The Glastonbury Oak

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“My poetry was born between the hill and the river. It took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests…” – Pablo Neruda

During a particularly muddy and dank Glastonbury festival, I took refuge from the rain under a magnificent, 500-year-old oak tree. Taking shelter beside me was a lovely woman who runs Glastonbury Festival’s Oak Tree Project, an initiative which distributes acorns from the tree to be planted around the country. I was subsequently inspired to write this poem. I sent it to her, and she said she’s going to display it near the tree at next year’s festival. Which, I feel, is quite an honour!

 

I am a tree.

I am completely what I am, beyond thoughts or words.

But we are not so different, you and I.

Our bodies tell our stories. The storms we have weathered, the seasons we have lived.

The ways in which we have learned to love.

 

Five hundred winters I have stood upon this earth.

I do not have legs to carry me, but I have traveled far.

I have welcomed the dawn as it greets me like a song each day, and born witness to the mystery and promise of each night as it falls.

I have listened to the music of the moon as she swells and wanes in the sky, and watched the clouds come and go, as all things do.

I have journeyed round the sun, feeling the breath of the earth rise and fall in me as the great wheel of the stars spins above me night after night in the glittering vastness.

I have caught the gentle kiss of spring rain on my leaves, and danced in the light of the golden summer sun.

 

Like you, I have known joy.

The furred and feathered folk have tickled my wooden body with their footsteps:

The red squirrels, the songbirds, the owls who nest about my crown;

The tiny insects who forge whole worlds on a single branch;

The four-legged bears, the badgers and the wolves who prowled in my shadows and slumbered peacefully in their dens among my roots;

The worms – the sacred keepers of the soil;

The mosses and the lichens who cloak my trunk and limbs;

The bright flowers of the rising light and the mushroom people who visit as the nights draw in.

All are my kin.

I have given them shade and shelter, food and clean air to breathe. It gave me joy to feel their quiet presence, their different forms, soft and light upon my body.

They are fewer now.

Some have not visited me for a very long time.

 

Once, my people ruled these lands. The spirits and the songs of the forest were many, the rivers flowed clean and clear. The magic was good and strong. The two-legged people knew that the land was not so different to them: a living being, deserving of respect and love.

Then they came with their machines, their saws. A shadow fell over the land. Much was lost. They come still; I hear the cries of my cousins both near and far away across the ocean. Your soul hears them too, though your ears do not.

 

But shadows, like clouds, come and go. The magic remains.

It is the land, and the land is the magic.

The trees and the streams and the stones remember this; they whisper its stories, and they are always there for those who listen, who want to remember.

If the trees and the streams and the stones should ever forget, the stars are always there to remind them.

You, too, hold the wisdom and the medicine in your bones, sure as I stand upon this spot.

For you, too, are sacred. You, too, are of the earth.

She is waiting for you to come home.

 

I see the little people now, rushing about, always in such a hurry.

I do not wonder where they are running to, or what they may be running from.

I am just a tree.

But these are just words.

You look tired, little one.

Come, rest a while beneath my branches, where you need do ought but be.

There is time.

Let us simply be alive together, for a short while, in the peace of this magnificent dance.

 

Originally published on Rebelle Society (rebellesociety.com)

 

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The Elder Tree: Recipes for Summertime Magic

elderflower
“He said, “Above all, watch with glittering eyes the world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

There are two trees which hang over the back wall of my courtyard garden, giving shade and height, making it feel like a lush woodland. One is an ash (the ‘Goddess Tree’), currently covered in thick clumps of winged seeds, with a resident blackbird who serenades the rising and setting sun every day with its beautiful voice. The other tree is an elder, and at this time of year, between beltane and the summer solstice, it is just coming into flower.

All parts of this ‘Queen of Herbs’ can be used for medicinal, culinary or practical purposes. It’s a veritable herbal medicine chest, acting as an effective remedy for colds, flu, sore throats, fever, cystitis, infections, constipation, eczema and chickenpox, to name but a few. A tea made from the flowers brings down a fever, and elderflower ointment soothes and tonifies the skin. The purplish-black berries which appear on the tree at the other end of summer, around September, also have curative properties and make delicious jams, compotes, syrups and a rather pokey wine. So many gifts!

Magical lore states that any elderberries found during December are particularly magically endowed and that a tonic wine made from the berries can, when taken cautiously, enhance psychic powers. If you’ve ever consumed too much elderberry wine in one sitting, you may have found this out for yourself…

Elder is found in country lanes and cottage gardens, steeped in folklore and magic and believed by many to be imbued with witchy qualities. Ruled by Venus and presided over by The Elder Mother, named Hyldemoer or Hulda (mother of the elves in Scandinavian folklore), elder has strong associations with the regenerative Crone aspect of the Goddess – especially, I think, in the colder months when its tangle of untamed, arced branches grow wild and crooked against the winter sky.

Here at the gateway to summer, however, the tree brims with stories of fairy, dryad (female tree nymph) and nature spirit magic. It’s a tree of protection and connection to other realms. Legend has it that if you stand beneath an elder tree on the night of the summer solstice and inhale the sweet scent of the blossom, you will catch a glimpse of the fairies. I might give this a go with my two year old little girl (who naturally sees fairies everywhere) this year!

As well as obligatory fairy-spotting, I’ll be inviting the wonderful energies of this tree into my life this year by harvesting the flowers to make cordial and champagne. For me this is the quintessential taste of summer, made from the creamy, frothy, upside-down umbrella-shaped flowerheads or ‘umbels’ which comprise hundreds of individual, five-petalled blooms. I’ll also be coating the flowerheads in light batter and frying them to make yummy fritters.

A couple of simple elderflower recipes:

To make elderflower cordial at home, harvest 20 open flowerheads which are heavy with pollen (you may have to wait a week or two, as the flowers are only just out here), gently shaking them to remove any tiny creatures. Add 1.5 litres of water to 1 kg of sugar and heat until all the sugar dissolves. Add the zest and slices of 3 lemons, 50g of citric acid and finally the flowers, and stir. After 48 hours you can seive the liquid into sterilised bottles and mix it with still or sparkling water, delicious with ice and a slice of lemon.

For elderflower fritters, sift 50g of plain flour into a basin then add a tablespoon of oil and 80ml of sparkling mineral water. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar then beat an egg white and fold it into the batter. Rinse 6 or 7 elderflower heads, snipping them into individual florets, then dip the elderflowers into the batter and lower them into a pan of hot oil. Fry until the batter is pale gold and crisp and eat the fritters while they are hot and crisp, sprinkled with sugar or drizzled with honey or agave syrup.

Wishing you joy on this full moon x