The Goddess Tree


“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring

The year we moved into our home, an ash seed pod or ‘key’ fluttered down from the tree over the wall and took root in a crack in the concrete floor of our yard.

A year later, I noticed the sapling struggling, so I propped it up against a milk pail. It almost reaches the second floor of our house now.

The young tree’s silvery bark and soot-black, pointed buds – each of them imprinted with an embryonic copy of the branch they one day dream of becoming – somehow remind me of the limbs and hooves of a fawn. I feel that this makes sense, somehow, since deer and ash grew up together, evolving from the same forests.

Known as the Goddess Tree, the cosmic Tree of Life in Norse mythology and the Druidic World Tree, spanning the universe with its roots deep in the earth, the ash tree stands for strength, connection and rootedness in wisdom. Indeed, the creation myths of many ancient world cultures display a belief that the essence of humankind itself originated from the ash tree.

Somewhere, long ago in the dreamtime, we grew up together.

And yet today, ash is threatened with extinction. Hundreds of lichen, fungi and insects depend on ash for survival; it is a vital part of our ecosystem. Without it, we also suffer an immense spiritual loss.

Jane Gifford writes in ‘The Wisdom of Trees‘:

The ash is a key to healing the loneliness of the human spirit out of touch with its origins. It can provide a sense of being grounded and of belonging… so that we can better appreciate the many ways in which positive thought and action today can create a brighter tomorrow.”

The ancient cultures believed that the wisdom of ash teaches us that unity and harmony with the natural world is our heritage and our birthright. The Goddess Tree speaks of connection and belonging – our kinship with the great family of all things – and stimulates our soul-psyches into a kind of remembrance which bears great relevance today.

When we heed the magic of ash, we sense that our innately human strengths of compassion, courage, innovation, creativity and cooperation empower us all to affect great change. Despite a narrative of fear which seeks to convince us that we are separate, lost, and helpless, we may remember who we really are, and recognise our own power.

The future may look uncertain – but there is hope. Respected ecologist George Peterken says: “There is genetic diversity in ash… I would expect them to evolve their way round the fungus.”  Perhaps we, too, will evolve our way round this intense and challenging time.

As for my baby ash tree, for now I shall love it, water it and grow flowers up around it in the hope of brighter days ahead. For as long as I can, I will let its buds live out their dream of someday becoming branches, leaves outstretched, dancing in the bright summer sun.


Enraptured in Autumn by Ellen Brenneman

Work on the allotment and on doing any writing whatsoever ground to a halt over the summer. I needed to be present in mothering my one year old, who is growing up, like everyone said, all too quickly. But things are picking up a little.

July was hot and heavy and ablaze with wild storms. September felt more like August and vice versa, and each month was illuminated by a giant, beautiful ‘supermoon’. It was the hottest, longest summer anyone could remember for ages – but for some reason I never quite managed to shake off the feeling of hibernation.

Only as autumn swept in, as the days grew cooler and the light mellowed into gold did I begin to feel more at ease. I love autumn’s mood of reflection, its fruitfulness, the feeling of slowing down and the gentle transition to the dark time of the year. On crisp, sunny days I can’t imagine a lovelier place to live than here. I got my own car again, making trips to  the allotment, and many other places besides, infinitely more possible. Though summer faded, life somehow felt like it was beginning again.

I went back to the plot and started afresh.

Together Mat, Myla and I planted fruit trees: apple, cherry, peach and plum. They are magnificent and had the immediate, desired effect of making the plot look a lot less neglected. Around the trees I chucked handfuls of bee-friendly crocus, narcissus and muscari bulbs. I laid an allium bed with lots of ‘purple sensation’ and a few ‘globemaster’ bulbs and sprinkled it with forget-me-nots. The hope is that these will resemble large purple pom-poms floating in a sea of blue froth when they flower next year. That’s if we manage to keep the weeds at bay…

I have developed a healthy obsession with bulbs and gone mad for tulips, more alliums, hyacinths, crocus and irises, all of which Myla helped me plant in pots in the back garden. I love the optimism of planting bulbs at this time of year, of looking ahead to spring before winter has even arrived. It’s a perfect antidote to the encroaching darkness.

On the writing front, progress is stunted – but the work is happening, even if it often feels like wading through treacle. Overcoming the voices of self-doubt and negativity can be difficult but, as James Radcliffe talks about in his blog, unpleasant is sometimes necessary. Sometimes the non-days where it feels like nothing much is achieved at all are just the quiet lulls before a surge of productivity – at least, I hope they are

And so I keep going back, starting afresh. I am re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes wonderful book Women Who Run With the Wolves (if I can call it that, since it’s not the sort of book I will ever ‘finish’ – more one which I dip in and out of whenever I need it). In it, she says of creativity:

“Some say the creative life is in ideas, some say it is in doing. It seems in most instances to be in a simply being. It is the love of something, having so much love for something – whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, the land, or humanity – that all that can be done with the overflow is to create.”

Writing and gardening, in this sense, are really just forms of creation, or overflowings of love. Which is, I think, exactly what the world needs now.

Illustration by Ellen Brenneman (