Pagan Paths

Profundity, profanity and frivolity; the business of serious thinking and joyous expression through the wisdom and traditions of the Celts in the company of Kristoffer Hughes, Head of the Anglesey Druid Order.

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The Love of Trees

"The Clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."

John Muir 1890. 

When I wrote my first book, I never imagined that a new world of experiences would open up for me. I am thankful every day for the places I get to see and the people I get to meet. But on these journeys, the relationships I develop are not always with humankind, there are times when I meet and spend time with non-human folk, and on my recent trip to California, the meeting was profoundly insightful, traumatic, filled with sorrow and yet tinged with hope. 

I gave two presentations at the Pantheacon conference in San Jose, California in mid February, a marvelous event, rammed to the rafters with more talks, workshops and presentations than you could shake a stick at. After the hustle and bustle of the conference it was a delight to be taken, along with several other good Druid folk, to the Calaveras big tree state park. 

Oh I had been anticipating this trip for a while, I can't begin to tell you, the mere thought of having the opportunity to meet some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world had me all overcome. I admit to a state of excited quivering in my stylish, yet affordable boots. It seemed the perfect opportunity to ground and be with nature after 4 days of conferencing. 

We spent several hours driving from the Santa Clara valley to the mountains of eastern California. The air cooled as mountains and woodlands replaced the sprawl of suburbia. With what little hair I have left wafting in the wind from the open car window, I relished in the smell of pine and soil, of clean mountain air that sang to a different kind of music than the valleys below. It was joyous. Pure joy.

The trees of Calaveras seemed to sing as we approached them, controlled burning sent spirals of smoke through beams of sunshine, creating spectral patterns that drew one even deeper into the wonder of forest. Resin rich woods that smoldered on bonfire smelt like sacred incense giving the impression of a temple setting. And then there were the trees themselves...

I knew I would cry, it was to much for an old Druid to take in all at once. The majesty of trees whose size defied logic and reason, the craning of necks as we struggled to peer through sun beam and smoke to the dizzying heights of the giant trees. Tears of wonder and joy which gave way to sorrow and heartache. 


The Mother of the Grove loomed dark and sullen into the clear blue Californian sky, her limbs gone, she had long since turned her face from this world. Mankind had seen fit to skin her alive, a slow, inevitable and painful death.

Painful? Is that even the right word, perhaps it is somewhat provocative to imbibe this tree with what I perceive to be pain, and yet for the first time in my life as a Druid, I felt the pain of this place more than I have in any other location, the memory of the grove held within itself the pain and sorrow of the Mother. 
They skinned her alive, and now, what was joy and wonder gave way to tears of sorrow and mourning, never before had I felt such emotion from the spirit of place. Her children stood around her, encircling her corpse, those who had witnessed her murder, and each one, through bark and leave and mulch held her memory.

I have felt the sorrow of trees before, those cut in their prime by the teeth of a chainsaw, a sudden death perhaps? But this felt so incredibly raw, we did this to these magnificent ancient beings, those who stand as silent witnesses to the passage of time. Defenseless she died for the inquisitiveness of mankind. And there was outrage, a mass public outpouring of anger and disbelief that such a thing could happen. So much has changed since, thankfully, and lessons learned. 

The Mother of the Grove's corpse stand to this day, blackened, riddled with holes, scorch marks skirt her lower form. She stands as testament to mindlessness, to mankind's wont to control nature. How can one not be touched by this - I thought - as I sat there before her blackened remains. And almost as if to prove a point, I watched as other visitors blatantly dropped their McDonalds milkshake cartons right there in the temple of trees. Incredulously, with neither thought nor remorse. Maybe we have yet to truly learn as a species that other forms of life share this world with us, and perhaps it is this apathy and mindlessness that perpetuates disconnection.

I know, I hear you, some people are just assholes, and this is not a wide sweeping judgement of all 7 billion human beings who occupy this planet. And yet it highlighted to me right there and then, that even when faced with our past mistakes, many feel little to shake the spirit and move the heart. Perhaps the songs of the trees were too subtle, their language too alien for all human ears to hear, or maybe, just maybe, those of us who do hear must also serve to be the voices of the trees?

What can we do?

With thousands of acres of forestry destroyed every week, it may feel insurmountable, too big, too wide an issue for little old me to do anything about it. But, do you know something, we can, a drop of water can ultimately cause a flood. Let's serve the trees of our localities, find local projects that serve the trees, the woods and the forests where you live. Every little helps said the woman who pee'd in the sea.

If many of us stand to be a voice for the trees, we can send a wave of inspiration that slowly spreads across the land.  

The Mother of the Grove tore at my heart, and I am grateful for the teaching a forest 5,000 miles away gave me. My hope is that she did not die in vain, nothing will bring her back, but her children live on. And maybe we can all do something to ensure their children, all over the world, will thrive and are defended by those who will be the voices of the trees.   

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Kristoffer Hughes is Head of the Anglesey Druid Order in North Wales. He is an award winning author and a frequent speaker and workshop leader throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA. He works professionally for Her Majesty's Coroner. He has studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and is its 13th Mount Haemus Scholar. He is a native Welsh speaker, born to a Welsh family in the mountains of Snowdonia. He currently writes for Llewellyn Worldwide specializing in Celtic studies and death and bereavement.


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