I recently visited a park I hadn’t been to before in Albuquerque, and there, off the beaten path, I met an old grandmother Cottonwood.
She was glowing in the evening sun, her leaves bright gold and glittering in the gentle October breeze. She stood beside an acequia at the corner of the park. She must have been several hundred years old, her trunk looking like many cottonwood trees all molded together. One long arm curved downward, several feet from the ground, and then curved back up again, to form a perfect swing.
A little cottontail rabbit hopped quietly between us as I stood there for a moment, in awe. I found myself being drawn into her, the way a big mother draws a tired child into her arms. As I touched her bark, my heart met her and I was overcome with tears of relief. Comfort I did not even know I was longing for surrounded me like a medicine blanket as I hugged her huge, gently swaying arm. I could sense so many of the babies she had swung in this arm of hers, all of the life she had seen and helped nurture. This tree was medicine.
I climbed up into her branches, the grooves of her bark forming deep hand and foot holds that made this seem so natural and welcomed. She held me and shared stories with me under her warm blanket until I was ready to leave.
I emerged back into the bustle of the public park, feeling like I had discovered a very powerful and mysterious secret. I found another old tree- an elm- and spent some time with him too. I began looking for the eldest in all the tree stands I came across, and I found myself realizing that I long to live in a world filled with old trees. Where every tree under the sun is allowed to know one of its own elders. Is allowed to become an elder, if it is in the will of Nature for it to be one.
Old trees are by their very nature healers and wisdom keepers.
Living records of everything that has transpired during their vast lifetimes.
They hold the secrets to survival.
All we have to do is let them live on, and listen to them from time to time.
I couldn’t help but to think of my own elders, and remember that they are medicine people too. Just by the nature of their record keeping, of their deep roots, and by the number of babies they have swung in their arms. I regret that I didn’t spend more time in the arms of my grandparents, or by their sides listening to the stories they had to share. And I pray to be surrounded more and more by wise elders who can help me learn how to, with God’s grace, become one myself.