Not all women have hearts filled with compassion. Not all men lack compassion. But throughout history, it’s been women across all cultures who have attended to the human side. Our roles have always been closer to nature, caring for newborns, planting gardens, and brewing concoctions to heal. Women are the givers and caretakers of what makes life worth living.
What led women to healing properties of plants and trees of the forest was no coincident. The urge sprang up from the earth. Trees and plants don’t carry on a conversation with us but communicate through our bodies. Just as trees communicate with one another through chemical reactions of impending danger, we are naturally drawn to plants to protect us and help us heal. Unlike many Indigenous people wed to the land, our earth-body connection is broken. The static in the lines drowns out the soft whispers of wisdom. It’s time to re-learn how to be “receivers.”
Over the course of our history, people have used plants for food and medicine. As a child, alone, exploring meadows in summer, I’d spy for “hundasúra,” a hardy tart-tasting perennial. Why alone? It was said that hundasúra was a dog’s favorite plant to pee on. No seven-year-old girl wants her friends to see just how much she enjoys chowing on a flora with a bad reputation. In a country without green vegetables, my body hungered for its nutrients.
Visiting my sister Jórunn in Hveragerdi, a small town tucked in the bosom of a mountain chain, we went for a hike in the foothills to find plants to brew tea. Carrying a basket woven from natural sea-grass, we picked plants she recognized as tea worthy, with bod energy enhancement to strengthen organs and spirit. We discovered a mossy surface, with a view of the town and river winding through the pure Iceland nature, to rest. The stillness silenced my thoughts. When Jórunn said it was time to go, I did so reluctantly.
Humans evolved into a gathering species in patches of the dense African forests. Open gaps between tree canopies allowed for herbs and berries to grow. Our ancestors invented words to describe flavors and made up spiritual chants to solidify the earthly and the unearthly. Without past experiences or knowledge of new plants, they relied on their connection with the earth to guide them.
When life’s storms arrive, we can find refuge in nature. A neighbor facing endless medical appointments finds tranquility on her lanai that looks over “Moon River” and the Southern flora swaying in the breezes. On her first solo bike ride three years after a stroke, Melissa described her feeling riding around “Walden Pond” surrounded by nature. Carol P., a blogger, moved to Crete, where she came face to face with cancer. She blogs:
“I knew surrounding myself with green life would lift my spirits, but I cannot find words to express the great joy my balcony gardens have given me. I have been rising before dawn to await the sunrise on my large balcony. When the sun comes up, I move to the kitchen balcony. There I find the mountains bathed in a rosy glow and watch pigeons fly from their sea crag beds to the mountains as they begin their day. The full moon appeared recently before setting in the morning sky.”
An Ohio friend who shares my love of trees has befriended every tree on and near her property: hickory tree, hemlock, white oak, dogwood, and white pines.
Zoe’s hand communicating with her beloved Northern Cedar in the woods nearby her home where she is a frequent visitor.
Our property in Michigan was home to many trees. But there was a white birch that spoke to me more than the others. It was at the entrance of our two-story brick house, a home filled with children and their needs. Backing out of the driveway, I’d ask the tree to take care of them. Coming home, I asked my birch to take care of me. It was an amazing tree and a friend. From the master bathroom window, I’d watch the graceful way it swayed in the wind and how it bent from the snow’s weight. My white birch expressed calm, wisdom, and grace. She was my teacher. I saw my relationship with my tree as a metaphor for my life as I attempted to craft a new life out of my old life’s traumas and mistakes.
When the central trunk began cracking into two, Tim wanted it removed to protect the house. I pushed back, explained it was my favorite tree on the property. Now pulling into the driveway, my eyes went straight to the split, the growing void between the two trunks and how the branches bent lower and swayed less. Knowing time was short, I took more time to touch and speak to my friend. Each time my heart broke open a little more. When the tree was felled, its white trunk and branches spread out on the front lawn like mortal remains of an unearthly guide. My white birch had shared her beauty and grace. She would now be transformed into a new life form, continuing her giving.
It was my white birch that planted a seed in me that grew into an appreciation for not only forests but all of nature. No doubt, she was behind my decision to become a master gardener and build a greenhouse. Eventually, our property boundaries included a fence for herbs, red bilberry bushes, garden rows, and Canadian hemlocks across the back property line. Following retirement, it was among the plants and trees, birds and bees, that I could stop hurting after a daughter’s death. Natures cycles, spring awakening, summer richness, autumn quieting, and winter renewal helped me understand my place in the chain of life.
Canadian Hemlocks. Greenhouse. Corner for reflection. Bilberry bushes.
Women’s inborn connection with nature is expressed when we bring flowers to celebrate and comfort in times of sadness. The greater our pain and confusion, the more our need for nature, like a child needs its mother. Nature is where we anchor our spirit. Spending time tending to our potted plants is therapy of the highest order. What leads to a tranquil life rests outside our windows.
Blog. With Beauty Around Me, Carol P. Christ.
Note: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a moving tale about a relationship between a tree and a young boy. It was one of my daughter, Naomi’s favorite childhood books. It was a foretelling of her lifetime companion, nature. YouTube: The Giving Tree film