Erica Wheeler: inspiring connections between people and place

December 2009  It's About the Tree

December 2009 nbspIt039s About the Tree
"Pine trees are second only to Oak in providing food for wildlife. In the northeastern quarter of the continent, the White Pine is most important in terms of food production.  Numerous birds—including Chickadees, Grosbeaks, Crossbills, Nuthatches, and Siskins—feed on the nutritious seeds. Small mammals that eat the seeds are the Chipmunk, Red and Gray Squirrels and the White Footed Mouse. Large mammals such as the Rabbit, Porcupine, Beaver and Deer tend to eat only the bark." —from Nature in Winter, by John Stokes

Pine trees are amazing, and in December, that magical time of year, we pause and remember the wonder of the evergreen tree. Not just as a resource, as food or shelter, as part of the landscape, but as something to behold. Something with such an uplifting quality that since ancient times, it has been the centerpiece of winter gatherings and celebrations.

Religious symbol or not, placed inside or out, cut or living, for one short period of time, we're focused on the tree's beauty. On its smell. On the hope its greenery provides. We adorn it with glittery trinkets. We step back, sip hot drinks, and quietly take in the magic.

Listening to the Land
Winter Solstice always falls on or around December 21st. It's about the return of the light. The word solstice comes from the Latin sol (sun) and stare (to stand still). In ancient times, people must have wondered when the light would return, and they erected stone structures, from Stonehenge to Chaco Canyon, that lined up with the winter solstice sunrise. They held celebrations and rituals to call back the light from the darkness.

This remains a time for gathering with friends and family in festive celebration. But it's also a time when the cycle of nature is all about quiet, stillness, and going within. No wonder people often feel stressed out around the holidays. As the pace amps up this month, remember how the cycle of nature at this time is about quieting down. If you feel a yearning for quiet reflection, I hope you'll follow it.

Try this:
Slow down: Step away from the clamor of shopping and family drama. Can you find some time for stillness and quiet, knowing that just like nature, you need this?

Notice: Observe how nature decorates pine trees too—with icy drops that sparkle like crystals, with pinecones that get frosted with snow, with bird's nests and winter birds. This year, stop and take a moment to make it about the tree, that ancient symbol of life.

Give back: Put out food for the birds. Mixing peanut butter with birdseed and spreading it on a pinecone is a fun way to decorate an outdoor tree and feed birds at the same time.

Recycle: Some years, instead of having a tree, we just trim a pine tree in the yard and put its boughs in a vase and decorate that. If you do get a cut tree, treat it with respect. While your tree was growing it was creating oxygen and providing food and shelter for wildlife. Once you've loved it and it's time to let it go, don't put your tree in a landfill. See if your community has a collection program, find a way to use it as mulch or compost, or leave it outside as a shelter for wildlife.

Your story:  
Take some time to focus on the of rhythm nature during this season. Go someplace where you can see and hear the stillness of the season. In the quiet, reflect on the past year and see if you can uncover some highlights or the "seed of an idea" you'd like to nurture as the light returns.  

Can you make it more about the tree this year? (For example, we love to use cranberries and popcorn strings, lights, and just a few really meaningful ornaments.) When we decorate it less, its beauty shines through.

See if you can find some trees that seem to have "nature's decorations" this month.

Let me know what you find! Post a comment below.

updated: 7 years ago