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The Faithful Gardener

Joelle Hattem

“What is that which can never die.  It is that faithful force that is born into us that one that is greater than us that calls new seed to the open and battered and barren places so that we can be resown. It is this force in its insistence in its loyalty to us in its love of us in it's most often mysterious ways that is far greater far more majestic and far more ancient than any heretofore ever known.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés,

The Faithful Gardener: A Wise Tale About That Which Can Never Die

The Presence of Redwood trees and Sequoias were a constant in my life until the age of twenty two. Every year my family would heavily prepare for a week spent in the forest, amongst the great giants. The secret spot my parents found to set up camp was a majestic environment, at the edge of the cold river flowing from melted ice. The trees were taller than New York City skyscrapers and some of the oldest living creatures on earth. The Celtic religion believes in “thin places”. There is an old saying that declares “Heaven and Earth are only three feet apart, but in ‘thin places’ that distance is even smaller.” A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. That is my experience of the Sequoia National forest, a place I feel the presence of God and most recognize myself. Amongst giant trees, I played hide and go seek, I spent time alone exploring, I searched for logs covered in ladybugs -thousands of them- to bring back home to our garden, I fished, unsuccessfully in the river and I jumped off large rocks into freezing temperatures. The familiarity of the forest gave me courage and boldness, my interior life was built in this place, surrounded by Redwood trees. John Steinbeck said,

The Redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color that seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.

Trees have been a reoccurring symbol in my life and I tend to take notice when trees appear in poems, literature, paintings and stories. Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote The Faithful Gardener, a book that had a deep impact on my life  at a time I felt the concrete jungle was caving in on me and unable to image the feeling of home. Her story uses trees as a central theme as well as family and home. The Uncle in the story, survived the Holocaust and likens the building of a freeway through his family's land in the US, to the Natzis burning down trees that had stood for hundreds of years, tracing the history of his homeland.  In Estes’ story a fire consumes the rest of the forest that was left of the highway construction. She tells that fire, though it is a great destroyer of trees also clears the ground and enriches the soil unlike anything else, to prepare the ground for new growth.

When I’d see a giant Sequoia or a Redwood that had fallen or been damaged since the last time I visited the forest, I would feel immense sadness for the loss of it. I’d think of the thousands of years it took to grow such a thing of beauty and mourn the long life that had been. Estes says, “New seed is faithful, it comes on the wind whether you want it or not and it roots in the places that are the most empty.”

Trees have taught me to be still, to trust, to open my hands to receive and to the possibility of sewing seeds that are to become great giants.

 

 

 

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