I take public transit to work. My office is little over a quarter mile from my house. I don’t own a car, never have. My two feet and public transit have always been part of the way I contribute to reducing my carbon footprint. It’s one of my many drops in the bucket toward a better world. On the corner of 11th and Walnut Street situated right next to the traffic light, there is a tree and every morning, Monday through Friday, I touch that tree with my left palm as I exit the back of the bus.
I look forward to this tree. He and I have been communicating for over a year since I started taking this route to work. He is waiting for me when I get off the bus. It all began actually, when the bus door clipped my foot while precipitously taking off and the tree broke my fall. Naturally, for the next few weeks I’d tap the tree in an almost “high five” style. But as I became more familiar with the tree, my palm lingered longer and longer. Now, I practically leap out the bus and almost hug him. Yes, the tree is a “he.”
It’s interesting, the tree and I! I’ve had this ironic relationship with trees my entire life. I climbed in the trees like I think most children do. I read books in the trees. I loved the leaves in Autumn, and would persevere them and make art with them. Unlike other children, I was horrified by Shel Silverstein's book The Giving Tree. I had vicious nightmares and I vowed once I became an educator never to teach that book, and solemnly never have. My exploration of trees fascinated me. They still do. I continue to image entire fairy realms living inside trees with magical doors and portals.
Throughout my formative years, my summers where spent at Gander Brook Christian Camp in Maine, where my father was lead minister and my mother was the camp nurse (talk about nuclear). The only peace I found was in the Birch Grove Chapel, which was an outdoor chapel in a grove that was comprised of only Birch trees. There I would sit in seclusion for hours, and since I was the anointed child of the lead minister and the camp nurse, not one camp counselor dared report me. From age 6 until I turned 17, I spent most summers alone with books or writing, just the Birches and I. I read Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner there, (Oh the books one can cover in other book’s dust jackets!), received my first kiss (how he broke enterprise with me, but everyone knew) and lost my virginity (Like a Prayer style…’nuff said!). I got baptized one Sunday morning to shut them up, and aspected the Goddess that same Sunday night sky clad…all in the Birch Grove.
Ha, in retrospect when I look back on those years, I think what endeared me to say, Disney’s egregiously poor reconstruction of history of Pocohontas, was Grandmother Willow! The shamanism and Earth as spirit is about all they got right! The relationship to trees in my magical journey has always continued to bring me back to center. For example, a few years ago I was feeling a sense of spiritual emptiness. I had amassed a knowledge base around magic and craft and felt I "assimilated it" but had not lived it. I had the swag from the shops but not the due diligence to use any of it. I was spiritually disconnected. And so I turned to Unitarian Universalism, and with my Master’s in Comparative Literature and Religious Studies I was an intellectual shoe-in! I had more vocabulary than Merriam Webster on a collision course with Oxford! I boxed up the swag and set myself on a new spiritual quest. But it didn’t last long. About a year in my third eye needed to intereperet the swirls of paint, the coffee grinds and soon enough the tarot deck was out. But I was determined… until I saw it. The tree.
On an early Sunday morning, I was on my way to Arlington Street Church, to teach a lesson about Goddess and creationism though the lens of “Earth Based Spirituality” when I walked across the Boston Common and immediately I saw her, this tree. Wind and rain after a nasty storm had rendered her badly battered, and yet in her chaos she had left me the most perfect gift. Clear on my path was a perfectly formed wand of willow, 3/4 the bark stripped off. The tree had once again caught me, and embraced me, and given me something. That wand, a tool for magic I had never really felt 'drawn to' before is my most cherished magical possession today. It is a tool I use frequently, it is possibly the most magical item I own, and importantly for me it came from the Earth directly at a time when the Earth knew I needed it. This is how I know Goddess and magic is real.
But back to the tree on the corner when I get off the bus! For me, being a witch is not about being on display. That is not my style. I was not looking for a tree ritual in downtown Philadelphia, but I was in need of something to connect me back to nature in a city that is void of much humanity. While every day starts with a Morning Meditation and candle offering to Goddess and many evenings end with Vesper Prayers, the simple practice of touching the tree, followed by touching myself sets Good Morning into motion by rooting me back into humanity.
This act is so simple!
I touch the tree, I bless the tree, I thank Goddess, I say Good Morning and feel him come alive. Then I touch my chest, I bless myself, I thank Goddess and feel myself come alive… and I say Good Morning.
My tree centers me back to Earth in an urban chaos that is void of much of nature and the humanity that nature reminds us of. That centering awakens me and alerts me to Goddess as the breath of nature and grounded into my body. It is in the relationship with the tree, that I know magic is occurring every morning in a profoundly subtle way.
Magic is an intentional act. It is something we do to create a desired effect. I touch the tree, I bless the tree, I thank Goddess, I say Good Morning. I touch myself, I bless myself, I thank Goddess, I say Good Morning. Rinse, Wash, Repeat. 5 days a week.
But I have learned is that spiritual acts sometimes have a way of making themselves known in our lives even if we are not looking for them. I know that the Tree Spirits placed that Birch Grove Chapel as sanctuary to shield me from what could have been many ugly summers. I know that storm happened and that branch was there for a reason. That particular tree was there, minding his business when I fell into him. He graciously caught all 6’5” of me. Together we have developed a bond and I have come to better understand the importance of dedicated spiritual practice through our relationship.
And so, I wonder what is you morning commute? How do you invite the morning into your life and say hello? For me, it has become deeply connected to my special tree. I know that in this moment on the journey Goddess put the tree in the circle of our shared life to ground me, and therefore that is his purpose with me, and my purpose is to use that centering to advance humanity. This is why I touch the tree! I'd love to invite you to comment below and share what you do to ground and center, and welcome the morning.
Tonight I am grateful, and think to Dr. Angelou who said, “They hear. They all hear the speaking of the Tree…"