Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hunting for Hazel – Walthamstow

Friday august 22, 2008:

This small deciduous tree was considered by Celts to be the tree of knowledge and its nuts the repository of great wisdom. Many legends associate it with the salmon, for the Celts, the most sacred of fish.

Hazel grows mainly in hedgerows and is most commonly coppiced for its flexible and sturdy wood. The nuts can be eaten straight from the tree and are beloved by small animals and humans alike.

Hazel like the salmon is associated with speed. Its shoots and twigs are used for dousing. Esteemed as a plant of great virtue, hazel is said to be able to cure fevers, diarrhoea and excessive menstrual flow, although there are not many specific healing uses of hazel.

Perhaps the most healing aspect of the hazel is its atmosphere, which uplifts and helps the seeker to cast off the old and embrace the new. Ruled by mercury, hazel is associated with air, and the deities associated with it are Hermes, Mercury, Thor, Mac Coll and Aengus.

Hazel is used for divining, luck, fertility, projection and wishes. It provides the frames for many objects from baskets to coracles via benders and hoops.

I’d had a hard time finding any hazels to sit under this month. The land on which I camped with the queer pagans had only one small shrivelled example, and although there was a wood nearby with coppiced hazel, I never got there. I contented myself with eating hazel nuts, savouring their creamy sweetness and hoping to encounter a hazel before the month was out. And then I remembered Hazel Tina!

My dead chosen sister had loved trees. She had given a hazel tree to another member of my chosen family on the occasion of her move to a new house. Ten years on, Hazel Tina, as the tree was named was a multi trunked riot of velvety leaves and bendy branches, surrounded by Hazel Tinies which had grown around her. As the sun sank down behind the houses, I climbed into Hazel Tina and settled down to dream.

The wind blew sharply across the suburban gardens, shaking the trees and rocking me as I lay entangled with Hazel Tina. I lent my head against her rough bark and wrapped my limbs amongst her trunks and breathed.

The sweet fresh tang of crushed leaves mixed with the darker richer roundness of the fertile earth. The garden smelled sweet and autumnal.

I popped a hazel nut into my mouth. I sucked its sweet creaminess, a rich comforting taste which reminded me of my childhood. The garden squirrels had eaten Hazel Tina’s own fruit so the ones I now savoured were courtesy of the supermarket. Still they tasted good. It was enough.

From beneath my feet, a snake began to curl up around the tree and a second, coiled and rotated on the other side. The roots of the tree seemed to be coming up out of the ground and curling up about the tree in the shape of pale snakes. I felt a soft heaviness about my ankles and found a snake preparing to slither up my leg. I held my breath, fear and anxiety dancing with curiosity and disbelief. The snake changed direction and flowed over my feet to the trunk of the tree.

The wind seized the tree and I trembled with it, weaving my limbs further in amongst the trunks, reaching out curious fingers and stroking the velvety almost heart shaped leaves on the ends of their graceful stalks. Then behind the roar of the nearby North Circular, the wind brought another sound to me. A light voice, a tuneful voice, a voice I recognised sang. The tune curled in and out of the trees, wordless but joyful. Like a mist, it came to dance around me and I felt my own voice stirring in my throat. Softly, almost under my breath, I joined my voice to hers and we chased each other on the wind amongst the shaking trees.

And as I sang I thought about the seven years that had gone by since her death and my journey to this place. What would the next years hold for me in this time of upheaval?

I lay against the trunks, rocking with the wind and singing quietly. The tree swung and swayed and the leaves rustled softly. Across the garden, a pigeon cooed contentedly. I sighed and rubbed my face against the velvety leaves.

If only I could stay here for ever. Remembering where I was, reluctantly I climbed out and stood in front of Hazel Tina. Reaching out to trace her shape, I marvelled at the abundance of leaves and branches. Amongst her, ivy and privet laced their long stems; she was part of an untidy hedge providing shelter for all manner of garden creatures including humans who loved trees.

I found the hazel nuts and scattered them at her feet, popping the occasional one into my mouth and chewed on their dense richness. I hoped that the mice and birds would enjoy the bounty of the supermarket nuts, as they had feasted upon her own fruit.

And now it was time to search out my own dinner. I bowed my thanks to her and moved back through the leafy evening garden.


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