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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Down from the Tree

Do you have a treasured childhood tree that you carry with you? Of course, you may have guessed that in earlier versions of my life, and presently, I hold many trees close to my heart.

One vivid memory is climbing out through a barn door and into the arms of a nearby tree. It wasn’t too far from the ground, just high enough to create an adventure for a six-year-old girl. When I safely reached the ground, I lay beneath it and through the green-leafy boughs, watched the clouds hurry across the clear azure sky. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, it is what I see, bringing me to my center. I often consider how over the years, the clarity of the sky has dimmed; therefore, I fiercely honor and protect this vision of days gone by.

That is just one tree. I frequently dreamed under it, probably more so than any of the other trees. Then on my eighth birthday, I paid the price for my untamed ways. Looking back, I see how it was a time of classic youthful innocence and courage. I was, or I so I thought, invincible.

There was a large oak tree that I climbed with my sister, Susan, and her friend. It still stands today, where a pasture, field, and stone wall meet.

I went much too high, at least that is what I am told. For a little girl, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as too high. However, those instincts did arise when I became a mother. That is typically when boundaries appear to be quite clear.

The sun shined brightly; the slight wind washed over me. Being in the heart of the tree expanded the possibility to see far and wide. My understanding of the nearby mountain range came into sharp view. It was the first time I clearly identified the curves of Mother in their gentle slopes. From that day on, I would always see Her there. Even now, this woman of the mountains is there for me. She is there for all who lay eyes upon her and let her in. On that day, she showed up for a specific reason, for me to comprehend the embrace that I longed for, that we all crave, but some are more aware than others. The feminine nurturing spills into the waiting foothills and settles in the valley where I would revel in grace and gratitude. There is unspoken safety in Her arms.

It was because of my faith in the oak tree that I was able to climb nearly to the top of its lush crown. The other girls were below me. I thought it best to come down from the tree. It was then that my judgment was off. I saw a lower branch and leaped, perhaps too far, but I did it anyway.

I landed on the edge of the stone wall where I broke into pieces. Nearby, an elite art class was taking place. Sadly enough, when my sister and her friend dashed over to get help, they said, ‘not now.’

I went in and out of consciousness while the girls went for help. A neighborhood dog named Rocky came by to sit with me while I waited. I was carried away on a potato sack, placed in a station wagon with no shocks, and taken to the hospital where I spent the entire summer in traction.

This did not keep me away from trees. No, they are my people. We had an established apple orchard in the pasture. It was a favorite place to sit and read or sing. The branches were thick and provided a nice seat in the heart of the tree.

Now, my work with the land, tree connections, and making wild medicine, brings me deeper into the woods. I hear their songs—their cries—and get an idea of what they, as witnesses, are expressing about our shared world. There have been many casualties from over-harvesting, invasive species, man-made toxins, extreme weather events, clearing, and harmful insects. I do not know the whole of it. However, as a woman in the woods and my daily participation in the tree world, I acknowledge their commanding presence and amazing abilities as living beings. I am honored to share the planet with them. We can learn a great deal from the plant kingdom.

This brings me to Book Three in the Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series. It is entitled “Down From the Tree.” There is infinite wisdom in the words and thoughts of Samuel Hodgdon—the little boy featured at the end of the first two books in the series. We finally get to know him, and more about the others thought to have been long-buried in anonymous graves. He brings us back to the County Farm. He gives us a new world view from his perch in the heart of the tree. Mj Pettengill Author, Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series Book One The Angels' Lament: Book Two Down from the Tree: Book Three - COMING SOON

1 Comment

Apr 29, 2019

That must have been a traumatic recovery , it could have been much worse of course . So the angels were on your side. Childhood is a strange mix of courage and folly . It was unfortunate that you fell on stone and not a haystack.Climbing trees is an ancient ritual so you were paying homage to that deed. There is a powerful impusle to gain a greater vista of the world which fainter hearts would not explore.

May I quote a few lines from a poem by Thomas Hood ?

" I remember, I remember, The fir trees dark and high; I used to think their slender tops Were close against the sky: It was a childish ignorance, But…

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