Creating places of honor in or around our homes. This is very familiar to many of us. We have ancestral altars in special corners. We intentionally arrange crystals in living areas or doorways. Feathers collected on our walks, as well as candles and incense, are placed in full view of our work area. All this to establish a sacred space to commemorate who we love and to celebrate what we hold precious.
This morning I am thinking of special places found in natural settings. It strikes me that throughout my backyard are spots spontaneously created by what’s been happening to this land. Last year an old black locust fell. Not taken down. Not blown over by harsh easterly winds. Instead, the tall elder tree decided to fall all on her own. Now, she appears as tree remnants placed randomly in the herb garden and in the grove of trees where she once stood. For months they appeared as simple wooded stumps, a mere hint of her once towering majesty.
There is something else that this land holds. Milky quartz. Cloudy stones with terra cotta veins are spotted easily on the brown earth. These raw unpolished rocks dot the ground near the grove. Some are half buried and unearth themselves as the heels of my shoes catch and pull them fully up to ground level. They are rough stones: a kind of primitive purity, a land-based treasure. I’ve begun placing them on top of the black locust sections. No reason other than I like to see them and they surprise me in their abundance.
As happens during these types of reflections, a sixty-year-old memory pops up. I suddenly remember my father’s “rock garden” at our Long Island home. He loved that garden. With the help of his sister Mary, he built three wide, half-circle tiers each bordered by boulders native to the island’s geological history. A stacked arrangement brimming with his favorite plants including a backdrop of blackberry bushes. In turn, and I like to think because the flowers loved him back, they bloomed with brilliant color and vitality. As a little girl I remember sitting on those stones watching him dig…and probably peppering him with questions that he patiently answered.
In my own yard I too take notice of the trees and care for the plants and berry bushes. I’m grateful that an old grove of oaks, tulip poplars, maples and wild cherry trees graces us with their presence. As I look around I see that now the tops of the hardwood stumps heap with beautifully ordinary quartz. These impromptu stone collections are beginning to look like altars. Altars of tree wisdom, a kind of wooden dais on which the indigenous stones are enthroned. They are places of honor – not built for my sake yet I unconsciously participated in their creation. It’s as if the land wanted to honor itself. The trees and the land’s stones seem to be celebrating each other. It feels right.
As I walk among them every day they help ground me in the present moment. It’s a pleasure to appreciate that nature finds a way to express itself and honor its own ancestors.