Mother tongue (moveable feast)

The warm and wonderful Terri Windling recently posted a quote about listening to the language of the earth and the trees. I thought I’d share three stories.

1. When I was about 18, we went to my mom’s family reunion in Virginia. My mother’s family is HYOOGE. It’s so big that each family unit has to have coded t-shirts. Grandmom picked baby blue, a color that looked great on her but hideous on everyone else. I laugh every time I think of it. In those days (late 1980s) when everyone was wearing clothes 19 sizes too big, she liked a nice fitted shirt, so there we all were, in tight baby blue, *suffering*. Now we all wear shirts that fit, so in the long run, Grandmom was right.

After the reunion, we stopped in DC to visit the Smithsonian and the National Zoo. When I was quite a tiny, we lived in Richmond, VA, and we visited the National Zoo now and again. I remember seeing Smokey the Bear.

On this trip, the current incarnation of Smokey had a special tree with little doors in it that would have different foods at random intervals, so Smokey would need to “hunt” on the tree. That bear was pretty attached to the tree.

In the reptile house, I was walking with my dad and brother. One green-glowing square promised an Australian snapping turtle, but the inhabitant was not to be seen. I stopped and pressed my nose up against the glass, trying to see.

The turtle swam out of the gloom, across the front of the glass. Then it stopped, turned its head, and looked at me. It stopped swimming and rotated to the front, where it put its little turtle feet up against the glass and pressed its nose up against mine.

“That turtle loves you!” my brother said. I knew it.

2. Many years later, I was walking with friends in Glen Helen Nature Reserve in Yellow Springs, OH. Yellow Springs is a magical place, firmly stuck in woo-woo hippie land. The glen is so beautiful. There’s a clearing surrounded by huge pine trees, where the ground is copper with fallen needles, and human voices are hushed, but if you howl like a wolf it will echo and echo. The air there is acid-spicy and clear.

Walking with friends along a river bank, I saw a tree that had been hollowed out by either lightning or disease, but it was still alive. “I’m getting in it!” I said.

I wedged myself into the tree, and it was the happiest thing: my hair stood on end, and I started to cry and laugh at the same time, totally overwhelmed.

“The tree is hugging me,” I said.

“That tree loves you,” my friend Peter said.

And I believe it. Even now. That tree is my own dear friend, and I will never forget it.

We have a pine tree in Vermont that I count as a cousin. It used to have a climbing branch, but that had to be removed. Trees are so different from people. They are on a different kind of time. My cousin-tree loves where it is, but it doesn’t always have the time to say hi. The tree in the glen was awake and loving just at the time when I was loving and standing inside it. It was pure joy.

3. Later still: my much-loved cat was Boadie. If you’ve been reading for a while here, you know about Boadie. She died about 2 and a half years ago. Lady cats are more ornery than boy cats, in my experience. Boadie had strong opinions about things. Mostly about how all my food should also be her food.

When I was going through Stuff at the end of my 20s, I did a lot of work to strengthen my beleaguered spirit, including some guided meditations. A lot of those ended up in a desert landscape, where I did a great deal of running and burning of things.

The first time I went to that interior desert, I found Boadie with me. I picked her up like a baby, which I did frequently, and which she never liked. In my mind’s eye, that internal Boadie wriggled out of my arms and started to grow and grow, until she was knee-high, with enormous teeth. She butted my knee, and after that, the big hunting cat ran with me while I sat, and breathed, and tried to find out who to be. I tried to respect it and not cuddle Boadie like a baby in the “real” world.

I love languages. I studied French and Russian in school. If there was a class for it, I would study turtle. I would study tree.

3 thoughts on “Mother tongue (moveable feast)

  1. Terri Windling

    The Glen in Yellow Springs is one of my magical places too, ever since I was a student at Antioch College and totally fell in love with it. I even worked as a Glen Ranger as one of my college jobs. Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories this morning. These are enchanting stories.

  2. vmohlere Post author

    Oh, wow! Funny to think how small the world is. I went to college at Wittenberg, down the road, but I spent so many happy days in Yellow Springs. Being a Glen Ranger must have been amazing.

  3. Gwyn

    I think all trees have a language, but certainly it differs from tree to tree. I think black walnuts must sound rather like Morrissey, as they spend so much time alone.

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