The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Druid Tree Workings: January Tree Blessings and Wassail for Abundance January 6, 2017

Deep, in the darkest months of winter, a variety of cultures offered blessings to the trees for abundant harvests. A few years ago on this blog, I wrote about Wassailing at a friend’s orchard; since then, I’ve done wassailings each year and have built this as an important part of my yearly cycle as a druid.

 

Abundant harvests of apples!

Abundant harvests of apples!

Since learning about wassailing, I’ve grown interested in tracking down other kinds of tree and land blessings for abundant harvests, especially those taking place in January. I have uncovered some small tidbits that suggested that Native American tribes here in the the Northeastern USA offered maple blessings to ensure a long maple sap flow for the coming year in the dark winter months, however, I haven’t found any of the details of these ceremonies or when exactly they were held.  Also, I have recently gotten word of a few other ceremonies. One of my blog readers, John Wilmott, reports that in Scotland up into the 1980’s, January 6th was “herring and tattles” day, where the nets of the fishing communities are smeared with gravy and mashed potatoes and herring are flung into the sea; afterwards, people bless themselves through dancing. This isn’t a tree blessing per say, but is a sea blessing for those who depend on the sea for their sustenance (in the same way an oak tree blessing would be used by an acorn-dependent culture).

 

Today’s post looks at tree blessings from this broad perspective. Given the importance of treecrops and harvests of all kinds, I suspect that these tree blessings were once very common in many cultures, but obviously, many haven’t survived till the present day. However, the druid tradition offers some insights for those of us wanting to reconnect with our trees and do tree blessings. I thought that given the time of the year, I’d share a few ways that we can go about blessing trees this January!  So in this post I’ll cover both how to do a traditional wassail for apple trees, and also share a general blessing that can be adapted for nut-bearing trees, sap-bearing trees, fruit-bearing trees or general trees upon the landscape. But first, we’ll delve into a bit of why tree blessings are so important through exploring perennial agriculture and history.

 

Treecrops and Tree Blessings

Why we bless the trees is the same reason we bless many other things–to ensure prosperity, health, and abundant harvests.  While these blessings many seem like quaint celebrations now, simply nostalgic remembering and honoring of an old tradition, it is important to understand just how critical trees–and treecrops–were for human survival. In the time before factory farms and supermarkets, humans depended intimately on trees for clean beverages, nutrient and calorie dense foods, and foods that stored well for the winter months.

 

Treecrops offer humans enormous harvests for very little input; they can support both hunter/gatherer types societies as well as supplement agriculturally-based ones. Treecrops are simple to grow–you plant and tend the tree, or, better yet, you find the tree in the wild and honor it and harvest from it. Compare this to traditional agriculture, which requires a tremendous amount of input: hoeing/tilling the ground, planting the seeds, tending young seedlings, watering and ensuring adequate soil, dealing with pests, harvesting, putting the food by for darker months, and saving the seeds, all to do it again at the start of the next season. Treecrops and other perennial crops don’t require all of this input; they don’t require us to till up the ground each year (disrupting the soil web); they don’t require us to water or fertilize (as long as we maintain a healthy and diverse ecosystem). This is part of why permaculture design focuses so much on perennial agriculture (nuts, berries, perennial greens) as opposed to annual crops. Some fruit trees do benefit from pruning of course, but any visit to a wild or abandoned orchard will tell you that apples have no problems producing without our tending!  This is all to say that trees give of themselves freely, without asking much in return. It is no wonder that so many ancient peoples, from all around the world, have honored them.

 

Many cultures survived on treecrops as staple foods or supplemented their diets heavily with them: here in Pennsylvania,  for example, according to an old manual from the PA Forestry Department from 1898, a full 25% of our forests were chestnut before the blight, with another 25% in oak and 10% in walnut. That’s 60% of our forests in perennial nut crops that offered high calorie, abundant, starch and protein. This is not by accident, but rather, by careful tending on the part of the Native Americans, who used these nuts as their staple food crops.

 

In fact, many “acorn eating” and “acorn dependent” cultures were slowly driven out by colonization here in the US; however, acorns and other nut crops remain a critical food source for wildlife (and wild food foragers, like yours truly).  As a wild food forager, I can’t speak highly enough of the abundance of these treecrops.  Once you start harvesting nuts as part of your food stuffs, you grow to quickly appreciate how crazy abundant trees are in certain years–even with harvesting only once a week and leaving most for wildlife, I was able to harvest sacks of apples, hickories, walnuts, and acorns and enjoy them all winter long.

 

Acorns

Acorns

Two other tidbits about these treecrops. Sugar maple, and other sugary trees (birch, even walnut) also offered a fresh source of drinkable and pure liquid and also offer one of the only sweeteners available (other than robbing a beehive, which is not exactly a pleasant encounter!). So they, too, were blessed by native peoples. Finally, apple was introduced by colonizers from Europe, and in that culture, represented opportunity both for fermentation into alcohol and for fresh eating for winter storage. Johnny Appleseed wasn’t just spreading those apples across the US for fresh eating–rather, hard cider was what was on the mind of him and many others as the apple took root here in the US.  And with the apple came, of course, the apple orchard blessing.

 

We can see from some of the above is that treecrops are a critical staple both for Europeans and European settlers living in temperate climates as well as for traditional hunter/gatherer cultures (and for many wild food foragers and homesteaders today). Treecrops offer tremendous staples in any diet and are very worthy of blessing for an abundant harvest.  These dietary blessings are in addition to the trees’ ability provide warmth and shelter in nearly any situation!

 

The Timing of Tree Blessings in January

Like many things shrouded in long-standing tradition, the origin of the timing of these tree blessings, of various sorts, is not entirely clear, although most often, they take place either on January 6th or January 17th.

 

I have a theory from my own experience, however, and I’ll share it here. With exceptions like mulberry, nearly all treecrops have really good storage capacity, some six months or longer, enough to see you through a long and dark winter.  Apples, walnuts, acorns, pears–these all store extremely well, allowing people to make it through the cold dark months.  When these folks are watching their fruit and root cellars grow smaller and smaller, and those blessed apples and nuts are still there, storing well and filling the belly, it is no wonder that the tree blessings emerged in the darkest and coldest months of the year.

 

Another reason (and one commonly given) for the timing of Wassail in January is that this is also the same season in which pruning was done (as trees need to be pruned while they are dormant).  So while you are in your orchard anyways, it is a good time to honor the trees with a little wassail!

 

A final reason might have to do with the timing of cider fermentation–apple cider takes some time, and if you are pressing it and fermenting it around Samhuinn, it is likely ready to bottle and drink by early January; a perfect time to begin the cycle of harvesting again for the upcoming year.

 

The timing of these blessings has a few derivations.  Wassail takes place either on January 5th or 6th (the 12th night from the Winter Solstice) or January 17th (as is the custom in some places in south-western England and here in the USA).  Most of the literature on the surviving custom in the Southern Parts of England talk about this ceremony being done on January 17th specifically.  Both of these dates are called “old 12th night” by various sources. I would suspect, also, that the Native American tradition of blessing the maples comes around this period–as blessings are likely to precede a harvest (and the harvest of maple sap starts in mid-February at the earliest).

 

Given all of this, I’d like to propose that January seems like a very good time for all kinds tree blessings, especially for our fruit, nut, and sugar trees. Now that we’ve got some sense of the treecrops and blessings as well as timing and importance, I’m going to share two different blessings here that you can use on treecrops.

 

Wassail (Waes-Hael) for Apples and Pears

I’m going to share the details of the Waes Hael first, because we will use some of the key features of this surviving tree blessing ritual in the othe ritual I’ll present.

 

A good harvest of wild apples

A good harvest of wild apples

The wassail tradition, coming from Anglo Saxon “waes-hael” means good health.  There are actually a series of related traditions surrounding apples and their beverages that are called wassail. Wassailing, in general, took place on either on New Years or all of the 12 days of Christmas.  A drink was placed in a large “wassail bowl” containing mulled cider, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, sometimes cream, sometimes baked apples, and other things. This drink was brought around to others for their good health during the New Year (its where we get the song, “Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green; Here we come a-wassailing, So fair to be seen…”).

 

This same drink and bowl made their way into the Apple Orchard for the Apple Wassail (and in some cases, Wassail was also done for pear trees with perry, or fermented pear cider). The tree blessing ceremony, Apple Wassailing, which is centered around apple trees and focuses on blessing the orchard for abundant crops in the coming year. The goals of this ceremony, as passed in the traditional lore, are to awaken the trees, to drink to their health, and to scare away evil spirits which may interfere with a good harvest.  As in many old customs, there are many parts to the ceremony and a lot of derivation depending on what sources or places you are talking about.   Here is one version:

 

Supplies needed: mulled cider (wassail) in a wassail bowl; mugs; toast; noisemakers/drums

 

The Ritual:

1.  One tree is selected to receive the blessing for the orchard.  This is usually a large, old, or otherwise dominant tree with space to move about it, branches that people can reach, and accessible roots.

2.  People gather around the tree with noisemakers (drums, buckets to pound on, etc).   The first wassail song can be sung (we never knew any melodies for them so we made them up!)

3.  Cider is ceremoniously poured from the steaming wassail bowl into each participant’s cup.

4.  Participants pour an offering of cider from each of their cups on the roots of the tree and then drink to the tree’s good health.

5.  Participants bless the tree with an offering of toast, dipping toast in their mugs and then hanging the pieces of toast from the tree’s branches. Alternatively, a King and Queen are chosen, the king offers the queen his mug, she dips the toast in the mug, and then hangs the toast on the branches of the tree.)

6.  More wassail songs are sung.

7.  A lot of noise is made around the trees to scare away the evil spirits that may be lurking there.

In some traditions, the trees are also beat to ensure a good harvest.  I wrote about tree beatings a bit in my post on Walnut (and I will write about them again in my upcoming post about the sacred apple tree). Beating trees (which obviously damages them) can force the tree to bear more fruit as it is damaged and wants to produce more offspring.  Beating apple trees at certain times of the year also forced them to set fruit faster.  As a druid, I absolutely do not advocate the beating of trees (you can see my response below under the tree blessings).

8.  The official ceremony is over, and people may enjoy a potluck with apple-themed ingredients (at least, that’s how we did it in Michigan!)

 

There are a few key aspects of this ritual I’d like to point out, for we’ll see them again in the more general rituals I’m proposing. First is the selection of a single tree that receives–and radiates outward–the blessing to all other trees.  This is important (for, after all, it is hard to bless each tree in the whole forest!) The second is a specially-prepared offering (ideally from its own fruit but lovingly crafted by human hands).  The third is raising energy through sounds around the tree to drive off any evil. Finally, there is this extremely long-standing tradition of beating trees, which I think we should mitigate in any blessing ritual.

 

Druid’s Winter Tree Blessing (With Variants for Oak/Nut Trees and Maple)

This is what we are looking for!

This is what we are looking for!

I think we can adapt the Wassail to bless many other kinds of trees in much the same way, also drawing from the druid tradition.  Here is an alternative blessing ritual that could be used for a variety of crops (I’m offering some variants here for those of you who would like to bless other fruit trees, other nut trees, sap-offering trees, or any trees).

 

Opening. Open a sacred space (I would use the AODA’s Solitary Grove Opening or the OBOD’s Grove Opening for this).  This helps establish the energies for the ritual and really should be included.  If you are including the Energetic Blessing, including the AODA’s Sphere of Protection (as part of the Solitary Grove opening)  or some other way of invoking the three currents at the start of this ritual is a wise idea (you can learn the AODA”s SOP from John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook or Druid Magic Handbook).

 

Honoring. After the space is opened, honor the trees with a simple blessing that establishes the intentions of the ceremony.  If you have poetry that is specific to those trees, it would be well to use it.  If not, a simple blessing like this one would work:

“Trees of life, of bounty, of peace, and of wisdom
Strong in your growth, your branches shelter us
Deep in your roots, you hold fast the soil of life
Many are your leaves, to share breath with us
Abundant are your [fruits, sap, nuts], that remove our hunger
Wise in your knowledge,  your teachings guide us
Quiet in your growth, you bring us the sun
Today, we are here to honor you
Today, we offer you blessings for the coming year
Today, we wish you long life, health, and abundance!”

For maples: You might add the following line:
“Oh maple tree, may your sap flow strong and sweet!”

For Oaks, you might add the following:
“Oh mighty oak, may your nuts rain down upon us!”

Make Offerings of Bread and Wine.  Offer the trees bread and some kind of fermented beverage. In the tradition of the Wassail, if these are home baked and home brewed, I believe it would be most effective. For fruit trees, offer toast with some fruit preparation (fruit fermented into wine or fruit jam); for nut trees, consider an acorn-nut bread (see Sam Thayer’s Nature’s Garden for more on harvesting and preparation). For maples, consider offering toast with maple syrup on it.

 

Make your offerings to the tree, much like the wassail ritual (pouring offerings into each participants’ cup and then letting them offer them at the roots) and offer the bread to the tree’s branches.

 

Radiate an Energetic Blessing. In one of my earlier posts on land healing, I described “energy” from the druid revival tradition, explaining the three currents (Solar, Telluric, and Lunar).  Here, I would suggest using words, movement, and visualzation to invoke these currents and radiate this blessing out to the land (those AODA members practicing the SOP should find this quite familiar):

 

With your dominant hand, trace a circle around the tree’s trunk above you in a clockwise fashion.  Visualize this circle in orange light. Say, “We call upon the solar current and the radiant energy of the celestial heavens. May a ray of the solar current descend and bless these trees with the fire of the sun!”  All participants should envision a golden ray coming down from the celestial heavens, through the tree, into its roots.

 

With your dominant hand, trace a circle around the tree’s roots in a clockwise fashion.  Visualize this circle in purple light.  Say, “We call upon the telluric current and the healing energy of the deep earth.  May a ray of the telluric current rise and bless these trees with the blessing of the heart of the earth!”  All participants should envision a green/gold ray arising from the heart of the earth and filling the tree with green/gold light.

 

All participants should visualizing the solar and telluric currents mingling within the tree.  Say, “We call upon the lunar current, the Awen, to radiate outward and bless this [forest/orchard].  With our blessing, may these trees grow heavy with [fruits/nuts] and be healthy this year!”  All participants should touch the tree and envision a glowing sphere of white light radiating outward from the tree to the whole forest.

 

End in Music, Drumming, or Song. You might end your ceremony with additional music, drumming, or singing for the benefit of the trees.

 

Close Your Space. Close out your ritual space.

 

Hug the tree. To mitigate the many tree beatings over the years, I would suggest ending the ritual after you’ve closed the space by giving the tree a hug.  Such a fitting ending to mitigate the many beatings that walnut, apple, and likely others faced to offer humans fruit.

 

Closing

I hope that this post was helpful for those of you considering doing a January tree blessing of some sort or another!  If you do these ceremonies, please write in and let me know how they go for you. Also, if anyone has any more information on tree blessings from other cultures (especially for abundance), I would love for you to share them here in the comments.  Finally, this year, a number of AODA members are wassailing all over the Americas on January 17th–we would love to have you join us.   Find out more in the AODA Forums on this thread. Blessings of January upon each of you!

 

Seeking Sacred Springs for Inspiration and Healing February 5, 2016

Heffley Spring in June 2015

Heffley Spring in June 2015

The druid tradition–along with many others–is full of stories about sacred waters. From the Chalice Well in Glastonbury to the invocation of the “Salmon who Dwells Within The Sacred Pool,” we’ve got our water going on. Imbolc (which happened earlier this week) is often a holiday associated with flows, and many of us do workings with water and healing with water in various ways. More than this though, water has a number of key places within our conceptual frameworks in the druid tradition.  In the four element system so commonly used in earth-based traditions (that has been part of western thinking for a very, very long time), water represents our emotions, our intuition, and our connection to our spirituality. In the druid revival’s three element system, water is connected with Gywar, the principle of flow. It is Gywar that helps us move forward and to grow–it is the principle of change and fluidity. On a physical level, since our bodies so fully depend on water and water flows, and we are made up of mostly water, the water is a fundamental part of living and being. So, it is fitting for American druids to consider how sacred wells, pools, and springs may fit into our own paths. In fact, today’s post will discuss my experiences of being led to a sacred spring and the work of water upon the landscape.

 

Sacred Waters, Challenging Times

Sulphur Creek

The lifeless Sulfur Creek with Acid Mine  Drainage

While we venerate and work with the water, we also recognize the duress that our waters have been facing for centuries due industrialization and pollution. Perhaps in the United States, Pennsylvania, my beloved home state, has one of the saddest of tales.

 

Our rivers have long been poisoned by mining and industrial activities; in fact, we have nearly 3000 miles of poisoned rivers from Acid Mine Drainage due to abandoned coal mines. I went to high school on the banks of “sulfur creek”; a creek that was a sickly yellow-orange where no life was present and stunk like sulfur.  It was severely polluted about 4 miles upstream from a long-abandoned coal mine.  I completed my undergraduate degree on the banks of the Monogahela River, which was ranked the most endangered river in the USA in 2010.  This poor river is very sick–it had (and still has) this opaque sickly blue-green hue and a horrible smell. No life lives there; it has millions of pounds of toxic waste from factories dumped in it each year. Finally, where I now teach at a university in Indiana, PA, we have tremendous amounts of natural gas wells and fracking, which threatens underground aquifers and all sources of surface water–many people’s wells are polluted and in very bad shape. Needless to say, water is a real issue–and clean water, pure water, is not always easy to find.

 

Further, water has been the focus of a lot of recent discussion and scrutiny–and a challenge many humans face.  Again in the USA, we have the long-standing drought in California and Texas, the complicated “water rights” of the US West, and most recently, the poisoning of several generations of Flint, MI residents. On an international stage, melting ice shelves, warming oceans, and rising waters are a source of continual–and increasing–concern.

 

As a whole, humanity has some major challenges with water. I believe the challenges with water don’t just appear on our outer realms, but on our inner realms as well.  If we poison the very source of life–the waters–how can we not reflect that within?  And so, working with the water, healing the water on all levels, can be part of the sacred work that we do in the world.

 

While we have these challenges with waters ongoing, we also have other challenges in embracing the sacred–as many fellow American druids well know, finding and working with existing sacred sites in an American context can be extraordinarily challenging (due to the many issues outlined in my earlier post).  While trying to avoid tourists, not engage in cultural appropriation, deal with pollution or ‘development’, or find a quiet place to do rituals and venerate the land.

 

Today though, I want to share some insights on my experiences with natural springs. I want to tell a magical tale of unfolding, of discovery, and of a deeper connection with another sacred site that I discovered by accident–and the rich rewards this work has brought.

 

Finding Heffley Spring

Heffley Spring Sign

Heffley Spring Sign

I didn’t arrive in PA and intent on finding a sacred spring–but the universe has a way of unfolding and leading us on a path we are to travel.  Just after I arrived, I was on my way to visit my parents, who live about an hour from me.  There are a few different ways to get there, and I decided to try one that was a little longer, but possibly more scenic.  On my drive in, I passed something on the side of Route 56 just north of Johnstown, PA that looked like a few pipes coming out of the side of the mountain and running into a drain with a few people gathered around getting water. I didn’t have time to stop that day, but I made a mental note to return, and on my next pass through, I did just this.

 

Upon my return, the constructed rock face, a sign displayed “Heffley Spring, Rebuilt 1970.”  When I stopped this time, two people were there.  One was a middle aged woman with a fan literally full of glass jugs, who told me ,”This is the best water around.  It comes right out of the state park in the mountains. I come out here ever two weeks for my family.  I won’t have them drink anything else.” Another older man with a beat-up pickup truck was filling up smaller vessels to pour into two large cisterns on his truck.  He smiled and said, “My family has been coming to this spring for generations. I remember coming here with my grandfather, before it was rebuilt.  This is for me and my chickens.  I won’t drink that crap the city calls water with fluoride in it.”  I asked them both, “Is it safe?” thinking about the many poisoned water sources around. They both nodded emphatically, and the woman said, “I watch out for my kids. Penn state just came down and tested it a few years ago.”  The man laughed and said, “People around here have been drinking it their whole lives. There’s nothing up on that ridge except trees” as he pointed to the steep mountain ridge going up at least 2300 feet.  Just then, a long-distance biker pulled up, nodded to all of us, uncorked his water bottle, and took a swig.

 

And so, following suit, I took my glass water bottle to one of the three pipes and filled it up, then drank deeply.  The water was delicious, cold, refreshing.  But not just on a physical level, on an energetic one.  Druid revival lore speaks of the high concentration of telluric energy (the energy of the earth, the light of the earth) that flows forth from natural springs.  This water had it in abundance–I didn’t feel like it had only nourished my body, but my spirit as well.  I could sense the water rejuvenating and energizing me to my very core.  It was more than just typical water–it was healing and sacred.

 

As I sipped on the water from the spring, I took a look carefully around the site.  The rock face of the spring was in the shape of a Keystone, the symbol of Pennsylvania–a symbol of heritage and tradition for this land, but also one of deep spiritual significance. The patch of hemlock trees, nowhere else along the mountain, grew up from above the spring itself.  This, to me, was a very good sign: hemlock trees cannot tolerate water pollution and like moist areas, so seeing them reassured me that this was a safe source of water.  The cars to and fro on the highway, zipping past behind us.   It wasn’t the first idea in my mind for a sacred site with all of the hustle and bustle, but the seed was planted.

Spring overflows in June 2015

Spring overflows in June 2015

 

Over the next six months, I returned to the spring many times.  Once, I took an old friend who was visiting, and she was so delighted to stop there, sharing her memories.  She hadn’t been to the spring for nearly 30 years, and as she drank the water, she had this smile on her face that stretched from ear to ear.  Each time I visited the spring, I met a few more interesting characters–those who come to the spring for nourishment and renewal.  Once, I met a woman who was dipping her rosary in the pouring water.  She said nothing, and got back into her car quietly.  The last time I visited, to gather water for my Imbolc celebration, I met a man who had a beat-up pick-up truck with huge wheels with a wild beard and a gleam in his eye.  Given that it was only about 20 degrees out, I said to him, “I wasn’t sure if the spring was going to be still flowing, given that its winter.”  He laughed and said, “You must be new to this spring. Everyone knows it never stops flowing.  It doesn’t matter if there is a drought, a blizzard, nothing will stop it.”  I thanked him and we continued to fill up our vessels on that cold late January day.

 

I also asked my family about the spring, and my mother told us that she remembered going there and getting water as a child.  This past Christmas, my parents found an old movie projector (the kind with the reels) and old movies my grandfather had made in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  We watched the movies over a period of weeks–and there, in one of the movies, was my young grandfather and grandmother with their three children (with the fourth, my uncle, still in the belly!) getting water at that spring.  I jumped up excitedly, and my cousin, who has also recently started going to the spring, hugged me.  “Its a family tradition!”  This was particularly exciting for a group of people who had very limited traditions and passed down heritage of their own.

 

Of course, there is still much mystery surrounding this particular roadside spring.  I’m really interested in now in studying more about Heffley Spring and its history.  What did it look like before it was rebuilt in 1970?  A trip to the Johnstown library and discussion with other people at the spring when I visit are next steps for me on this journey.

 

The Spring as a Sacred Site

And so, given these experiences, I have concluded three things:

 

1) This spring is a sacred site to the local community.  I say this because that’s what many sacred sites are:  sites of value that people return to often, spend time at, and that they work to protect.  Witnessing the woman cleansing or blessing her rosary in the waters confirmed that more is going on here than meets the eye.   I’ll return to this in the next section.

 

2) This spring also is the site of a rich family tradition, being visited at least by my grandparents, but my guess is much later.  As I’ve written about before on this blog, I’ve often felt estranged both from my larger family heritage (since I’m not Christian) but also a deep sense of loss of the older family traditions that would have come from the countries of my ancestors (Ireland, Germany, etc).  I am so thrilled to find this small piece of history here.

 

3) This site is rare–so many of our waterways are poisoned.  This one has escaped it for a few key reasons including being outside of the major Marcellus shale zones (so no fracking), not being near any major coal veins (so no fracking) and having its water source within the mountain, the same mountain ridge that holds 13,000 acres of protected lands (Laurel Ridge State Park).  Because of this, it has a tremendous potential for healing in the broader landscape.

 

I believe that many such springs have these same qualities–and seeking them out is a wonderful way to reconnect not only with the sacred waters of the land, but build traditions rooted in local experience.

 

Spring still flowing in January!

Spring still flowing in January!

Sacred Springs and Healing

These experiences have taught me many things about the nature of sacred sites in the US and the importance of these springs.  And so I want to conclude with some general thoughts about the nature of sacred springs and how we seek them out and build them into our own local druid traditions.

 

The Modern Sacred Site.  Vising Heffley spring has encouraged me to expand my understanding of a sacred site. If we work with the definition of it as as a place having significance and value (although not necessarily spiritual value), in a community, then springs that people visit for water certainly fit this bill.  After finding Heffley spring, I’ve begun to seek out other sacred springs in the area. I’ve since visited two springs to conduct more observations and gain more insights.  A visit to Roaring Spring (PA) and Berkley Springs (VW) reveal more of the same patterns–in this case, entire towns are named after the springs, and both of these springs are centerpieces in the towns.  This means that the whole of human activity was once centered around these springs.  And today, of course, people visit these springs, they take the water within, and they value them.  This isn’t probably a radical observation in other parts of the world, but here in the USA where so many are so disconnected, it is profound.

 

What this means, in essence, is that not only is the water coming from these places empowered with the telluric currents, it is further empowered with the visitation, value, and respect that so many ordinary citizens hold for these springs.  In this way, they function as true “sacred sites” in ways few other places may do at present.

 

Waters of Healing and Soothing. This means that we, too, can visit these sacred springs for healing and magical work.  One of the reasons I was visiting Heffley Spring in January was because I needed water for a healing ritual that I had planned on doing at Imbolc.  I wanted to take this rich, telluric energy enriched, pure water and, after blessing it, and take a bit to our most polluted water ways in the area to help do some energetic work.  There’s regenerative work I can do physically, but my research and intuition on these waterways is that this kind of cleanup work, stretching 1000’s of miles, or the ongoing fracking issues, are certainly beyond any single human being.   All that we can do is respond in some way, in a positive way.  These sacred waters can be like a soothing balm to the more damaged waterways.  It is our prayers, our holding space, and our magic that is one of the few things that can currently help these spaces.   I would also mention that for healing work of this kind, make sure you store your water in pure glass jars or jugs–you can find these for reasonable prices at your local homebrew store (I really like the gallon jugs I got there for about $5/each!), use old wine bottles, or use a mason jar.

 

Waters of Physical Healing, Flow, and Creativity. The other side of this is the personal healing and inspiration you can get from these .  Drinking water often from such sources of telluric light can facilitate healing and transformation within.  For one, I have found that in drinking water from the spring, I feel more energized, awake, and alive.  Its hard to explain using words–but my body literally feels scrubbed clean and fully awake, alive, and healed (its not that dissimilar from when I drink a good reishi or chaga tea).  For two, I have found that the water from these springs facilitates the flow of creativity in my own life–such as the writing of this post, which is flowing out of me on Imbolc itself, as I sit and drink deeply from the waters of this spring while I compose these words.  A glass of water from this spring in the morning along with my other daily ritual practices is an incredible start to my day! The water from these springs is truly a gift to be cherished and valued.

 

Gushing water from the Spring in June!

Gushing water from the Spring in June!

Seeking the Springs

I would encourage you to seek out sacred springs in your own region or in places that you visit.  The best place to start is in two directions: first, ask older relatives and friends if there are any springs nearby that people would visit (or even drive to visit).

 

Second, look at the map.  Places like “Indian springs” tells you something of the history of that place–my guess is that at one point, some “indians” had a spring there or other source of water.  This alone has helped me find many potential sites for such springs.  You might find that some springs only flow in the “spring time” (not a coincidence) when the waters are flowing, but other springs, like Heffley, might flow year round.  You may also find that there used to be a spring there, but its no longer maintained–but its still worth finding! I hope others consider finding such springs a worthy endeavor–I’d love to hear your experiences and stories!

 

 

 

Taking Back Our Food: Establishing a Food Co-Op in the Community July 1, 2015

Just one of the many delights at a local co-op- organic, heirloom lettuce

Just one of the many delights at a local co-op- organic, heirloom lettuce

I remember the first time I visited a food co-op.  It was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a wonderful, progressive town, and the co-op was incredible.  From products made or grown locally in South-East Michigan (non-GMO and organic tortilla chips, fresh salsa, all kinds of fruits and vegetables, raw chocolates, kale chips, soaps, baked goods and so much more) to regionally available products (like tofu, organic candy bars, raw milk cheeses, and even miso). It was an exciting place to be. All of the food I could have wanted to buy in one place, and that food was better, healthier, and fresher.  That food also paid a living wage to its creators.  The prices were fair, the atmosphere pleasant, the workers in the store friendly and helpful–and most important–happy to be at work.  I made it a point to get there every 6 or so weeks while I lived in Michigan so I could stock up on as much amazing, local and regional stuff as possible. The co-op was owned by the community and operated for the community.

 

Last night, I attending the first meeting where my new community in Indiana, PA is working to open a food co-op (did I choose to move to the right place or what?) It was so exciting to sit in the room, see how many people were there, contribute ideas, and really think about how we can make this vision a reality.  As you can expect, I decided to jump in on the planning and will keep some updates on our progress as this exciting venture begins!  Today, I thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the underlying reasons that a community would take the long road of opening up a food co-op.

 

On Community Food Education & Asking the Right Questions

One of the issues raised at the end of the meeting was on the importance of food education in the community–if we build it, will they come? This ultimately comes down to helping the broader community understand that the issues surrounding the production and consumption of their food really matter.  We’ve been led to believe that price is the only factor that matters in the purchasing of our food–but, truthfully, so much more also matters. We can look at the issue of food education through a series of questions, such as:

  • Where is my food produced? (Local, regional, in the US, outside
  • What regulations, if any, determine the safety of that production?
  • Under which conditions is my food produced? (chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, organic practices, certified naturally grown)
  • Have the producers of this food and their workers been paid a living wage? (this includes farmers and anyone who picks or processes the food)
  • How far has my food traveled to arrive at my plate?
  • How much waste is in the packaging?
  • Have the workers who have transported, stocked, sold, or otherwise contributed to this food getting into my hands been paid a living wage?
  • Is this food free of contaminants?
  • Is this food healthy and nurturing for me?
  • Does the money paid for this food go back into the local community?

These questions get at a series of underlying issues that, I believe, sit at the core of why communities, like my new community here in Indiana, PA, come together to take back their food. Let’s take a look at each of these underlying issues.

 

Locally grown beans!

Locally grown beans!

Transparency

The first issue that a food-co op (and other direct sales, like farmer’s markets) solve is transparency. I believe people have a right to know exactly what is in their food, how it was grown, if there were chemical additives, what kinds of seeds it came from, and so on. Beyond being just about knowledge of what one’s putting into their bodies, we also have increasing–and severe–food allergies. People living with these allergies have to navigate an increasingly masked system where chemicals and contaminants show up all along the food chain. Even for people without allergies, the desire to know what you are eating and to eat in a chemical free, wholesome manner is critical.

 

Unfortunately, the US government is going in the opposite direction of food transparency, and on a national and international level, there are a lot of corporations trying to make sure we have no idea where our food is produced, the genetics of that food, and so on. Why?  Because knowledge is power, and they are engaged in a slew of unethical practices (factory farming, GMO warfare, worker exploitation, etc). Just this month, the US House of Representatives, in their infinite wisdom, voted to repeal country of origin labeling on meat.  I don’t know about you, but there is no way in hell I want to be eating chicken from China–now, if you buy that chicken in a conventional store–you’d just never know if the House gets its way.

Control

The second issue surrounding our food is control.  I’ll give a very simple example of this: I have a friend who has some very severe food allergies, and a large grocery chain where she shops stopped carrying the only miso b that was OK for her to eat. Talking with the managers of the store did nothing to return the miso to the shelves–the decisions about what she had access to buy were controlled by “corporate” somewhere in a different state–literally hundreds of miles away.  This happens all the time in big grocery chains: people who have never set foot in your town or community make all the decisions about what you have access to buy. They have access about what farms they choose to use, how they work with those farms, how they present material to consumers about the nature of those farms, and so on. Some may say “but what about the laws of supply and demand?” Sure, this works to some extent, but as my friend’s example illustrates, its rarely enough.

 

Access

Access happens on a few levels. First, there is the physical access of the grocery store. One of the immediate issues facing our community is having a walkable, accessible grocery store that doesn’t require the use of a car.  The history in Indiana, PA was that there was one in town, but it closed, and since then, our downtown hasn’t had a grocery store or really anywhere even to get foods beyond convenience foods or prepared foods.  This suggests a kind of food desert, where access to healthy and fresh vegetables is largely not there (although there is bus transportation to grocery stores on the edges of town and there is a farmer’s market downtown on Saturday mornings during the warmer season).  Putting a food co-op in the place where most people can easily access helps solve the issue of easy access to fresh food.

 

The second issue surrounding access is accessibility of good, wholesome food. Its not easy, always, for people to get food that they want to have.  I end up driving all over the place to secure the basic necessities (from farmer drop-offs to the farmer’s market to bulk and health food stores).  A lot of people simply won’t do that–so if we want to encourage healthier and local food choices, we need to make that food accessible.  A co-op also gives us the opportunity to bring in awesome foods made regionally by other co-ops.

 

Locally grown garlic

Locally grown garlic

Food Miles & Environmental Issues

The term “localvore” has been used to describe someone dedicated to eating locally produced foods.  I’ve talked about this extensively in other blog posts.  One of the things a local food co-op does is allow us to reduce the amount of fossil fuels it takes us not only to get the food (going back to access) but also how far our food travels to get on our plates. It also allows us to support local, organic, and sustainable agriculture, which is generally less environmentally destructive than big agriculture (I’ll direct your attention to a recent UN report, that said the only way to solve the world’s hunger problems and address sustainability and environmental concerns was to create a network of sustainable, small farms). Its much harder for a farmer to mask poor farming practices when that farmer is only a few miles up the road–and one can see the way the farmer treats the land.  Local agriculture also typically uses a lot less packaging and plastic–another source of food waste.  All of these issues are wrapped up in broader environmental ones, like fossil fuel use, landfill use, and land use–and buying local can make a real difference.

 

Fair Trade and Fair Prices

Another benefit of a co-op is that fair trade and fair prices are emphasized for all.  Local farmers are paid a livable, reasonable wage for their food and they can grow in larger quantity knowing that they have a market.  Items we can’t get locally, like chocolate or coffee, can be fair trade to ensure that all farmers and workers are paid ethically (again, when most corporations buy food, their only concern is cost, which drives farmers’ and workers’ wages down and increases poverty). At the same time, as my experience at the People’s Food Co-Op in Ann Arbor suggests, prices can be kept fair for community members, partially because the model is not for-profit, but for-community.  Nobody is cutting themselves a big check out of the co-op; that money is re-invested in our farms, community, and members.

 

The second thing that fair trade and fair prices does, essentially, is to vote with one’s dollars.  Each time you buy something, you support that practice.  If we financially support organic farms, that keeps those farms going and encourages more demand. A co-op can radically increase demand for this kind of food because it makes it more accessible.

 

Keeping Money Local & Living Wages

Buying local means we keep money locally, into the hands of other members in our community, where it can continue to circulate and do the most good.  Many big businesses involved in food have become too big and concentrate wealth in the hands of their upper managers, CEOs, and shareholders–not in the everyday workers or producers that actually grow, make, or sell the goods. By shifting money back into our local economy and into the hands of producers, we not only keep that money locally, we also develop more resiliency as a community.

There’s also an issue of workers’ pay. Most people who are working in any kind of food service industry are paid wages that likely land them on food stamps–Walmart is a prime example of this, where their workers can’t even afford to buy their cheap food because of sub-standard wages.  A community co-op can ensure that workers there provide a livable wage to employees.

 

Members of my previous community learning together!

Members of my previous community learning together!

Resiliency

One of the big issues surrounding local food movements is resiliency.  Resiliency, used in the sustainability and permaculture design movements, is basically the capacity to endure, despite various trials and setbacks.  What this ultimately comes down to is that a community wants to be able to feed itself and take care of itself–because we never know if someone else will be there to do it for us. Never, at any time in human history, have so many people depended on others for basic needs of survival: food, employment, health, entertainment, and so on. I think if we can bring resiliency to our food system, we can learn how to do this is so many other ways as well–in this way, food becomes the catalyst for broader community change.  Our community ceases being a market for others and instead, we start to become the producers of of our own needs. Why is this concept of resiliency important?  Some of the recent natural disasters in the US are one good example–when Hurricane Sandy hit, all sorts of shipping lines were disrupted and people were largely on their own for weeks. A strong community, one that already has come together, can face these, or any other, kinds of issues.

Community Identity and Empowerment

Ultimately, what bringing a co-op to a local community means is that the residents of that community have made a commitment to the economic, health, and social well being of their community. They have decided to take the power and decisions out of the hands of corporate entities at a distance and to re-invest time, money, and energy locally where the direct effects matter.  They have done so while practicing the principles of self-organization, collaboration, democracy, and compromise. This helps us build resilient, strong, and self-sustaining communities who depend on each other, who know each other, who can work together, and who grow together.

My community here is still in the early process of starting our co-op–I welcome comments and discussion on this post to help us think through these issues further!

 

Elderberry Syrup with Ginger, Cinnamon, and Clove: A Powerful Medicine to Keep Sickness Away September 10, 2014

Cluster of elderberry

Cluster of elderberry

It is that delightful time of year again, when the berries of the fall ripen, when the pumpkins grow orange on their vines, and when the elders are literally loaded with berries.  The elderberry tree is a fascinating plant, rich with mythology and magic.  The word “elder” of course has multiple meanings, but I like to think of this plant as my elder in a literal sense, that I can sit at the feet of the elderberry tree and learn much from her wisdom.  We were blessed this year with a bumper crop of these delightful elderberries, and I set to work making a medicinal syrup (I like to call it Elderberry Elixir) to aid in immune system support for the winter.  Last year when I made this syrup in September it went bad by the time January rolled around, so this year I got smart and decided to can it for longer-term storage.

 

You can make this recipe with dried berries instead of fresh ones.  Fresh elderberries have been reported by some to cause an upset stomach, but when you dry them or cook them they are perfectly fine and highly medicinal.

 

My herb teacher, Jim McDonald, taught me that Elder is particularly useful for the kind of immune system support one needs to prevent viruses from replicating throughout our bodies–the elder provides support to block that kind of replication.  It has a host of other health benefits, such as a high amount of flavenoids and for general support for colds, reducing the amount of time one needs to get through the sickness.  This Elderberry Elixir is a great and tasty way to take such medicine.  Jim has a fantastic write up on elder (both flowers and berries) on his site that I highly recommend you read! Grieve’s herbal has a complete listing for elder online here.

 

One of the reasons I prefer to pick my own berries is that it allows me to develop a relationship, hopefully over a period of years with many visits, with the elder as a species but also as an individual tree. Learning to find your own medicine if you are able, and spending time just sitting with those trees, seeing how they grow, picking their fruit and giving thanks, perhaps leaving an offering, is a critical part of herbal practice.  The plants are our teachers, our allies, and they respond better to us when we establish a relationship.  I kinda see it like the difference between having a conversation with a stranger vs. a very close friend–if you end up having a 20 min conversation with someone you just meet, you might have a good conversation, get to know the person a bit, learn a bit about their life. But if you ended up having that same 20 min conversation with a person you knew well, that conversation would be much different, likely much deeper.   Working with the plants themselves is a lot like that–the stronger of a connection you develop with a particular plant species over time, the more effective of a medicine it is going to be for you.  Elder is one of those plants that is quite abundant throughout most of the US, and its worth seeing her out and sitting at her roots and learning from her.  She has powerful, potent medicine for us, and many other lessons to teach as well.

Elderberry Elixir

Ingredients:

Fresh or dried elderberries (you can get dried ones from Mt. Rose Herbs).  The recipe is based on ratios, so you can get as many as you want of these. I prefer the fresh, but not everyone can get to them.

Fresh ginger, 1 TBSP per cup of fresh berries / per 1/2 cup dried berries

Cloves, 1/4 teaspoon per cup of berries / per 1/2 cup dried berries

Cinnamon: 1-2 teaspoons per cup of berries (depending on your taste) / per 1/2 cup dried berries

Honey: 1/2 cup per cup of berries / per 1/4 cup dried berries

Water enough to cover the berries

 

Instructions

1.  Remove your berries.  You  will have bunches and bunches of awesome elderberries after you go picking (or you will have the dried ones ready to go). One of the best ways to remove elder is to start by freezing the berries.  If you freeze them, they will come off super easily, and freezing will save you a lot of processing time.

Pulling off frozen berries

Pulling off frozen berries

2.  Measure your berries and add water to cover. Measure out your berries and add an appropriate amount of water to cover them up.

3. Prepare your other ingredients (except honey, that comes later). You will want to chop your ginger very fine.  You can use whole cinnamon sticks and cloves if you want as everything will be strained.  I like the powders because I think I get a better extraction that way. Add your ingredients to the pot.

You can use a food processor to quickly prepare ginger

You can use a food processor to quickly prepare ginger

Look at those lovely ingredients!

Look at those lovely ingredients!

4.  Mash up your berries and simmer your ingredients for 1-2 hours.  The longer you simmer your ingredients, the better extraction you’ll get of everything.  I like to cook this a minimum of two hours.  After you’ve cooked it that long, let it cool on the stove for a while (likely another 30 min to an hour).

Mashing berries

Mashing berries

This is a very good sized batch!

This is a very good sized batch!

5.  After it cools, use a strainer strainer to strain out the seeds, cloves, ginger and other “hard” materials.  If you are canning it, you don’t want to let it get too cool.

Strained syrup

Strained syrup

6.  Add honey.  Add your honey to the syrup at this point.  You can also choose to add honey to taste later in the process if you are using raw honey and want to preserve its natural enzymes.  I added my honey then canned it, so I did lose some of the raw honey benefit, but my syrup will stay good for a very long time, so I decided the trade off was worth it.  I could have canned or froze it without the honey, and added it in as I was taking it.

7.  Select a preservation method. I chose to hot water bath my elixir, mainly because when I made this last year at this time, I just stuck it in the fridge and then when I really needed it, it had gone moldy.  It will keep in the fridge for about 3 months, but that isn’t going to get you through the whole year till the elderberries are in season again.  So I would suggest either canning it or freezing it.  I chose to hot water bath can it–I followed instructions online for canning elderberry juice (1/4 headspace; 15 minute hot water bath processing time). The elders are very tart and contain a lot of acid, so the recipe is a safe one for hot water bath canning.

Ready to can the syrup!

Ready to can the syrup!

 

There you have it–a powerful medicine from a wonderful plant ally.  In terms of dosage, you want to take 1-2 tbsp of this a day; even more if you feel sickness coming on.  Its not “medicine” in the traditional pharmaceutical sense, so you can take a lot if you’d like.  I usually stick to the 1-2 tbsp per day and find that works quite well for me!

 

Digestive Bitters – Locally Harvested Medicine for Better Digestive Health! August 16, 2013

A few months back, I was able to visit herbalist Jim McDonald for an herbal consultation, and we spent a lot of time talking about bitters, specifically, digestive bitters. Jim suggested to me that part of the reason that so many Americans suffer from digestive issues is that we’ve largely cut out the bitter flavors in our diet, and these bitter flavors stimulate digestion (our own digestive enzymes). So rather than taking digestive enzyme pills (usually coming in a $60 or so bottle for the good ones) to increase the digestive enzymes in our stomachs to help us process food, we might switch to eating some bitters, which essentially encourage our own bodies to produce our own digestive enzymes.

 

After seeing Jim, I decided to do some more research on the concept of a digestive bitter, and I learned a lot of really interesting things.  Bitters are found quite a bit in the wild, and as humans evolved, we most certainly ate a lot of bitter foods (just go sample any number of wild greens and you’ll get exactly what I mean).  But when we cut bitters out of our diet, our digestion began to suffer.  In fact, according to an article Jim had written for Llewellyns 2010 Herbal Almanac, bitters stimulate all digestive functions, including “saliva, acids, enzymes, hormones, bile and so forth…” and each of these, in turn, help break down food.

 

Beyond the immediate physical benefits, I there is also a spiritual side to the bitters.  You are taking and extracting the essence of a plant, preserving it in alcohol, and then taking that plant as medicine.  This puts you in communion of the plant (even more so if you harvest/grow the plant itself).  This has powerful spiritual implications for those who choose to seek them.

 

 

Making Bitters

If you want more bitters in your diet, besides the obvious choice of eating more bitter foods (dark chocolate, bitter greens, etc.) you can also craft your own digestive bitters by tincturing them in high-proof alcohol.  You can mix various tincture flavors to produce a nice effect, but the key is, the bitter flavor must be there.

 

I decided to focus on locally-sourcing and wildcrafting/wild harvesting my bitter blends, and so, I began with some basic recipes from materials I could either A) easily obtain and B) find locally.  I started with making a blend that I had bought from Jim–Ginger, Orange (both of these for flavor and medicinal) and Dandelion root (bitter).  I’m now experimenting with other bitters and other flavors I can source or grow locally (black raspberry, blackberry, etc).

 

I’m going to walk through the basic process here so that others can try this approach.  Its actually really a basic tincture recipie, which can be used for all sorts of things, both magical and mundane.

 

 

1. Obtain/Gather Spirits.

You need to obtain some high proof, rather neutral spirits.  I’ve tried tincturing in Everclear (190 proof, not available in all states) or Vodka (80 proof).  Everclear is a bit faster and way stronger, but vodka works well (I’ve tinctured vanilla beans in Vodka and Brandy quite successfully for years)

Everclear for tincture/bitter making

Everclear for tincture/bitter making

 

2. Obtain/Gather Ingredients.

So for my first blend, I purchased organic oranges and ginger, and then wild harvested dandelion root from my yard.  (For those of you who have been reading this blog, you’ll also note that I also made wine from the dandelions a few months ago! Dandelion is a wonderful plant!).  Since this first batch, I’ve been experimenting with other ingredients that I can grow and/or harvest (like various berries….yum).

Look no further for bitters!

Look no further than these plants for bitters! Use the root.

 

3.  Finely chop ingredients.

At this stage, you want to make sure your ingredients are clean (this particularly applies to roots and wild-harvested ingredients).  Then you can finely chop them up (use a food processor for large batches, but I really do like using the knife, it brings me closer to the ingredients without the use of any fossil fuels).

 

4.  Put the ingredients into the alcohol.

In his book Making Plant Medicine, Rico Cech gives a basic tincture formula for tinctures– 2 parts plant to one part alcohol for fresh ingredients and 5 parts plant to 1 part alcohol for dried plant ingredients.  (By the way, if you are interested in a good book on medical herbalism, this book is really great, and its a worthy compliment to Matthew Wood’s Book of Herbal Wisdom because they talk about plants so differently).  So you can use a small kitchen scale to weigh out your plant ingredients and a measuring cup to portion out your spirits, and add them together in a jar.  Put a label on it and tincture away!

Chopped up, fresh ingredients in alcohol

Chopped up, fresh ingredients in alcohol

 

5. Let sit for some time (in a dark area) with an occasional shake of the jar, typically 4-6 weeks.

Some ingredients can be tinctured longer to have increased flavor (vanilla beans being a good example of this). Other ingredients should only be tinctured for the amount of time specified.

 

6.  Strain your materials.

I used a cheesecloth to strain out my plant material after 6 weeks.  Sorry my photo is a little fuzzy!

Straining dandelion root bitter!

Straining dandelion root bitter!

 

6.  Mix your flavors.

Now you want to spend some time mixing your flavors–I’m using a variation of Jim’s recipe, which includes orange, ginger, and dandelion root.

 

7.  Enjoy!

At this stage, you are ready to enjoy your bitters.  Try to take them with every meal, typically 5-15 drops.  You can also take them in-between meals to promote good digestive health.  Before I took bitters I was taking digestive enzymes, but now, I’m happy to say that the bitters do the job (and they are a lot cheaper!)

Completed strained bitters, and smaller bottle for mixing.

Completed strained bitters, and smaller bottle for mixing.

 

Ode to the Tree: The Importance of Trees and Human Health June 19, 2013

What’s the value of a tree?  What’s the value of a forest? I’ve explored these themes before, but I want to come back to this in light of some new research put out by the Pacific Northwest Research Station, and published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. A group of researchers wanted to understand the relationship between human life and trees. To study this, they realized that they had a natural experiment, a close examination of before-and-after, concerning the Emerald Ash borer infestation in the Midwest/Eastern USA.

 

Ash tree honored as maypole

Ash tree honored as maypole

The Emerald Ash Borer came off a boat into Detroit (an international Harbor) in 2002. In the last 11 years, the Borer has destroyed Millions of trees in Michigan and has now spread to over 20 states, killing nearly every adult ash tree in its path. The Ash borer strikes by feasting on the inner bark of the ash, the tree starves to death and dies. Only trees of a certain size and bark thickness are effected, but the smallest trees aren’t able to produce seeds, so we are slowly seeing the extinction of ash trees in Michigan and other places.  I moved to the “epicenter” of this problem in 2009, and when I bought my house in 2010, found that every large ash tree was dead, and had been dead for a number of years (part of the way we honor these fallen trees is to use a dead ash tree as our maypole each year).

 

What these scientists did was to examine health-related factors and morality from the years prior to the EAB and after the EAB killed a bunch of trees.  This data is a bit stronger than a typical correlative study, the presence of EAB allowed for natural experimental conditions in ways that can’t just be accounted for by studying different geographical regions and comparing them (if this methodology discussion is over your head, don’t worry about it–the important thing to know is that this is a better study than most in terms of sound research practices).

 

These scientists found that more trees equaled fewer human deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses.  Considering the function that trees serve in the ecosystem, this makes a lot of sense.  As someone who suffers from respiratory illness myself (asthma), I am keenly aware of this data and what it means to health.

 

An ash tree is reminded how much she is loved

An ash tree is reminded how much she is loved

When we combine this study with recent reports that suggest that we are experiencing deforestation throughout the world, from our cities to our countryside to our rainforests, the above data can help us better understand consequences of deforestation and how less trees means less health for us.  Trees are necessary–critical even–to so much life on this planet, including our own.

 

When I think about how to reach an average person about the critical importance of protecting our natural resources, I realize that people who are not going to listen to spiritual arguments about the inherent value of life, the living spirit of the tree, and so forth.  But this kind of data really speaks to things that impact them and their families directly, so perhaps perhaps public health arguments will be useful.

 

The spiritual dimensions of such data also should not be discounted. It demonstrates how far our own well-being is determined by our larger relationship with nature.  It shows us the healing power of nature and the blessing that the forests provide.