Story of the Ancient Maple: From Loved Seedling to Forest Guardian

The Ancient Maple - An Elder of the Land

On this Samhuinn eve, I would like to share a story.  This was a story that was given to me.  Behind our sacred grove, about 50′ feet into the forest to the north west, is an ancient maple. She grows out of the earth with three massive trunks; she is truly the oldest maple I have ever seen. Also, I am certain she was cut and regrew at some point, because typically maples grow straight, not out at three angles.

The Ancient Maple
The Ancient Maple

As I approached her deep in the forest, I asked her this question, “What is it that we should do to show our respect to the land? What must we do to heal the land?”

Here is her response:

“Let me tell you my story. Long ago, before those who live here now, I was but a seedling in a forest of ancients. Those who lived here, the Kickapoo, Wyandotte, Chippewa, Patomani, passed through. They spoke to us, and our spirits were strong. We were a part of their lives, as much so as their own bodies. When I was still a seedling, the settlers came. Some seasons after, the first ones were forced away, to travel far, leaving only settlers behind. These peoples spoke not to us, saw not our spirits. They sought only to have dominion over us. Of our ancient ones, all were taken. The largest and tallest of the oaks and hickories at first, then so many more fell to their terrible saws. Our lineage broken, our spirits broken, our lands cried as they continued to use us up, to see as are mere objects for short-lived profit. Through all this, I was mostly spared. I, and others like me, lived on, living long after our brothers and sisters’ roots were pulled up to reveal rich earth. Soon the land was farmed. First by horse and plow. Then by oxen. The farmers found me a good place to pile their stones, perhaps to sit in my shade and have lunch. But these people, never did they speak to me like the first ones did.

After a time, the farmers were all called off to war. The fields grew green and wild once again. So many seeds, scattered by friend wind, took to the air and landed where grain once stood. I, too, scattered life into those barren fields and a new forest was slowly grown. I shared with these young ones the stories of the natives, the stories of when I was a seedling and sapling. But these young trees grew up in a different time, a changed land. When all that was once here was forgotten. When our voices were no longer heard, our wisdom no longer sought.

Since that time when we reseeded the forest, houses and people and dogs came. Most do not enter the forest, or when they do, they drive in it with their terrible machines. Then one day, a miracle happened. You came to this land, and you understood. You listened to our voices, our songs. You played music for us, built a circle to revere us, and worked to heal our old wounds. And worked to awaken our young. The question that you asked me/us/this forest/this web of life was simple. But the answer is anything but.

In order to hear us, you must listen. In order to help us, you must allow us all to grow. You must maintain the cycle which sustains us. You must speak to our young ones, many whom have never had such a relationship. More than anything, we seek companionship–we seek the friendship which has been so long denied to us. Come to us, and we will listen. Let us grow into a new forest together, for the good of all lives on this earth.”

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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