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Living in Season from Waverly Fitzgerald

Living in Season
The official newsletter of School of the Seasons

February 28, 2007


My Season: Busy Bee
Calendar Update: March
Living in Season: Proud to Be a Tree Hugger
Holiday Packet: Easter
My Favorite Tree Links and Books
Calendar Companion
Signs of Spring
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Welcome to my semi-monthly newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. We've finally updated the newsletter format so we can provide a much prettier version.

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My Season: The Busy Bee

I just got back from a lovely weekend retreat with my writers group. We spent two days in a cozy cabin overlooking the Saratoga Passage, a wonderful view of water and sky. I wrote another scene in my historical novel set in 17th century England during the English Civil War and most of an article for my flower book. I will be featuring excerpts from it on my blog starting with the daffodil, the featured flower for March 1, in honor of St. David?s Day. I always wear either a daffodil or a leek on St. David's Day because I like to think of myself as Welsh (even though my only Welsh ancestor lived 800 years ago).

I've been teaching two writing classes — Reading for Novelists and Writing the Non-Fiction Book Proposal — and I've been doing the homework for both, along with working 30 hours at my job, so I?m a little overwhelmed. Still, it's been a productive winter, at least until Mercury went retrograde (did you notice that? I did). I've also started publishing snippets of the family history research I've done on my mother?s family at another blog:

Some of the time I feel like I'm in Milwaukee at the turn of the century and sometimes I feel like I'm wandering around a small village in Oxfordshire in 1642 and the rest of the time I'm collecting, sniffing, drawing and talking to flowers. Since I've been so busy, I decided to republish one of my favorite newsletter articles: Tree Hugger. This is my favorite time of the year to hug a tree, when the sap is beginning to rise.

Calendar Update: March

I've updated the March calendar and it?s full of holidays including the Lantern Festival, Holi, Purim, the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries, Mothering Sunday, and Nawruz. Check it out here.

Living in Season: Proud to Be A Tree Hugger

I always feel faintly guilty when I hug a tree, furtive, embarrassed. Perhaps this is because the tree I usually hug is right outside the building where I teach writing classes on the University of Washington campus. What would my students think if they walked by and saw their teacher, her arms wrapped around the slender trunk, her nose pressed into the bark, her eyes closed in bliss?

Maybe they'd see a tree-hugger, an epithet usually delivered with such scorn that even I cringe under the burden of feebleminded anthropomorphism.

Yet, since a tree is alive, passionately, vividly alive even in winter when its branches are bare, it should be obvious that hugging a tree brings the same benefits to the hugger as hugging a dog or a friend. I recently read a section on hugs in the book Passionate Marriage by David Scharch. He discusses the subtle ramifications of hugs, like the hug that goes on longer than you intended and makes you wonder about its meaning, the jolt that signals one person is ready to withdraw from a hug, or the melting into the hug hug.

No tree ever jolts or tries to withdraw when I hug it. Usually the greatest problem I experience is my slowing down to match the tempo of the tree. Sometimes I can't do it and turn away, disappointed. But most often, especially if I can get over my fear of being caught, I can relax. I close my eyes and sniff the delicate aroma of the bark, press my body against the trunk and try to sense within myself the slow rise of the sap. I breathe in and out slowly, imagining sinking roots deep into the ground with each inhale and branches reaching for the sky on each exhale. When the wind is stirring the branches of the tree I'm hugging, I can feel that movement shivering through the trunk. Despite being rooted to the ground, trees are in constant movement.

Tree-hugging opens the heart. When I've quieted to the place where I can feel the life force in the tree, the thrill of the sap, the quivering of the wind in the branches, I become aware of the pounding of my own heart and a feeling of love envelopes me, as if the tree wraps a spell of comfort around me. Sometimes I step away, shaken, as if awakening from a trance of green life reaching out for the stars at night.

I came to tree-hugging rather late in my life. I had a magic tree as a child, an old gnarled tree that grew beside the foundations of an abandoned house, and I used to touch the tree for luck on my way to grade school. Later, during the most miserable year in my life, my first year away from home attending Reed College, I adopted a slender birch sapling that grew beside the path between my dorm and the classrooms. Every time I passed, I pressed my fingers to its cool bark, deriving some obscure comfort from this contact. I'll never forget the jolt I experienced the afternoon I touched the same tree after dropping acid. The tree was alive! I pulled my fingers back as if burnt but reached out to touch it again, my cells lighting up with pleasure as I sensed the subtle flow of the sap under the cool bark. That was the first tree I ever hugged.

Since then I have hugged many trees. I still prefer birches but my favorite tree on the UW campus is a black locust. I was happy to learn, when a friend finally identified it for me, that black locusts are considered magical by the local indigenous people. My other revelatory tree encounter occurred with an apple tree during a solitary retreat at the Whidbey Institute. I had always heard that apples were the trees of love, but to me this was an intellectual concept, until I walked into the garden and into the radius of this old apple tree. Suddenly I was surrounded by a delicious feeling of joy and lightness that was irresistible. Ellen Evert Hopman in her book on Tree Magic writes that apples "thrive on human companionship and feel their best when petted and pruned." I certainly felt that with this apple tree, that had been lovingly tended for decades. The same could not be said for the malevolent crab-apple tree that grew in the backyard of my childhood home.

After reading an early draft of this essay to my writing group, I discovered that many people have never hugged a tree. So here are a few instructions if you are interested in trying.

  1. If you are at all self-conscious, pick a tree and a place where you will not be observed. Choose a tree that you can wrap your arms around comfortably.
  2. Inspect the bark carefully, for leaking sap and insects.Put your arms around the trunk and press your body against the tree, particularly along the left side, where your heart is.
  3. Sniff the bark delicately, the way you would your lover's neck.
  4. Close your eyes.
  5. Breathe slowly and deeply. If you like, imagine sinking roots into the ground and pressing branches up into the sky.
  6. Continue until you sense the life in the tree. It may come as an awareness of the sap rising or a sense that your heartbeat is being met by another, as when lying with a lover.
  7. If this doesn't work, open your eyes, and look up at the branches. Allow your vision to take you along those branches and feel the energy of the tree reaching up into the sky.

Schnarch, David, Passionate Marriage, Henry Holt 1998

Holiday Packet: Eostre/Spring Equinox

It's time to order the Eostre packet if you want to receive it in time to celebrate the joyous mid-spring feast also known as Norooz, St. Joseph's Day or Spring Equinox. (You have a little more time to prepare for Easter and Passover (also included) as they fall in April this year.) This illustrated portfolio contains 50 pages of ideas for celebrating including how to:

  • Make tansy pies, hot cross buns and other traditional Eostre foods
  • Decorate eggs the Ukrainian way, using symbol and ritual
  • Use food items and plants to create natural dyes
  • Play traditional games like cracking eggs, egg rolling and pace egging
  • And much more.

I've reproduced the pages on the sacred meaning of dyed eggs, and on my Ukrainian egg decorating ritual from the Eostre packet as free samples on the website. You can download them here.

It is available in an email version for $10 (sent within 24 hours) or via snail mail for $15 (please allow 10 days for delivery). Order through our Store.

Tree Links & Books

Since I wrote the Treehugger article, I've been introduced to many fabulous tree books and some great web sites.

Meetings with Remarkable Trees by Thomas Pakenham, Random House
A book of the most amazing photographs of trees. Inspired by the desire to preserve the heritage of trees, Pakenham traveled around the British Isles taking pictures of historic, unusual and noteworthy trees. The photographs are stunning and can be enjoyed just for themselves but I also enjoyed the text, which detailed Pakenham?s journeys to find these trees and bits of lore about their history and uses. A map in back shows where to find the featured trees.

The Meaning of Trees by Fred Hageneder, Chronicle 2005
This book is equally lovely but takes a different approach, looking not at specific tree individuals but each species. Hageneder is interested in much more than just the function and history of a tree (see his web sites below). He provides information about the folklore, myth and symbolism of each tree.

Leaves, in Myth, Magic and Medicine, Alice Thoms Vitale, Stewart, Tabori & Chang 1997
This lovely little book features prints of living leaves made by the author, plus collected lore about each plant. It contains many tree leaves but also leaves of shrubs and herbs.

The Spirit of Trees
This lovely web site collects stories, poems and myths about trees:

Fred Hageneder's web site has a similar name
but a different focus. He offers articles on sacred groves, living with the spirit of trees, books on the wisdom of trees and music written for trees. Hageneder is also involved with another web site that works at preserving the ancient yews of Britain:

Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time

This is a graceful way to incorporate spirit and seasons into your life. Use it along with your usual planning tools and calendar to help you:

  • Slow time down
  • Consult your soul while creating your schedule
  • Make time for what's truly important in your life
  • Move in rhythm with the seasons and the moon

Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.

Start whenever you like. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next week's calendar companion, along with an introductory email.

$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. To order or to see a sample reflection, go to our Store.

Signs of Spring

Here in Seattle, it's spring: crocuses, quince blossoms, cherry blossoms and lots of daffodils.

Alyss in Portland sent me her signs of spring on February 1st:

This week I have seen fruit trees starting to blossom and all kind of trees with swelling buds, heard robins starting to practice their spring songs and even seen crocuses pop out of soggy lawns. As I write this it is 5:50 pm and the sky is not yet black! Winter is running away fast, and though we've got some cold, dark days ahead, it can only get better. 

Where ever you live, send me your signs of the season and we will post them at the website at Signs of the Season.


Copyright © Waverly Fitzgerald 2007
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Living in Season in other electronic or print publications as
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