Each of us has a story–a story of how we ended up doing what we do, believing what we believe, walking the path that we travel. These stories are often like richly woven tapestries, and I believe that there is value in telling them, both for our own spiritual development, but also for the development of others. For in others’ tales, we learn that many of us have walked similar places to get to where we are–and we can recognize those who are fellow travelers on the path. Today, I’d like to share my own story of how I became a druid. There are a few different stands to this tale, and not all are easy to unravel.
When I was a young child, my family moved to a home on the top of a mountain in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania, a home that overlooked a massive forest. Almost immediately, my cousins (who lived next door) and I began tromping about in the woods. Our grandfather took us there, teaching us the knowledge of stem, root, and seed. My cousins and I built cabins with fallen branches, sticks, and stones; we built dams in the little “crick” (that’s a small “creek” or stream to the rest of yinz not from this area); and we made friends with many of the trees. Most of my childhood was spent in these beloved woods. Spending so much time in the forest attuned me to the land, the seasons, the ways they changed. When the forgotten springs opened up and flowed, the spring emphemeral flowers, the progression of life through the seasons. As we all grew up, we formed this wonderful friendship with the forest. I now refer to this land as “the forest to which I belong.”
There was one mystery in the woods my cousins and I had not figured out—something we often discussed as children. All through the woods, these giant rotting stumps could be found. Many of the moss-coated stumps were massive—at least double the size of the current trees growing. The stumps were black with age, covered in moss, and mostly rotted down—when you touched them, they would fall apart. Later, I discovered that the mushrooms growing on these stumps were ganoderma tsugae (hemlock reishi, one of the most healing mushrooms on the planet). As kids, we came up with all sorts of reasons that the stumps were there—aliens came and placed them there as a signal that we could decipher, a fire had burned much of the forest, or perhaps a tornado had come and ripped out many of the trees. The one conclusion that we didn’t even fathom was that they were trees that had been cut by human hands. Was it childish innocence? Was it naivety? The thought that someone would do such a thing never crossed our minds. When we built cabins, we never cut or damaged the trees—not even to put nails in them–because our grandfather had taught us to honor and respect nature. So it is no wonder that the correct solution to this “mystery” had never occurred to us.
When I was 14, everything changed. We heard the loggers before we ever saw them. Noises came from below—the sound of trucks, saws, and the occasional crash of a friend falling to his or her death. At first it was barely noticeable, but after a few weeks, they were at our doorstep and our parents no longer let us into the forest. We watched with horror from atop the mountain where our beloved woods were literally being torn apart by the chainsaws and crushed with their heavy machinery. I remember laying in the tall grass behind the house just above the tree line where the forest began and crying and crying—I couldn’t understand what could possess someone to destroy something that I so fondly cherished and respected. It was an extraordinarily traumatic experience–the forest and I shared the pain of it. The logging invaded my dreams and my waking hours, and it seemed to never stop.
Finally, one day, all was silent. The noises of the forest that I knew so well were hushed, different, sorrowful. Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring and Bernie Krause’s The Great Animal Orchestra come to mind here–the silence was all encompassing in ways it never had been. The forest felt different, it sounded different, and it was no longer the same place. After the loggers finished I went into the forest only once. As I entered and saw the horrific devastation, repressed memories of serious trauma in my childhood surfaced. The forest and I shared in our pain, trauma, and abuse. After that day, I did not step again into the forest for many years; I could not bear the pain of seeing so many friends fallen, and of the reminder of what had been done to my own body, not so dissimilar from my beloved forest.
But leaving the forest created a substantial distance from nature for me. That distance had a very serious toll. I grew distant from many things that mattered: from my creative gifts, from the natural world, from my own family, from my broader life’s purpose. I grew heavily invested in video games and spent years of my life immersed in fantasy worlds, all the while shutting down my own inner life and bardic arts. Many things happened during that time in my late teens and early 20s, but you could say that I was not a full person then.
While in college, I met a dear friend of mine named Alfred. It was with Alfred that I first began reconnecting to nature–we would go out on adventures, into deep woods and caves. About six months after I met him, Alfred was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.
Alfred came with me to my parent’s house one warm spring day, and we stood on the edge of the forest, the forest I hadn’t entered for almost a decade. I shared with him the story of it and of my own pain. And he took my hand and asked me if I wanted to enter it again, and we did.
The forest was not like I remembered–and yet it was still the same–the same kinds of trees, the little and big cricks, the landforms, and now, the distinct logging roads. There was a mass of dead branches from the logging and stumps everywhere, and also tons of underbrush and young trees coming up. It was different and wild, and yet vibrant–fiercely reclaiming that which had been lost to the logging. Returning to the forest was a tremendously important healing moment for me because it was at that moment that that I, too, had the same capacity. Nature teaches us all of the most powerful lessons. Further, seeing that forest healing gave us both hope about Alfred’s condition. Unfortunately, my friend lost his battle with cancer a year and a half later. Before anyone else knew he died, his spirit visited me, and I knew he was gone. This, combined with the lesson of healing the forest provided me, lead me on a spiritual quest to better understand….well….everything.
After much reading, reflection, and soul-searching after Alfred’s death, I knew I wanted to return to my deep relationship with nature and cultivate it seriously. I also had reclaimed my own creative arts, and I wanted a path that celebrated that. I found druidry–through the AODA–and joined. I had come home. Druidry was a term that described who I was–and wanted to be- as a human being in the many different spheres of my life: my connection to the land, to the spirit realm, to my professional career, to my home life, and to my creative pursuits.
Once I started down the path of Druidry, I began returning often to the forest to which I belong. Over time, the forest had transformed, healed, magically and physically, back into the space I had once knew. Her scars were still there, the stumps from what had been logged, but she was strong, her gentle persistence in reclaiming what was lost. After those experiences, I found myself particularly sensitive to the spirits of the land, especially the spirits of the trees–their joys and suffering–and was called to physically and spiritually heal the land at every opportunity. Wherever I go, the land reaches out to me, and I reach out to the land; we grow and learn from each other. And this work doesn’t apply just to natural places; the land is everywhere, even in urban areas and under concrete, she still calls out to her own.
At the same time as I was discovering druidry, I also recognized the need to radically shift my lifestyle–how could I call myself a druid if I, like most Americans, was living in an unsustainable, environmentally damaging manner? And so, with dedicated effort, I began making permanent changes in my life, changes to transform from an exploiting lifestyle to a nurturing one. I learned about permaculture, sustainability, and deep ecology, and embraced those principles as a central life philosophy. I take every opportunity to learn, to teach, to grow, and to help preserve. I joined two druid orders to help me along my path–their spiritual lessons taught me much about the long-standing spiritual traditions of nature reverence. This blog is a story of that path–thank you for joining me on my journey.
Beautifully told. I was working as a journalist when I was told by the Road Commissioner that certain old trees were considered hazards because they were beside the road. Apparently, if someone is drunk and hits a tree twenty feet off the road, they can sue the road commission. Nonsense, I said, the reason people move here is because of the area’s natural beauty. His reply was, “Oh, you’ll never remember those trees anyway…” I quoted him in the paper. Now, twenty four years later, I still drive by the site of those two ancient spruce and remember them, vividly, all the moreso from his flippant remark. Is remembering them helping to heal the land at that spot? I can’t say. But every time I plant a spruce sapling, I promise them they are far enough from the road.
I remember an old apple tree we spent so much time in as a child. The apple tree was so old, she had different parts, like “rooms” that we would climb in; the living room, the cage (which was where you would sit with branches all around), the bedroom, etc. We would eat her apples, which were tart and delicious.
Then the neighbor one day bought the property, and turned it into a “proper” consuming lawn. He took a chain saw to that beloved apple tree. When I was doing my OBOD Ovate work, she came to me and helped me on a journey. And I think of her often, even still.
I remember lost trees like family members.
Back in the 1970’s, when I was in college, we saved the woods near U of M Dearborn. We were called The Citizens for Henry Ford’s Wildlife Preserve. We settled, out of court, with The Ford Motor Company Land Development Corporation – a major victory! (They are the ones who had previously channeled part of the Rouge River in Dearborn, giving the river cement sides.). They said the trees are saved forever. But I still hold my breath when I come around the corner of Evergreen Rd and Hubbard Dr. The area behind the University along the banks of the Rouge River are also included. So, in the midst of Dearborn,there lies a Beech-Maple climax forest.
I don’t think that I really realized what greatness we had accomplished at the time. The process took so long, and we were hoping to go to court. So it seemed anti-climactic. But it wasn’t!
Thanks for helping me remember a good time.
What an excellent gift to future generations!
Beautifully said. Thanks for sharing your insight! Druidry was like a homecoming for me, as well.
Hi Willowcrow,i have just found your wonderful site,i am a Druid living in Waiheke Island New Zealand i to have a small farm 10 acres bush(forest) 5 acres pasture developing the land in much the same spirit as you,sunshine and smiles Fi from Waiheke
Hi Fi! Would love to hear more about your work on the land 🙂
In Ireland, a few years ago, a local council was building a roadway but in order to do so would have had to cut down a Hawthorn tree. Now, people in Ireland do not cut down Hawthorn trees and a local folklorist and wonderful storyteller, Eddie Lenihan, started a campaign. Low and behold, the council had to build a roundabout around the Hawthorn tree. Look up http://www.eddielenihan.net
Patricia, what a wonderful story. The Isles sound like such a magical place–I will be visiting them this summer for OBOD’s Centennial celebration (for the first time ever!) Hawthorn trees, or any trees, don’t have such respect here. I blogged about the oil pipeline coming through, and how they knocked over a hawthorn there (among many others): http://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/strawbale-studio-and-tar-sands-oil-pipelines-the-clash-of-worldviews-part-i/
Just beautiful. I’m beginning to find more and more like minds to preserve nature. I had once imagined it as I was from another planet, until I had found druidry and the life that exists outside of the material confines of industrial illusion that breaks the bonds of fourth dimensional thinking. I found druidry through shining the light on the dark majic that was once everywhere. It’s hard in America for our kind, especially when we have the teachers of bloodlines lost through the witch hunts from long ago . I wish universal love and peace, may your endeavors of discovery lead to the Immortal truths that are slowly being revealed in these coming days.
Thanks for your comment, Bobby. There are more and more folks realizing today that its time to preserve and protect. Glad you found the blog and druidry–its a wonderful path, like coming home :).
[…] here of what I mean–in the forest below my parents’ house, almost 90% of it has been repeatedly logged–except for about a 5 acre section which, for whatever reason, has been largely spared. This […]
Hi! 🙂 I stumbled across your blog while searching for the symbolic meaning of the acorn. I read your “about the Druid” section, and your story really resonated with me. I wholeheartedly agree with the philosophy behind druidry, and I’m interested in learning more. I’m from America, but I have Irish ancestry, and I spent a month camping in the beautiful nature all over Ireland. Your story really resonated with me. Ireland used to be heavily forested, and now only 10% of the island is covered in forest. Please consider following this Instagram account – I feel you may be interested: @shalom9peace
Have a good day! Today, your blog helped me on my journey!
P.S. “Fern Gully” is one of my favorite childhood movies. 🙂
Welcome to the blog! I am from America, also with Irish ancestry. I will look at your instagram account for sure. Thank you so much for your kind words–I hope to hear from you again! 🙂
Very interesting! I love that you are so open about ur connectivity with nature I feel the same exact way and always wondered if I only had those feelings of closeness with spirit and with nature I’m very interested in learning more about Druids and would love to know if u have a Facebook to talk about your knowledge on self sustainable lifestyle and more!
Hi Marianna, you can get in touch with me either via the Ancient Order of Druids in America (aoda.org) or via my Druid’s Garden Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/druidgarden/). Thanks for your comment 🙂
Thanks for sharing your journey so beautifully. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m a kindred spirit who too belongs to the forest and walks the Druid path.
Kevin, thank you for reading. I’m glad to meet someone else who belongs to the forest 🙂
Hi thanks for your interesting story and blog and wonderful information regarding the woods etc. I have a question . If I were to make wands out of hickory or willow or even black locust how will the trees feel about it? Will it hurt to prune a few branches or shall I look for pieces already on the ground?
Patty, you need to ask the specific trees. I can’t speak for them. But what I can say is this: look for deadfall, branches that have come down, etc. Storms bring things down often. Also, if you go to rivers or lakes in the spring and figure out (for lakes) which way the wind is blowing, you can often get amazing driftwood. Where the floodwaters go high, you can find lots of great driftwood in rivers or creeks. I would strongly suggest this rather than taking a live piece (unless you feel the tree has allowed it). Humans take a lot from nature and there are ways of doing it more harmoniously.
Well said! I thank you for the good advise!
So happy I found your blog. What a beautiful place this is to explore, just like the regenerating woods of your childhood!
Glad to have you here, Jules! 🙂
This is such a moving and inspiring story. So glad you shared it.
Thank you, Heather! And thank you for reading :).
Hello Dana, your story was very touching. I am reading your blog for a couple weeks now and I enjoy it very much. I seldom find peope who are so open with their spirituality and connect it to their professionel life/career (I can only assume that at least some of your profession is about permaculture). Many do not publish under their real name. I struggle a bit with this myself and I hope my question is not too personal. Have you ever experienced prejudice at work or elsewhere for beeing this open? Druidry became fundamental in my life and I follow this path for a very long time now. Still, it took me until last year to join the OBOD and tentativly reach out to others. Greetings from Germany, Claudia
Yes, I think a lot of people who aren’t Christians do experience religious intolerance and bigotry. I certainly have in my life. It is probably different in the US vs. Germany. I wrote about this in two posts–here they are:
I hope this helps! 🙂
Thank you for the links – I haven’t seen these posts before. The description of a moon and sun path is so beautiful. I guess I will walk with the moon a little longer but might one day step into the bright sunlight.
You have all the time in the world and choose how to step into the sun :).
This was a very moving story, thank you for posting it! I found your site while looking for information on some of my local plants, and I’m glad I explored it further.
Thank you, Ambrose! Thank you for staying a while! Hope to see you here again :).
[…] on cultivating the bardic arts. For a story of how I came to druidry, please see my post “The Mystery of the Stumps and the Spiral Path: How I came to Druidry.” For more about my role(s) in AODA, see […]
Reading your story and the above comments made me recall the short stories of Algernon Blackwood, especially, “The man whom the trees loved”.
Walks through the forested landscape rejuvenate me. Your stories and blog content support that. Thank you.
I love this. I haven’t read that, but will certainly check it out. Thanks for reading and sharing :).