for me to do any of these things, including naming her.  And she’s told me many times that she’s not better or worse than any other tree in the woods.  That we are all one.

Yet still, I feel in her the strength of the Divine Feminine, grounded and nurturing.


The Smell Of Cinnamon, Meeting My Mother In The Woods

We’re all just walking each other home” Ram Das

The woods glowed yellow sunlight through the brightly dying leaves.  Before my walk, Jon and I meditated together.  It was there I saw an image of my torso filled with old broken furniture.  It piled up messily inside of me filling me up.

Now as the dry leaves churned and crunched under my shoes, I saw another image of me vomiting up all that furniture.  I imagined making a drawing of the stream of old furniture starting in my belly coming up through my throat and arching out of my mouth.

That’s when I smelled something unusual.

It was aromatic, familiar yet I couldn’t quite place it.   It was gone just as quickly as it had come.  I thought it must have come from something growing or dying in that particular place that I had just walked, so I turned around and went back.

And there it was again.

I breathed in the smell and I realized it was cinnamon.  Then, with the smell of cinnamon, came a memory.

In my minds eye I saw the bowl of warm rice in warm milk,  small chunks of peeled apples, sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top.  It was something my mother would make when I was a kid.  Something no one else in the family liked.

Something  the two of us shared.

As the memory flooded through me, I sensed an invisible presence above me.  I looked up into the tree tops and it was as if I was seeing  the leaves and sky through shiny glass or very clear water.  But also nothing as solid as glass or water.

Then I felt the presence of my mother.

Not as I knew her, but as something clear and pure.  Like the essence of who she really was without all the stuff that life had put upon her.  I had the sense that she was telling me it was all okay.  That she saw me and loved me for who I was.  That all the bad that had been between us didn’t really matter at all.

I began to cry, deep sobs that came up from the lowest part of me.

Last week in my Bellydancing class, my teacher Julz corrected my posture.  “You’re standing like this,” she said and slouched her shoulders forward, her chest caving in.

I knew she was right.  I’d been feeling so heavy that week.  My chest felt like it was sinking down into my hips, and I didn’t have the strength to hold myself up.  I wondered about it.  I’d felt so free the first week after my mother died,  and now I was caving in on myself.

For the rest of class I made an effort to let my shoulders and back muscles drop, to lift my chest, but I had to remind myself over and over again.

Now, standing in the woods, the tears flowing freely, I felt my body open up.  My torso so full of old broken furniture just moments ago, became an empty cavern.  My shoulders slid down my back and my chest floated up.

I went into the woods with a weight in my chest and came out feeling closer to my mother than I ever had when she was alive.

Whether my mother in her essence was really in the woods with me yesterday, I can’t say I know for sure.  Perhaps a therapist would say it was something I conjured up because I wanted it so badly.

I remember when our friend Paul took his own life, Brian who found him hanging from a tree, later saw Paul walking by the river waving to him.   I had no doubt Brian had seen Paul’s ghost. That he was letting Brian know he was okay now.  But Doug, who was also there, and had served as a medic in Vietnam was just as certain that Brian was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress from having found his friend and mentor.

I can’t say I know exactly what happened in the woods.  But I do know what I felt and still feel.  And I choose to believe in that, because I know it’s good for me.  And it gives me hope, not just in this life, but in what may happen after we die.

(Thanks to Suzanne for the Ram Das quote)

Childhood Trees


One of the trees I visit in the woods

I sat in the chair waiting for Amy.  The doctor’s office had one window, a Venetian blind covered it, the slats open enough to let light in. I could see a tree trunk, its bark familiar, between the slats.

As I searched my memory for where I had seen it before, I landed on the sidewalk in front of the house I grew up in. In the backyard were two giant Oak Trees.  One had the date 1888 carved into it.  They were the oldest, the rest of the trees were planted when my grandparents and father built the house.

Next to the oaks was a mulberry tree with white, berries.  Small unruly evergreens lined one fence.  And in front of the house,  was a maple, a catalpa, and a Rose of Sharon.  A wisteria vine grew on the roof and two sides of a covered patio.  And a Rodadendron reached out from under its shade.  A  fig tree, which was wrapped in burlap every winter to keep it from freezing,  taught me to love fresh figs.

I haven’t thought of all those childhood trees in years.  Most of the houses in the post-WWII suburban neighborhood had a maple tree or two on the strip of grass between the sidewalk and street.  But now that I think about it, our yard was like a little arboretum in comparison.

And even though no one ever talked about it, I’d guess it was my grandmother who planted them. Mostly because in my lifetime knowing her, she seemed to have the first and final say about most things.

Although my grandmother lived upstairs in our two-family house, I was not close to her. She had a hard life and was a difficult person, not the kindly grandmother of so many stories.

But, I realized today as I waited for my doctor, she must have loved trees.

So I wonder, is this where I got my love of trees from?  From this woman who I saw every day but never talked to.

What would have happened if we did talk about the trees? Would she have told me stories, in broken English of how they reminded her of her home in Italy?  How did this woman who sewed in a factory in NYC for most of her life, come to plant all these different kinds of trees?

There is no one to ask these questions anymore.  But I do like the idea of having something in common with this person who I never loved or even liked.

It feels hopeful. Like maybe there was something we shared.  It feels like a gift.  The best one my grandmother could possibly give me.

The Hairy Branches On The Crabapple Tree

The cattail seeds lining the branches of the crabapple tree.

Between the arm of her sweater, her hat, and the white reeds, she could see a triangle of sky, sea, and sand-quite a small triangle.

It’s this line and the ones that follow it in Tove  Jansson’s  The Summer Book that got me looking closely at the crabapple tree in the barnyard this morning.

Jansson goes on to describe what the grandmother sees in that small triangle created by her sweater, hat, and reeds as she lies on the beach.  It’s a precise and magical description that allowed me to see what she was seeing.

But what so touched me about it was that it’s a way of seeing,  that I’ve experienced all my life, yet never told anyone about and never heard anyone else mention.

I know so well those small shapes that we create arbitrarily and unexpectedly often with a part of our own body and can look through as if looking into an alternate world.  They have mesmerized me and fed my imagination.  They have kept me entertained, sometimes closing one eye or squinting to change the light or focus.

So this morning with Jansson’s writing in mind, I went looking for a small space between the branches of the crabapple tree to see what I could see.

And there it was, not what I was looking for, but something I’d never witnessed before although I know it’s not the first time it’s ever happened.

The branches of the apple tree were lined with fuzz.  Not just one branch, but so many of them, were hairy in the rising sun.

My first thought was that it was wool.  Because I often find tufts of wool caught on branches and fencing.  But of course, that made no sense at all.  How would the wool get up so high in the branches and on so many of them?

As I got a closer look I could see the soft hair was actually seeds.

So then I went looking for where the seeds came from.   They were easy to find.

Just down the hill from the tree, on the edge of the marsh, the cattails were bursting.  The tight brown flowers, sometimes called candlewicks, were losing their shape turning to golden down and being scattered by the wind.

Which is how they turned up lining the branches of the crab apple tree.

I’m grateful to Tove Jansson and her insightful writing.  It was what led me to the crabapple tree so I could witness the dispersal of the cattail seeds. Until today I didn’t even know that cattails shed their seeds in the fall.

And never imagined them decorating the bare branches of a tree so beautifully.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson is a beautiful and meaningful book.  It’s about a girl and her grandmother on an island in the Gulf of Finland.  Their relationship is unsentimental but loving and the book filled with their observations of the world around them.

The Cattail’s in the marsh dispersing their seeds

Yoni Tree Potholders and A Free Yoni Tree Pin

My latest forest of Yoni Tree Potholders for sale in my Etsy Shop.

Yoni Trees, with their vulva-like openings, reflect the enduring feminine power of our mother earth.

These Yoni Trees Potholders were inspired by my walk in the woods last week, and I made them different this time.  I stitched each one on a vintage linen, and cut out the opening in the tree to reveal the pink or red fabric beneath the linen.

I like the idea of putting Yoni Trees out into the world.  So with each Yoni Tree Potholder, I’m giving away one of my Yoni Tree Pins.

My Yoni Tree Potholders are for sale in my Etsy Shop.  They are $25 each + $5 shipping for one or more. You can see and buy them here. 

My Yoni Tree Pin.



Yoni Tree Potholder


My Root-Bound Fig Tree

My root bound fig tree

I knew it was a fig tree, but still in the winter, when my grandmother wrapped it in burlap and tied it with string, it spooked me.  It looked too much like a person, the string in all the right places to form a bound head, waist, and legs.

But in the summer, I loved the fresh figs right off the tree.

So a couple of years ago when I saw the potted fig tree, with three figs on it,  on sale at the nursery in Vermont I bought it.   The figs ripened and tasted as good as I remembered them.

In the fall, after the leaves turned yellow and fell off, I cut the branches back and put the potted fig tree in the basement, just like the guy at the nursery told me to do.  A fig tree could live though a Long Island winter when wrapped in burlap, but not through winter in Upstate New York.

The next spring I transplanted the fig tree into a bigger pot, but this spring, when I brought it up from the basement, I saw how thick the roots were. Water barely penetrated the soil. The tree hardly grew all summer. It was root-bound.

After pruning and trimming the roots


So today, I went online, watched a few videos, and read up on what to do with a rootbound tree.

First I pruned it back to a single trunk, then I cut away and shook out the roots as best I could.  After researching it, I realized how bad the tree was.  The roots were growing on top of the soil and wrapping themselves around the trunk of the tree.

Most of what I read recommended transplanting the tree into a bigger pot.  But if the pot was any bigger it would be too heavy for me to carry up and down into the basement every year.  So I trimmed the roots the way I had read about, making the root ball smaller.

Then I  added new potting soil to the same pot and planted the tree back in it.

My fig tree back in its pot


I don’t know if my fig tree will survive my root trimming, but I had to do something or it would surely have died anyway.  I’ll keep it watered and leave it outside for a while to keep from shocking it anymore.

When it gets cold I’ll put it back in the basement and hope that next spring when I bring it back up, it blooms like the rest of the trees.


The Crone Tree

Tree and Bone

The tree was on the edge of a pond in the woods.  It was big and gnarled in a way that caught my attention.  I walked right up to it, as if to introduce myself and there, just above eye level, I saw the breasts.

The tree has two small breasts, close in size, actually, to my own.  The right one sprouted thin red branches and the left had a nipple.  A perfectly round protrusion of bark, in proportion, and right in the center of the  breast.

I was stunned.

I just looked at her for a while, then I leaned my forehead between the breasts, closed my eyes and was still.

As if I somehow knew that this was the way to communicate with the tree, I heard, in my mind, the words…”I am your mother”.  And in my mind, I saw….not just the tree that was talking to me, but the whole woods I was walking in and all the forests everywhere on the earth.

Then I heard …”It doesn’t matter who you were born to. What matters is what you do with your life now.”

And with those words, I saw my past evaporate and all that was left we me, standing in the woods, at that moment.

Today is my birthday, I’m 55 years old.  And I’m thinking of the tree in the woods with the breasts.

The first time I met her, I tried to take a picture of her, but I couldn’t get a good one.  Maybe she doesn’t want her picture taken.

The second time I visited her I saw the ear of corn, as if an offering,  at her roots.

I don’t know where it came from, there aren’t any corn fields too close by.  I imagine an animal, perhaps a raccoon, brought it there and ate it at her feet.

Next time I visit her, I’ll bring my own offering.

Maybe a piece of the handspun wool, my friend Suzy made for me, from my sheep.  I’ll place my forehead between her breasts again, and this time, I’ll tell her what I’m doing with my life now.

Mother Deer and The Real Me

The quilt I made last year after finding the fawn. “Safe in the Woods”

I couldn’t see all of her, just a patch of fur, reddish in the sunlight, framed by the intense green of early summer leaves.

A moment later there was a crashing through the woods. The spotted fawn leaped across the path in front of us and noisily disappeared in the brush and trees on the other side.

Fate made as if to chase after her, but stopped when I told her to “leave it”.

The fawn was gone, but the mother deer was just making herself known.

She ran thought the trees towards me and Fate then circled back before getting to the path.  I kept walking purposely away from where the fawn had run.  But mother deer was not giving up.  She circled around in the woods, running noisily then  she we headed right towards us.

I actually looked for a tree to stand behind, it looked as though she was on the attack.

It sounds strange saying that about a deer.  Even as I was witnessing it, I found it odd to be afraid of a deer. But she was doing what she had to, to keep us away from her baby.

I stopped and made Fate stay and the deer ran just in front of us. On the other side of the path she stopped and made a high-pitched screeching sound.  She kept circling around us and making that strange noise until, I guess, we were far enough away so she didn’t see us as a threat anymore.

Then she too disappeared into the woods.

I’ve never seen  a deer behave that way before, I’ve never heard one make that noise.

It made me think of last year around this time when I found a fawn in the same woods.  She was all alone and could hardly stand.  I picked her up thinking she was in danger and brought her to my neighbor who is a Veterinarian.  There was nothing wrong with the fawn, she was just newborn. Her mother off getting food.  I brought her back to where I found her, but the whole event brought up old feeling about myself and not feeling safe as a child. Of wanting to be protected.

The deer and fawn I encounter in the woods a few days ago was the exact opposite of what happen a year ago.

This mother was fiercely protecting her baby.  Doing what she had to, to dive us away.

It felt like a message for me.  A reflection of where I am today compared to last year.

I thought of all the emotional work I’ve done, talking to my inner child.  How I  no longer wake up in the middle of the night afraid.  How in one powerful vision, I watched my grandmother melt before my eyes, as I told her “Little Maria” wasn’t going to visit her anymore then, then burned the whole room to black cinders.

I saw clearly that the mother deer was a symbol of me, protecting myself as a child.  And ultimately, protecting the person I am now.

I feel the strength of myself, in my lower belly, even as I write this.

I still have work to do.

There’s a fear that lives inside of me and surfaces when I’m confronted with old issues, mostly about  self-worth.  But I’m becoming aware of the difference between rational fear (which actually does protect us, like getting out of the way when a mother deer is charging)  and neurotic fear.

I realize now I was never able to distinguish between the two.  So everything was potentially something to be afraid of.

But it’s the little girl, “little Maria” that feels the neurotic fear.  Not the adult I am now.   More and more I’m integrating the two.

So someday, there will only be one person.

And that will be the real me.








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