A Tree for Year Challenge

Hawthorn tree in early summer
Into the trees

One of the most common questions that people ask when they start down a druid or other nature-based spiritual path is: how do I connect deeply with nature?  Connecting to nature can happen in a wide variety of ways.  It can happen through connecting with our heads, learning, studying, and engaging with books or classes.  It can happen through our hearts, where we emotionally connect with nature and places.  It can also happen through our bodies when we physically experience the natural world.  It can be through our spirits when we connect with the spirit of the tree.  But regardless of which of our selves and methods we use, it requires an investment of ourselves, our time, and building a relationship.

A while back, I wrote about the Druid’s Anchor Spot, which is a spot that you can use to regularly engage and observe nature–a spot that you return to, again, and again, and learn through observation, interaction, and quietude/meditation.  Drawing upon this concept, I’d like to issue a challenge to my readers for this year:  Spend a Year and a Day with a Tree.  The idea is simple: find a tree, commit to visiting it each day for a year (or taking a piece of it with you if you are going to travel), and learn from the experience.  Here’s how to go about this:

The Druid Tree Challenge:

Find your tree. Find a tree or plant that you connect with and that is willing to engage with you in this work. This should be a tree that you can have daily access, such as one living on your street or your land.  Choose any tree that you are drawn to.  This tree should be willing to work with you, and before you begin this, make sure this is so (for how to communicate with trees see my communication links below).

Establish your relationship. I would suggest starting with communication with your tree and ensuring that the tree is willing to do this deep work with you.  If you are still developing your plant spirit communication skills, here are some possible communication strategies:

As you do this work, ask the tree what you can do in exchange.  The tree may want regular offerings or you to plant some of its seeds/nuts.

Visit your tree every day this year.   Visit your tree, even for a few minutes, each day.  Visit your tree regardless of the weather (this is good as it gets you outside). At least once a week, spend at least a half-hour with your tree, including some time in meditation. If you travel, see if you can take a piece of the tree (a leaf, a nut, a stick, etc) so that you can still spend time with your tree, even at a distance.

A wonderful tree to get to know!
A wonderful tree to get to know!

Keep a journal of some kind. You don’t have to write in your journal every day, but do document your experiences with your tree regularly.

For some, what I’ve written above will be enough to take on the tree challenge.  For others, I have offered some additional suggestions by month so you can keep moving forward and learning and growing with your tree.

Tree activities by Month:

January: Offer your tree a blessing or wassail. This week — January 17th — is a traditional day for wassail ceremonies, and thus, anytime in late January is good for offering your tree a blessing. I have a post on two kinds of January tree blessings–I suggest you do one of these blessings for your tree before you move too much further into the year.  This is a very good way to start your year with the tree and ensures health and abundance for your tree.

February: Learn about the history and ecology of your tree. Start learning about your tree.  What kind of ecosystem does your tree grow in? What kind of life does it support?  How old might your tree be?  One of my favorite resources for this is John Eastman’s set of books–he shares not only information about trees and plants in terms of growth habits and botany but also, the web of life and key species that are connected to those trees and plants.  Observe.  Identify anything that you can around the tree, such as moss or lichens that may be growing.  If you live in North America, you can also look back through my list of trees that I’ve written about: Chestnut, Cherry, Juniper, Birch, Elder, Walnut, Eastern White Cedar, Hemlock, Sugar Maple, Hawthorn, Hickory, Beech, Ash, White Pine, Oak, Apple, and Black Locust.

March: Learn about the traditional uses of your tree.  How have people used this tree before? How do they still use it?  Books on edible wild plants are good places to start, as are books like Eric Sloane’s A Reverence of Wood which teaches much about the traditional uses of trees.

April: Practice deep listening.  Hear your tree’s story. Learn about its history on your landscape.  Simply listen to the tree for this month.  You can use my series on plant spirit communication for guidance: part I, part II.

May: Learn and practice the magic of your tree.  Each tree has its own magic.  Some of this you can uncover with books, stories, and legends (such as through my own “Sacred tree” series above) but I would suggest you look beyond the books.  Hopefully, by May you will be regularly communicating with your tree and your tree will be able to teach you some of its own magic.  Ask and see what happens.

A practice you can use if your tree doesn’t reveal one is tree energy work (adapted from John Michael Greer’s Celtic Golden Dawn work). If you are feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, put your back against the tree and exchange energy.  Your nervous system will connect with the tree and slow down, connecting to the tree’s rhythms.  Breathe deeply into the experience.  If you are feeling depleted, do the opposite, by hugging the tree.  Again, breathe deeply into the experience.  This is a useful practice to do often with your tree.

June: Engage in spirit journeying with your tree.  A step up from learning the magic of the tree is asking the tree to take you on a spirit journey.  See what happens and what you learn.

July: Focus on experiencing your tree with your senses. This month, use your senses to experience your tree. What does your tree smell like?  Feel like?  Look like? Sound like?  Engage in a sensory experience with your tree.

August:  Daydream. Plan unstructured time with your tree.  Simply sit with your tree and be this month.  Unstructured time can be one of the most creatively inspiring and engaging.

A wonderful tree to get to know!
A wonderful tree to get to know!

September: Create with your tree. See if your tree will offer you a bit of itself, or wait till a branch comes down in a storm.  Learn how to make something, even something small, from the tree.  You can learn an entirely different layer of your tree if you work with wood, nuts, leaves, etc.  Making something from your tree can encourage you to learn about it on another level.  If you can’t create something from your tree, or, in addition to this, ask your tree to teach you its song or offer you some other kind of inspiration. create a dance or painting, or any other bardic art that is inspired by your tree. Let the awen flow.

October: Align with the seasons. If you live in a temperate climate, this month will likely have many changes for your tree, physically and energetically.  Pay attention to those changes and work to align your energy with that of your tree as we move into the dark half of the year.  This is a powerful practice that will allow you to more effectively adapt to the changing season and the dark and cold times (if you live in the southern hemisphere, consider doing this in April instead!)

November: Gratitude. Spend time this month in gratitude for your tree.  Again, ask if you can do anything for your tree.  Bring offerings.  Gather up its seeds/nuts/fruits if at all possible and plant them. Hug your tree. Here are some gratitude practices you can try.

December: Reflection. Reflect on this experience with your tree.  Look back through your journal, if you kept one, and think about how your journey has changed and this experience has changed.  Decide what the future holds for your relationship.

Closing Thoughts

My own plan for the year is to work with a large oak on our property.  This is a black oak, the largest and oldest tree on the druid’s garden homestead property. In December, the tree reached out to me and we began these practices in early January, learning and growing from each other.  I’m excited to see what the year brings and how this work deepens my relationship with nature, this land, and of course, this wonderful oak.

As a more broad issue, as we move into further into the 21st century, and now into 2020, things are more than a bit uncertain and terrifying. The more obvious it becomes that humans have to radically change our behavior, the more those in power work to send us and this planet into a downward spiral of pain, death, and extremes. I think a lot of us need some grounding.  Tree magic roots us, grounds us, and gives us strength.  Choosing a particular tree to work with for this year will help you bring that tree’s wisdom, magic, and medicine into your life in a time when we all can use it!

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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  1. Dana, this is such a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing. I know the perfect tree. It is also the oldest in my garden, a live oak that stands tall in front of my home, providing shade in hot summers and protection from windy storms. It provides a welcoming embrace every time upon my return. It is time I show it just how much I appreciate what it does for me.

    1. Ooo, sounds like a wonderful tree. I live too far north for live oaks, but I certainly think they are delightful trees when I get to visit them in the south! 🙂

  2. So good 🙂 Oh Dana this is such a lovely post! Your blog is one I read start to finish.  Thanks for putting your words and work into the world.I just love it.

    ~ Emily Grace Willis

    1. Thank you so much, Emily! I hope you enjoy the Tree Challenge! 🙂

  3. This is a really good post! I love how you gave monthly goals to help structure/focus the work! Love love love this!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Michael! 🙂

  4. I’m in!

    And Dana, about a month ago I got your Tarot of Trees; it’s a great deck for me and speaks to me so clearly. Thanks heaps for creating it! The companion book is wonderful, as well. I sure do like your words. I also preordered the Plant Spirit Oracle – I’m super looking forward to that, and this tree challenge.

    I appreciate the work you do.

    Have you read The Forest Unseen by David G. Haskell?

    In solidarity Celene

    On Sun, 12 Jan 2020 at 08:35, The Druid’s Garden wrote:

    > Dana posted: ” One of the most common questions that people ask when they > start down a druid or other nature-based spiritual path is: how do I > connect deeply with nature? Connecting to nature can happen in such a wide > variety of ways. It can happen through connect” >

    1. Hi Celene!
      Thanks for reading and for your comment! 🙂 I have not yet read the Forest Unseen, but I will put it on my to read list! I love new book suggestions.

      I’m glad to hear you got a copy of the Tarot of Trees! You got one of the last of the 3rd edition. My sister and I (my sister helps me with marketing/shipping/etc) are working to put together the 4th edition print run once the Plant Spirit Oracle ships :).

  5. These are very good ideas for establishing a relationship with a tree. I already have a giant white pine in the back yard of which I am quite fond and have spent a lot of time sitting next to in warmer weather.. but to be really good friends I agree it should be every day, with more listening to and observing the tree.

    1. White pine is an amazing choice for this kind of work :).

  6. Great read! I’m thinking my seven sons flower tree will work with me 😁

  7. Wonderful idea! I’m in with the apple tree in my garden.

    I love the synchonicity! I’m so called to the trees I started after Samhain to write a series about connecting to trees and learning from them on my blog.

    1. Great! I’m glad for the synchronicty! I think there is so much to learn and so many techniques to uncover to work with our tree friends! 🙂

  8. Thank you for this! My friends often say things like, “I wish I could talk to trees” or “I want to hear trees like you do,” and I have been thinking of writing a post about it, but this is much more comprehensive and structured an approach than I could have suggested. Now I have a resource to send them to. Thank you so much!

    1. Sure! Glad to be of help :). Blessings!

  9. I wonder if trees can wave their leaves at you even when there is very little wind. I have a nature center (with hiking trails in the forest) just down the road from me where I spend quite a lot of time. There is an oak tree I have stopped by before, and yesterday as I was coming near it, its leaves (all brown now, but many still on the tree) began rustling and waving as if it was trying to get my attention. There was very little wind, so I stood there in amazement, pondering whether the tree was giving me a greeting, because that is how it felt. As I said, it was not windy…there may have been a very slight breeze, but is so, barely detectable. So I don’t know if anyone knows if a tree can rustle its leaves in an absence of wind, but that is how I decided to take it. I greeted the tree, told it I admired it for its abundance of acorns, and kissed one of its branches.

    1. Hi Heather! Absolutely :). I’ve had this happen to me multiple times–the tree is just saying hello :).

      1. That is so cool. My white pine waved its needles after I asked it if we could be good friends. (Same kind of day…very little wind). What a thrill to communicate with trees!

        1. PS I noticed in one of your posts you mentioned growing your own tobacco to be used for offerings to plants. I have done the same: In summer 2018 I grew 3 tobacco plants. I couldn’t believe how tall and big they grew, how pretty the flowers were on top, and how enormous the leaves. They loved it in my garden. I also dried the leaves myself and “crumbled” them into smaller pieces with my hands. They produced so many leaves that I am set with dried tobacco for quite some time. The neighbor watered my garden for a week while we were away in July that year. I can’t imagine what she thought, lol, especially since she knows we don’t smoke!

          1. I wonder if the neighbor even realized what it was? The plants vary quite a bit…and nobody that has ever come to my garden knew what it was without me telling them first! 🙂

        2. Indeed. You can take the communication as deeply as you want to go 🙂

  10. I’ve just yesterday planted three new trees in my yard. Two are live oaks (this is South Florida) and one is a gumbo limbo. I will use your challenge to get to know them better and help them get settled in their new home. Thank you!

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