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The Lesson of the Linden

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July 2008
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In my own accumulation of Alferic lore, the Linden is a tree closely associated with the Goddess of Stars and the night sky.  The Elves call her Sellë or Sarwen, and she tells me that the Celts called her Arianrhod.  I have not attempted yet to interpret the stories of Arianrhod in the Mabinogi in the light of this connection, but perhaps I should do so. She is, after all, my patroness and that of Avalon Center.

At Midsummer Gorsedd this year, I had many adventures.  The first happened within half an hour of arriving with my friends Nigel and Caryl from Wales.  I took them out on the bluff path to see a rock that juts out over the cliff side and overlooks the great lake below.  It is called, in Dakota, In Yan Teopa, which they say means “Rock with a Hole in It” but that simple name barely suggests the mythopoeic significance of such a rock.  Its natural setting, before being surrounded by manmade state park and campgrounds, would have itself inspired awe.  A great spur of limestone with a round hole through it meant that here stone was peirced by wind.  The air could enter the earth and the hole act as a doorway for spirit (breath).

Well, we had a look at the rock and Nigel got some photos, then we walked further down the path to an offshoot that led to another overlook.  At the junction, an ancient linden tree stood and called to me at once.  We saw each other coming and I looked closely at this old tree.  I like lindens.  I live in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis, after all.  This one had a dead half and a living half.  The dead trunk was perhaps two feet in diameter.  I noted later that it was big enough to have made a dugout canoe.  The living half was a sucker that the main old tree had put out once upon a time, as lindens do.  They send up suckers from their roots and this one had grown into a whole new tree – perhaps ten to twelve inches in diameter.  I touched her and asked her what her story was and she told me that here to the right was her old life and to the left her new life.  I took this message philosophically.  After all, one of the things I had been discussing with my friends was the re-opening of Avalon Center after a year of hibernation and re-organization.  I was at that sort of a juncture, a place where my old life needed to be returned to the earth and the new shoot take over.  Old ideas, new ideas.  Old plans, new plans.  You get the idea.

After we had admired the lake and the trees, we turned back to the main path and passed the linden again and no sooner had we turned out backs and started back toward camp than we heard that archetypal sound: a tree falling in the forest.  We turned to locate the cracking sound, probably following some ancient instinct of our kind to locate a potential danger behind us.  There the old linden was, giving way, toppling over right across the path behind us.  The path we had not taken.  When it had fallen with that drumlike thud upon the earth, I could see what had before been hidden – that the old dead trunk was hollowed out all along one side.  Its base was rotted away to pulp.  So, the old life had fallen away to give fertility to the soil of the forest and the younger half of the linden carried on.  Its new life was now free to grow and spread.

It was like seeing death and rebirth in action, like a vision of our immortality.  And it was extremely uncanny.  It felt uncanny in its timing and in its metaphorical power but thinking back on it there were some other things that were odd.  The bluff path follows a very steep drop and this tree did not fall downhill but uphill.  Not unheard of in that forest, of course.  It also did not fall towards the rotted hollow side, but away from it.  Simply laws of mass and inertia perhaps?  Maybe.  But to the poetical mind, this linden dropped away her old life across a path we had not taken and had done so in a way to expose to view the hidden hollowness that had resulted from that dying away.  She had already fed generations of termites or ants, fungi, and woodpeckers.  She had been living there doing so in life and death for perhaps my whole lifetime so far.  And that was the moment in my presence, when she made the transition to let go of the past and carry on with the future.

Some of my friends are skeptics and object to anthropomorphizing nature and they would probably disapprove of my taking this episode so personally, as if there was an intentional message for me and for my druid friends.  I would not argue the point.  It is a matter of my being there and interpreting meaning in the workings of Nature.  That is the only “supernatural” – nature layered with meaning that we give to it or take from it for our own edification.  This too was among the lessons of the linden.

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