Gladys, the Cottonwood

As I am using this Year of the Wood Dragon to encourage and offer opportunities to turn towards the wisdom of the trees, this feels like a good time to introduce you to a dear and long-time friend of mine.  She has asked me to call her Gladys and she is an Eastern Cottonwood tree who lives in a park not far from the house I have been privileged to call home for the past 23 years.  Gladys has gotten me through some rough times and has held, guided and cheered me on through many a fear, loss and new beginning.  She has always been a calm and safe harbor within which to seek refuge with her deep presence, grandmotherly advice and sometimes cheeky sense of humor.  Without fail, a small breeze seems to stir whenever I am close by animating her leaves and projecting a sense of delight that I have come for a hug and a visit. 

Unfortunately, I have not been by for very many visits in the last couple of years.  Two years and a month ago, Gladys and I both survived being in the direct path of an EF-2 tornado that, with little-to-no warning, touched down in Round Rock, TX.  The metabolization of the devastation and change left in its wake has been an individual and collective journey for me and so many in my neighborhood since then as homes are still being re-built and there remains a mangled garage door or two.  I only now feel like I am finding some semblance of peace with what are now big open and gaping spaces where beloved trees and plants once stood. 

The park in which Gladys resides is in a connected but different neighborhood than mine and one which got hit even worse than mine did.  Overwhelmed with what I was seeing and living right outside my front door, it was several days before I felt like I had enough inner resource available to venture over to see if Gladys was still standing as I had heard that things were worse in her neck of the woods.  Finding my way there along the creek path, I struggled some to breathe and swallow as I took in the upheaval all around me with each footfall.  Eventually, I rounded the bend and saw her, still upright, as sobs of relief finally broke through the vice locked around my throat and chest and released a layer of so much energy and emotion that had been locked down since the event. As I got closer, the relief shifted into deep grief as I saw her many now jagged and truncated edges where sweeping outstretched limbs had been just the week before. I hugged her fiercely as my tears continued to fall.  I apologized for what had happened to her.  I breathed into her and she into me. I longed for her to be as she once was, for all to be as it had been.  She heard my longing, felt my grief and offered quiet yet steady acknowledgement of what was now.

Several weeks later, I would reach out to a trusted mentor of mine who reflected back to me that tornados are big medicine. It was a reminder and validation I desperately needed as this is how it felt to me.  It felt like when a snake eats something significantly larger than itself and is then stuck relatively stationary for a while as it moves through the metabolization of such a big meal.  The tornado was my big meal.  It was not one I ordered or consented to as seldom does the soul realm work that way.  The lessons, the growth, the work…they come in a time all their own whether we feel ready for them or not, whether we want them or not.    

Twenty-five months later, I am still metabolizing and integrating this big medicine and all of its gifts. These gifts have not been the gifts of rainbows, unicorns and fluffy bunnies.  They have been deep, burly gifts of unearthing and bringing into the light and visibility that which had been buried, hidden and turned away from in myself and in my ancestral lines.  Twenty-five months later, I have changed my legal name and the name of my business.  I have physically restructured my house, my body and my business as well.  Twenty-five months later, I am beginning to find a new sense of ground, anchor and purpose on a physical and soul structure that will hopefully be able to hold me through whatever may come my way in the near to possibly distant future. 

And twenty-five months later, I am finally able to turn back towards Gladys whose evidence of violent loss had been too much for me to bear because of all that it reflected back and churned up from my own life. In that way that healing spirals back around over and over but from a slightly shifted vantage point, the tornado sent me back through many a traumatic event from my life for yet another layer of witnessing and healing during this period of metabolization. Laying on a blanket underneath Gladys’s branches a couple of weekends ago, I realized that my lungs and heart are open again and now with even more capacity to take in the fierce love and fullness of life that are her still-jagged broken limbs AND her life-brimming, newly evolving canopy…as well as my own.