Saturday, January 5, 2008

Nymphs, Dryads and Taking Down the Christmas Tree

My mind is full of whimsy today and touched with a little sadness. Today is the 12th day of Christmas and, as such, the day I deemed appropriate to take down our Christmas tree. It was a dear, lovely, somewhat misshapen Frazier fir and truth be told, I didn't want to take it down at all. I liked our tree. Most years I am more than ready to restore the living room to its pre-holiday state by this time, but this year I would have been happy to have incorporated our tree into the ongoing living room decor. I would like to have a tree growing in our living room.

My favorite pastimes as a child involved trees in some form or another. I played house under low hanging branches, stringing hammocks to cradle my sleeping baby dolls. Stumps became dining tables, rocks became chairs and pine needles, dried leaves and bark became ingredients for soup and tasty desserts. Good books were best read in the sturdy branches of our crabapple tree with its trunk serving as a backrest. On rainy days my second favorite place to read was sitting under our oak, book in one hand and umbrella in the other. (My dad, who seemed to care what the neighbors thought of us, discouraged such behavior, however.) Favorite stories from my childhood often involved trees in one form or another. Christopher Robin, Piglet and Owl were lucky enough to live in trees, as were the Swiss Family Robinson members and Sam Gribley in My Side of the Mountain. Though I thoroughly enjoyed sharing life with those characters while I was reading, I was always disappointed when it came time to put the book down and face the fact that, in my neighborhood at least, there were no trees left with hollow trunks large enough to serve as my home. I felt cheated and as though the life I had been meant to live had somehow escaped me.

I can still remember the first time I watched the movie Fantasia and saw on the screen the very life I felt like I had missed. I don't remember very clearly now but the scenes that leaped out at me were of Greek mythology and depicted the wonderful, beautiful nymphs and dryads of the trees and forests...twirling, dancing, and singing they made their way through the woodlands and meadows, tree spirits whose only responsibility in life was to be the trees' protectors and care takers. Ahhh.. what a noble and joyous calling. Such beings have turned up in other literature too, of course. In Narnia, at least during the good times, the forests danced with the movement of the dryads and in Middle Earth merry Goldberry was a similar caretaker, though her reign seemed to encompass all living flora and not just the woodlands. (I have not come to grips with the ponderous and solemn Ents, however, though perhaps they became that way because their Entwives had forsaken them.)

And now I am grown and still, perhaps foolishly, miss the world the way it never was, or perhaps, was for only a short time in the very beginning. I know very are few who share this kinship with the trees, though there are some. One friend I recently talked with mentioned that his family had just had part of a birch tree break through their living room window during a recent ice storm and at the end of the telling said, "I'd still rather live under the trees." His words reminded me of my imaginings as a child and I found myself agreeing.

All of which brings me back to the taking down of our Christmas tree and placing it outside for the birds to shelter in during the rest of the winter. Amidst the whimsy of the thinking about wood spirits and talking animals, I find myself wondering about how I am to live out this kinship with the created earth in my day to day life. I have to believe that this bent, be it a gift or a hindrance, is for a purpose... for more than just to serve myself and my wishes for how I'd like life to be. For the time being and in the absence of other direction, I delight in planting and nurturing my gardens and the young saplings growing on our property. And I delight in the same in the gardens of others I care for. Who knows? Perhaps it is possible that I am actually a nymph after all :).


Jim said...

I hadn't thought about climbing trees in decades... even when I read the tales of Narnia, of Middle Earth and so on.

I loved trees when i was young. We didn't have many living the developmental suburbs of Philadelphia when i was in grade school. But my grandparents - they had trees. I loved going to their place.

And then we moved to a house my parents built in the woods where my grandparents lived. LOTS of trees - ALWAYS! I loved climbing in a couple of particular trees and would spend much time just sitting in them, being gently rocked. I never had a book with me as that was too cumbersome to manage and climb.

And I, too, envied Piglet and Owl - in fact, anyone (real or imagined) who lived in trees. I even built my own tree house - albeit in a neighbor's tree. (The logic of a 12-yr old boy.)

Never put much into the dryads and nymphs... but I love the Ents.

Ann said...

Isn't it wonderful how even in our more serious ponderings and reflections our minds can take flights of fancy?

I wouldn't have known this about you, Jim. Thank you so much for the peek into a part of you I did not know and for finding there a kindred spirit :)