Teacher Trees – Part 1

This time of year, when all my garden friends and wild herbs have
called it for the season, I spend a lot of time with my trees. Actually,
now that I think about it, the fall is the time of trees for everyone in
these parts because of the blazing colours. Even after they lose their
leaves, there’s something universal about the love of trees through the
dark months.

In adoration of the spirit trees hold, we bring an ‘evergreen Christmas tree’
into the house at the darkest time of year; Winter Solstice (Christmas). This
ancient pagan tradition was enacted to honour the ‘green’ life that is
always there, and be bolstered by its presence, until the ‘green’ comes
back to the land.

In the north it doesn’t take faith or even reason to know why we love
trees through the year. They are standing proof that part of us lives on
and can endure the dark seasons. Only to rise again
into triumphant flower. And this doesn’t just happen once, but for many,
many years. The trees teach us that when we come out of the dark cold
months we are revitalized, and able to rise up in more glory each year;
That the dark time is not “the end” but part of the cycle of growth.

That pinch we feel in the fall/winter, with loss of all the annual
plants and leaves. The melancholy pale ‘fall’ light diminishing day by
day into the cold cellar of Winter Solstice. This end-of-year time holds
a clear presence of ‘the end’. The green Earth’s end, and our end. So it
seems natural to turn to the trees because they live beyond the smaller
cycles of life and death we’re so concerned with. Deep inside their
trunk time stands very still, and there they dance to the curvature of
the seasons, within the stillness of eternity.

There has been no other thing or person in my life that has given me
such great ongoing satisfaction as trees have. I’ve had my special trees
all my life but these days I mostly enjoy those I am growing.
Specifically fruit (mostly apple and pear) and nut trees. The Chinese
proverb says if you want happiness for a week find a lover, for a month
eat a slaughtered pig and for a lifetime plant a garden. I might add to
that if you want happiness beyond this lifetime, plant trees. People
use the expression “exciting as watching grass grow”, but seriously those
people should try watching trees grow, few things can give that degree
of ongoing satisfaction and pleasure.

Winter Pear Tree with nest

The trees are my teachers. When I’m feeling depressed I just go out and
talk to the trees and they straighten out my tangled branches of thought.
I have maybe a hundred and fifty trees that I am very close to and take care
of, and who care for me. Some of those are Sugar Maples that I tap every
spring. And the other hundred or so are fruit and nut trees, many around
twenty to twenty five years old. Some are here at the farm in Golden
Lake; most of the others are at the Madawaska Forest Garden
just outside Algonquin park. In the forest garden there are 24
year-old Walnuts and Butternuts I planted as seedlings, well over forty
feet tall and nut bearing. There are also a few Pear trees, now thirty feet
tall, that have escaped the ravages of Deer and Bear.

We humans worked with these trees for at least nine thousand years and many
like the Maple for much longer. Trees are part of our culture’s script,
foresting our literature. ’T’’t’, stands for Tree. In growing trees like
the apple and pear we practice the foundational knowledge of our sacred
agriculture, and what was once our sacred culture. It’s not just the
miraculous knowledge of how to selectively breed, (that we held thousands
of years before Darwin’s theory of evolution), but specifically the divine
knowledge of grafting. Where a bud or small branch from a desirable tree
can be put on a more hardy rootstock of the same genus. This
unbelievable miracle, is how all our fruit has been grown for thousands
of years, and how all our fruit is still being produced. And yet very
few people know this practice exists, let alone that every apple
they’ve ever had is a result of this ancient art.

What’s most amazing to me is the fact that my ‘Transparent Yellow’ or
‘Golden Apple’ trees are actually the carriers of a living part, (not a
descendent), of original tree that could be thousands of years old, from
Kazakhstan or the Steppes of Russia! Silently, these growing tips of Divine
intelligence have been endlessly grafted (transplanted) from one living
tree to the next, over whole eras of human history.

This is an art too precious to lose, even when the host cultures were
annihilated, the trees that we are still eating from lived on in the
care of the colonial culture. That’s how we (the colonial culture) came
to have almost all the foods we eat. And yet we are oblivious to our
colonial legacy, thinking. It’s all “ancient history” and that ‘we’ have
nothing to do with it.

To bridge this hypocrisy, own it. Don’t try to live off the wild like I
did, imagining you can rise above it and live an indigenous life. Because
puts even more stress from over-foraging on an already stressed ecology, at the expense of the
wild citizens that are dependent on that food. Instead, move inside
the food you are. Learn where your food comes from and how to bow down, not to
industry but to the entities of abundance that still provide for us. And
to those who have been trampled on in our grasping for this Divine
wealth. Or better still, bow down to these ones and co-create your own
abundance by gardening and wildculturing.(see more about wild cultivating here )

Grafting, like ‘planting seeds of thought’ has another deeply profound
aspect. As seeding applies to initiating thoughts in another, grafting
applies to giving another who has already found a way to live, a new way
of interacting with and drawing fruit from reality. Grafting is the
perfect embodiment of this miraculous idea, that jumps ahead of breeding
or pedigree. I guess that’s why this practice sits at the foundation of
our culture, because we are all grafts. We are wayward and hardy seeds
that have lasted the test of time, but our fruit is not so good, bitter
and small, unless it is cultured. To put it another way, we don’t have to
grow up Asian or East Indian to practice Buddhism, Yoga or Martial arts
for it to be a significant part of our life path.

Just to add a sobering note, the weakness of grafts are, in harsh
conditions the tree may die back to the original root stock. And the
offspring don’t replicate the parent (graft) genes. So the grafting of
Divine knowledge must be a cultural tradition both for ourselves and the
fruit trees.