The Grace of Trees

“I had a walk in a beautiful garden today,”  I wrote in my notebook.  The garden is Syon Park, a private place that using my American sensibilities, belongs to the same family, more or less, for hundreds of years.  This 20 acres of verdant English Garden goodness is open to the public with a paid ticket, and to the surrounding community with a subscription pass.  A quiet back gate was available to me. This unexpected magnificence was due to an arrangement with the Hilton property that was our temporary address during this siege of virus versus humanity. Good health and goodwill pulsed there amidst swaying daffodils and ancient wood. I found my way there at least once a day and sometimes more. 

TreesSyon Park – w:

On the first day, we found an enthusiastic garden intern struggling with the muddy division of a deeply rooted clump of perennials.  She clearly knew the plants personally and was happy to introduce them by name. By the next day, there were only the signs of work, all tending had ceased. Wheelbarrows were tucked into leafy corners, and piles of trimmed branches and vines stood waiting, like our room service trays that were left outside the door to be picked up “sometime later.” It became rare to see any other people on the rustic and formal paths.

Syon House and garden have had a colorful past. I was surprised to find that Pocahontas, came to visit in 1616 and stayed nearby.  

Pocahontas in England

With her father’s medicine man, and a dozen other support staff from her own “kingdom,” they came to be seen. In current retrospect, this journey was intended to raise funds for the failing Jamestown experiment by showing how the indigenous “savages” of the New World could be civilized and Christianized and reimagined as pliable allies.  As guests of their  Syon Park host, this New World entourage would have walked these same grounds, just like me. 

Pocahontas, whose real name was Amonute, didn’t make it home again.  The respiratory illness that made London unhealthy for her, and initiated her move from the city to the healthier countryside surroundings, claimed her life. Sailing down the Thames almost within reach of the open sea, she died of a Pneumonia or a TB type illness on March 21, 1617, at the age of 21. She was buried in Gravesend an “ancient town on the Thames,” which some believe was named after the Bubonic plague that killed 100,000 Londoners. 

 Human history is interesting but it was the trees that captured my attention. Invincible, nearly immortal trees live here. Massive in size, behemoths all, they are matriarchs and patriarchs of their own family lines.   Despite their unusual size, their bark and outlines were familiar to me, as many were transplanted from Eastern North America. 

They are the largest, oldest trees of their particular breed in the UK.  These are called “Champion Trees” here. As the young gardener told me, “Even the people at Kew Gardens come HERE to see our trees,” as she pointed to a Swamp Cypress with the girth of a Sequoia. 

These trees garner such respect that some of the bones of this tree community, are left where they fell after death.  A swirling base of an ancient Weeping Willow, the very heart of the tree, lies recumbent in a naturalized field of yellow daffodils.  On another day, I could imagine children climbing over her, reaching for footholds on this imaginary mountain. Everyone knows that Willows; especially the Weeping kind, love children, and the feeling is mutual. 

I leaned into these gracious beings in this strange time. Unexpectedly a few days later, we were “dislodged” so to speak. This Hilton property had contracted with the UK National Health Service to put up their “soon to be needed” hospital staff in this hotel. An excellent place for their upcoming guests, and a welcome reprieve from impending closure and hotel staff layoffs. I asked a nervous front desk host if the garden would remain open for these frontline people?  “Indeed,” he said. It was their plan to continue to leave the back gate accessible to their guests, despite the lock-out of local residents. Physical distancing of a different variety was about to be initiated. And in the strange synchronicities are our standard, we left Syon Park on the 403 year anniversary of Amonute’s death.

The tree “rule of thumb” is simple:  “As Above, So Below.”  Roughly what is seen above the dirt has a mirror image; below the dirt.  They have survived, even thrived throughout human turmoil because they have both. They are deeply rooted in the Earth, and extending themselves upward, reaching to the heavens at the same time. Sounds like a good plan. 

May we weather this storm with our grace intact

Thank You Dorothy MacLean

So here we are.

Is it a place of horrific reckoning? Or a place of deep contemplation and regard for what we hold dear. Is it a fearsome challenge to maintain our personal status quo? Or is there a soft voice that whispers, “We are one, all is well.” It is long after time to remember what powerful beings we actually are, when we see ourselves, in each other.

Last week at this time I was stepping in to a circle; of unusual people, of potent possibility, of unlimited potential. The scene was set: Northern Scotland, at Cluny Hill, a former hotel near the town of Forres. A retreat, a workshop aptly named “Living Your Life Purpose.” It was facilitated with skill, transparency and boundless, undisguised love by two long time residents and practitioners of the Findhorn qualities of consciousness and exquisite attunement to others.

I had powerful sweet roommates, ate vegetarian and took multiple walks in the forest everyday. We sat in a circle for 8 hours a day, took meals and tea together, and sorted out our personal snarls in the safe and loving hands of our fellow travelers.

This week finds us in London. I was plucked out 2 days early when my soul mate and life’s partner experienced a detached retina. I watched Scottish landscape speed by before dawn. Edinburgh came and went. An exiting Scottish gentleman offered his single window seat in a sun beam, seeming to know I would prefer quiet landscape to the 4 seater socializing. Tiny Spring lambs tucked into thick early grasses belied human emergency. I wondered then, “How long will they live?” In the cab I read on my phone that a friend and Reiki mentor had returned to light, passing peacefully as my train pulled into the King’s Cross Station.

Surgery was done on Friday the 13th in London. On the same day, Dorothy Maclean, the last remaining founders of the Findhorn Community, the largest Eco-community in the world also returned to light.

It is our turn to co-create the world we want to. live in. I will remember the dance of freedom created by unique individuals that chose to be in that circle. Held by and holding each other, we were our best versions of ourselves. It is an invitation. Or you could panic, reach for scarcity and fear. Your choice, I’ll be sitting over here in LOVE if you need a hand.