Blowin’ In: The Tree
By Susan Mangan
In that forest to and fro
I can wander, I can go. . .
“The Little Land” by Robert Louis Stevenson
Country wisdom began with my grandmother Mim. Her grandchildren would follow at her heels as she made turtle shaped pancakes and silver-dollar sized Johnny Cakes with ears that looked like those belonging to Mickey Mouse. As Mim stirred white sugar into boiling water, she talked to us about Robert Louis Stevenson and his Child’s Garden of Verses. In her smooth Ozark drawl Mim would recite, “From breakfast on through all the day/ at home among my friends I stay/ but every night I go abroad/ afar into the land of Nod.”
As children we were a hungry audience, listening to Mim’s every melodious word while awaiting sweet cakes fried in butter, dripping with homemade sugar syrup. Her verses poured over our imaginations like lemonade and strawberry soda.
There are days that I flashback to this time. I recall my overactive imagination, and how the farmhouse would creak and whistle at night; especially when a summer storm was brewing, and the ancient oak and elm branches rattled against the eaves.
When I was small, I would pad through the upstairs hallway on silent bare feet and climb into the antique bed my parents shared. They rose early to make coffee and visit with Mim as she prepared breakfast for the sleeping house.
After my parents rose for the day, I would awaken willingly at dawn and peer through the large farmhouse windows with my myopic eyes. I didn’t need to see well to enjoy the gentle movement of the curtain sheers as they blew like white sails in the early morning air.
With utter contentment, I buried my head into goose down pillows and listened to the soft lowing of cows in the field. At that moment, my world was filled with the promise of barnyard duties, turtle pancakes, and the comfort of Mim’s favorite tales.
It is curious the images that remain lasting in our adult psyches. My mother once told me how her mother, our Mim, would suffer through the endless cooking and baking that a mother of five and a farmer’s wife had to endure with a book propped open on her kitchen counter. All chaos could be breaking loose, but Mim was centered by the task at hand and the presence of words.
As the years passed and grandchildren pulled at her apron strings, Mim would bake to welcome us to her home during our summer holidays. I still have my mother’s recipe for “Mim’s Good Cookies.” Black walnuts proved to be the secret ingredient, a flavor that does not appeal to modern tastes, but resonates with my longing for nostalgia.
You see, the black walnuts necessary to the cookies were gathered from the tree that grew on the bend that led to the old farmhouse where my mother was born and reared. As a girl, she would pick those black walnuts then sit in the shade of that tree and dream of her life beyond the farm, never knowing how pivotal her time there would be to me.
My mother always had an affinity for trees. She would never want to cut one down no matter how close it grew to a home’s foundation. She enjoyed their shade and everchanging beauty. My mother told me what an impact the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn had on her formative, adolescent years. Having grown up on a farm, she could not imagine what it was like to live in an apartment and be inspired by a single tree.
For the girl in the novel, the tree symbolized freedom, and I guess in a way it meant the same for my mother. Beneath the farm’s black walnut tree, she stole moments to dream and imagine what her future might hold; beneath those boughs, she was unaware of the profound joys and times of sadness that would inevitably fall around her like black walnuts that litter the ground during late autumn.
The Power of Trees
Throughout time, various cultures and religions have espoused the tree as a source of power, fertility, and interconnectedness. The Tree of Life is present in the Garden of Eden. At once, it represents beauty and temptation, but also choice. The tree tempts us with shade, but also provides us with a sturdy trunk to lean upon as we reflect on our life and future choices. New buds give sway to unfurled leaves, which in turn rage with color, only to succumb to another season, one of reflection and dormancy.
The ancient Celts revered the power of trees. They referred to the Tree of Life as Crann Bethadh. The roots represent the Otherworld, the trunk: the mortal world, and the leaves and branches: the heavens.
It is said that Treochair, a giant from the Otherworld visited the High King of Tara. He brought with him a branch, and the seeds from this branch fell across the four corners of Ireland and rooted in its center. The five trees became sacred to the ancient ones, providing guidance, protection, and a connection to the two worlds, between earth and heaven.
As the years of my life pass, I realize how much my existence is like a tree. I was given strong roots, an inheritance from the intelligent and steadfast women before me. My trunk is a connection between my past and current life: a sturdy base for my children to lean against and to dream. My branches lift my children toward the future, with a silent prayer that beauty touches them like a fragrant apple blossom in May.
Such beauty can be fleeting, but within these flowers lie new chapters, new hopes. The seeds that fall in the spring lie in wait, patient in the face of a relentless summer sun. When yet another winter melts into spring, tender saplings emerge delicate, yet powerful, reaching toward the future with all the wisdom of a well-rooted tree.
Sources Consulted: Stevenson, Robert Louis. A Child’s Garden of Verses. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York: 1905.
Internet Sources Consulted: “Meaning of the Tree of Life,” One Tribe Apparel.com.
Halpin, Marian. “Celtic Tree of Life; the Meaning and History of the Ancient Symbol.” Blog Post: March 19, 2020.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org