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  • Mj Pettengill

Unbroken Forest

Updated: May 8


Roots, Nature, CCO

As a young girl, I was given a story to carry with me. With the passing of each day, I become increasingly aware of its significance. There are many aspects and levels of this story, what I refer to as tree spirit that dwells harmoniously within. It does not define me, but it serves as a compass, navigating the world so above and below.


Climbing up, or rising to the crown, and reaching for the endless sky is as important as knowing the way down, connecting with each limb, feeling the skin or the bark, and following the roots into the dark, rich earth. 

When we journey into the darkness, that is precisely what it is. It is a facing of demons or elements of our outer and inner worlds that may instill fear. Often, when we are connected to our unconscious or higher selves, we are aware of such fears in our world of dreams. Unless you pay close attention, keep a dream journal, and want to know more, they usually don’t make sense and are seemingly chaotic. They are your friends. Try to remember details, acknowledge them, look for a deeper meaning. 

I do not recommend plunging recklessly into unchartered darkness, following your roots into the underworld for extended periods. However, with intention, set out to find them. I have experienced extraordinary emotional, developmental, and spiritual growth in doing so. It is because I have faced and tamed what I once perceived as threats. They may take on a menacing form that, through the eyes of a child, stays with you. Once you, the adult, face it, you are in a position of power. The child—an earlier version of you—may have tucked this fear away, manifesting it into your depths without your conscious awareness or permission. 

Going to, but not staying in, these depths is an authentic process of becoming whole and knowing who you are while reclaiming your origins. There is power in rewilding. It will likely require more than one expedition. You may have to return several times. It depends upon what you learn and resolve during your stay. It is a worthy process. How can you have a sense of belonging if you are rootless?

An example for me is in the wind. I have returned to the woods and mountains of my childhood, where the wind seems to blow harder than any other place that I know. Again, this howling is likely colored by the ever-present child.

The first time I heard the winds as an adult, I was immediately transported to when I sat in my bed with my quilt pulled up under my chin, pretending to be brave. I used to say in what I believed to be a strong voice, “I am not afraid of you.”

Of course, it was a lie. I was frightened to the point of shivering and not from the cold. It seemed that every time I shouted at the wind, it shouted back louder, forcing me to bury myself deeper into my quilt. So, the fear returned when the winds came sweeping down the mountainside. My first instinct was to hide as my heartbeat increased and breath quickened. 

Hold on. It is the wind. The wind. I realized that I had given it an evil, wicked, otherworldly face that merged with the gray clouds against the night sky. How angry it was. What could I, a young girl, have done to provoke it? What could I do now to make peace with it? 

It blew again, increasing in pitch. Yes, it was fierce, but it was not a huge monster, rattling tree branches, and calling out my name. It was not a real threat at all. My fear was that of a six-year-old girl who needed comforting. It was time for us to talk. 

I closed my eyes and imagined that little girl. I said, like the true mother I had become, “It’s okay. It’s just the wind, and it will not hurt you. You can go to sleep and stop worrying.”

As always, the strength of the wind increased. It talked back, but I knew that it was just timing. The little girl is not at the helm anymore. With many fears or distressing situations, this is true. It is possible that events are being perceived through the lens of childhood trauma. 

I transform, re-awaken, and learn. The story that I carry is part of my blueprint. It’s not always in my present awareness, but at various crossroads, it emerges. The most significant example, as you may recall, relates to my recent book, Down from the Tree. I realized, upon completion, that it is not a simple story of a young boy named Samuel, not at all. It is much more than that. All of the appropriate strands of meaning, tied together in a neat package, contain a spark that carefully ignites a flame.

The flame isn’t raging out of control. In fact, it’s the opposite of a forest fire. It’s a robust, steady fire that burns brightly on the hearth—my hearth and the hearth of those meant to comprehend it. These flames are a gift bestowed upon me from Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and its fires.

The discovery from the writing of the book was my connection to my own magical tree. Both Samuel and I had this. His tree was a safe haven. He had many discoveries and awakenings during his time in it. My tree was safe, until the day that I fell from it and spent the summer recovering in the hospital. With the tree as a primary element sustaining the narrator of this story, I discovered that I had left a part of my soul at my own tree, which is still standing. This unfolded as Samuel and I lost our mothers. I became aware of the importance of finding deeper meaning from the crown to the roots and processing each phase.

That was relating to the book. Now, this story that I carry with me appears in many other forms. I have written about the death of the pine grove and the consequences of neighboring trees. I am a witness to their grief and their struggle to survive. Each day, I spend time outside. I hear them fall. I see them lying about, piling up with moss and mushrooms blanketing them. I look for new growth.

The trees are now my council. Many of them are elders. For well over a century, they have witnessed the state of Our Mother. They are a reflection of life on the planet.

For them and for me, I crave belonging. Our separation from a healthy, thriving, earthly garden, leaves us vulnerable, seeking purpose and meaning. I celebrate the new life that grows where they have been cut down, made sick, and died. I dream of the unbroken forest, confident that it will return and thrive.

Translating this story from the shared heart of the tree is an organic process. It changes daily. I live in the woods. My connection to it—the trees, creatures, landscape—is profound. My goal is to prevent experiencing a term that is somewhat new to me, pre-traumatic stress. In my case, I look out at the woods and see the devastation from logging and damage from pests, and I panic. This translates to healthy forests too. When I see a beautiful scene, I panic when I think of how vital it is to offer protection from the many harmful practices in place by human activity.

My instincts are to gather wildlife and fragile ecosystems into my embrace, to love, value, and nurture. This is the downfall of the quintessential mother. It is what I work with daily. I must maintain my energy, directing it where it will make a difference. I am learning. I will prevail.

(To Be Continued)…


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