Tree Teachings

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December Plants Apprenticeship Weekend 2016


We drove up Alexis’ driveway, excited for the weekend ahead of us, a few of our classmates were standing on the lawn, we waved, parked the car and hopped out to give hugs and receive warm welcomes.  As soon as the group arrived, we gathered up and headed out to the forest.  As soon as we arrived, Alexis had us trying to figure out a mystery, this weekend was our tree ID weekend, we examined the buds and leaf scars of the tree and after looking things up in books and discussing, we still couldn’t figure out what it was, so we put the mystery to the side and continued into the forest.  We chatted about a few more trees, black ash, white ash, Elm and Basswood trying to figure out ways to remember how to identify them all, people shared their tips and tricks.  We came upon a part of the forest that was just pine and spruce trees and we took some time to wander while collecting sap for salve making later.  The forest had an odd vibe, it was dark and eerie. As we were inspecting the trees looking up and around, we took a moment for a snack, as we were taking things out of our bags, we looked around and noticed a large animal on the ground a few yards away.  We moved towards it quietly and looked down upon a large dead buck.  It had small unsymmetrical antlers and one broken front leg, it looked as though it had been hit on the road and wandered into the woods to die.  We put some tobacco down and said thank you to the deer as we continued through the forest towards the sound of running water.  

We followed a deer trail down, away from the coniferous forest and moved through cedar trees to a wetland area.  There was a small river running through the space, Joe Pye Weed, Asters and Goldenrod skeletons littered the dried up wetland with animal trails running through them.  It was lunch time so we took this opportunity to warm up with a fire, it was a damp and cold day, the fire was very welcomed.  Collecting cedar for kindling, we built a fire and ate our lunch together as a group, sharing stories, laughing and learning from each other.  When lunch was over, we all had the opportunity to go for a sit spot with some cedar tea.  Annie and I crossed the open wetland, and followed the river towards a cedar grove, finding a comfortable seat at the base of a cedar, we reflected on our day and connected with the trees.  We expressed our gratitude for the trees, closed our eyes and listened to the water as it moved through the space.  When we heard the crow call and it was time to meet the group again, we followed another deer trail through the wetland and met everyone back by the fire.  Alexis had put the fire out and so we stood around the remaining ashes and shared some of the experiences that we had during our sit spots.  

We spent the rest of the day wandering through the wetland and forest, learning to identify the trees that we came across, aspen, beech, tamarack and more, checking out the bark, the branching, the leaf scars and the buds. We also managed to harvest willow branches at the end of our wander. It is astonishing how trees can be created in so many different ways.  At the end of our day together, we all gathered back into our cars and headed back to Alexis’ home where we shared a meal and drank tea while chatting and warming our bodies in front of the wood stove.  

The next day was just as amazing. We delved further into the many teachings of the trees.  We woke up early morning to have our breakfast and started to use the willows that we had harvested the day before to make inviting little homes for the little creatures of the woods. These so called ‘mouse nests’ were made of all natural materials and as Alexis guided us into making them we learned about the value of stewardship and the gift of learning how to give back to the land. We drove back to the same forest we  visited the previous day and as we walked into the woods people naturally spread in all directions to find a perfect place for their ‘mouse nests’. After tucking mine near a mighty warm tree, I pictured the snow blanketing the area and imagined the shelter it would provide for families of critters to stay safe and warm throughout the cold bitter season. We then wandered down towards the river,  along the way we smelt and saw a porcupine up in the tree. Near the river, we took the leftover willow cuttings and found them new homes nearby. This then lead to break into our sit spots. For lunch we headed back to Alexis’s. We spent the rest of the afternoon indoors making pine salves and fire ciders; some valuable medicine for the winter season. By the end of the day, we had many learning moments to be grateful for and to take back home with us which is always invaluable.

  • Kelly & Annie

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