A year ago, I painted a tree that had just come into blossom, on the corner by the hidden lake in the forest where I often walk. In fact, I painted it twice; the resultant paintings being called ‘Rebirth’ and ‘Prelude’ because that’s what this tree seemed to offer me as its message – a sense of resurrection and of something new and wonderful being just around the corner.
These most delicate, luminous, incredibly light-filled white flowers had seemingly appeared, from nowhere, out of a blackish, gnarled, twisted trunk that I had hardly even noticed before and its radiant blooms literally alive with bees buzzing and butterflies fanning wings in the sunshine-caught-in-petals, which I stuck my head amidst to breathe in the subtle scent and take the shots from which my paintings grew. Yet (now a could see this once invisible tree) its woody form marked a corner, a turning-place on the route that I often walked. Straight ahead lay the long, trudging, often pot-holey, deeply muddy bridle path that cuts straight through this part of the forest and yet, by taking the corner marked by the tree, I was directed (within a few feet of it) to a hidden yet light-filled spot with grassy banks overlooking a lake with crisp reflections of reeds in glassy waters that often came complete with pairs of swans gliding over to see me. It was about the same time that the tree sprang into blossom that I first started taking this diversion around the corner, though it leads nowhere in particular, just to sit on those banks and while away the time in quiet contemplation with the sun on my head – and, across the course of a year, they became some of my most precious, centred and quietly therapeutic moments; times when I felt most whole and at peace with everything.
I tripped upon a blog post in my inbox this morning from a writer-friend of mine, Andrea Stephenson, who knows far more about folklore than I and writes the most incredibly insightful posts on these topics. There, before my bleary eyes, was my tree…or it could have been; the blackthorn, which she was writing about in the kind of depth I hadn’t ever come across before. Every word of folklore associated with this tree made so much sense to me but these words particularly rang out: “its blossoms are hope, bursting into bloom while the season is still frigid. The luminosity of its flowers is an embodiment of the purification and creativity it brings. Its thorns can wound, but they can also tear a path through the thicket. If you accept the guidance of the blackthorn, you need to be prepared for challenge and uncomfortable change but you’ll be rewarded by abundance”. No wonder this felt like my tree; these words could have been describing my own journey. I love the fact that it has long been regarded as a witch’s tree, a protecting force, a forerunner of change, a holder of great contrast; I identify deeply with all these things.
When I was walking in the forest, with the tree, just a few days ago it was a delight to discover that the blossom is out once again, though the sun was far from shining and the bees and butterflies were yet to show up. High-up on my list of ponderings, this past few weeks, has been how my health-journey is feeling a little jaded and still isn’t feeling any easier, some of the time; so that my mind is often left struggling not to form petulant words like “When can I move on from all this discomfort and pain because, seriously, I’ve had enough now, I just want to feel better, all of the time?” Its been hard, I’ll admit, not to nurse a feeling of anti-climax about the kind of recovery-strides I get tasters of but which still stop and start or stall altogether; not to give in to the grim resignation that rises up in me to meet new set-backs as yet another year presents new tin-can challenges to be knocked off the wall.
Like the coming of Spring, Andrea’s post Mother of the woods felt like it delivered some heart-felt answers to me, in a most timely fashion, as I awoke to find it in my weekly digest today. It reminded me that the blackthorn tree that came to mean so much to me a year ago literally embodies the contrast, both the light and the dark, that I have written about so many times before (yet, I admit, I sometimes forget to revisit my own messages…) and what it promises isn’t an easy ride yet what it speaks of has its moments of profound beauty and insight. It has come to represent to me the very potential for a welcome diversion from the long trudge through the mud; it reminds me to sit down by serene waters and just be in that state of grace that takes me away from all the pot holes and seeming-slog of the longer journey. Long after her gentle petals had scattered widely on the breeze, the reminder of that aimless detour – to the water’s edge for no better reason than to sit there – remained a potential that stayed with me all the months of the year. Without the extreme contrast she presented me with, her message would have remained mute…her branches overlooked; I would have walked straight past, time and time again, neither noticing her dark wood nor her illuminated flowers if either of them had been her constant state. Therein lies a wealth of very deep understanding, for me, as to what my own contrasty experiences are all about….and I have just been reminded how, out of them, just like the tree, blossom moments of the very greatest, most profound and radiant insights imaginable.
After writing this post, I just had to revisit my blackthorn tree for Easter monday and there she was, all radiant in the balmiest sunshine of the year so far, her petals holding much more light than her fragile petals look capable of all; so glorious to see.
For much more about the blackthorn tree, Mother of the woods, go across to Andrea Stephenson’s wonderful blog Harvesting Hecate.