When I moved from Sweden to USA, Virginia, trees, of all things, became my safety net and extended family. I moved for love, and though I was joyous to be with my love after two years of short term arrangements that included travels and tons of emails, as well as content to live in a beautiful spot out by the end of the road in a valley just at the foot of the Appalachian mountains, I was however, somewhat isolated. My isolation was partially due to choice. I was finishing off my second book, and had gotten started on my third. It was a luxury to give myself time to delve totally into my writing. The isolation was also a result of practical implications. According to Immigration regulations I was not allowed to work for the first half a year. Neither did I know anybody in the area and even though met with grace and hospitality, there was not many people in the rural surroundings, apart from my husband, that I could relate to. Him supporting us both and being gone most of the day, I was left alone large parts of the day in a small cabin. A stranded witch at the end of the road in a strange land. Magic and nature, as so often, came to the rescue.
Trees have always been special to me, as to so many people. I have done the same amount of admiring them, enjoying their presence and "sitting under the tree and breathing in energy", as the next person. But in Virginia this connection took a deeper and more tangible form. With ticks and jiggers, snakes and spiders, and poison oak all around, I was hesitant to do my usual barefoot strolling and lean my body against the trunks. There was tall young trees surrounding the valley, and older giants stretching towards wilderness, and to relate to them I had to open up my deeper senses. It didn't take long until my relationship with them grew.
Arriving in autumn I went out on the porch stairs every morning with my coffee mug, and said my hellos to the day, the directions and the elements. Soon enough, I started to hear the trees greeting me back. With time I started to see faces in their branches. Not with my inner eye as might have been expected, but with my physical eyes: clear as day they showed themselves as persons created by branches and leaves, sometimes funny looking, sometimes stoic and sometimes serene. I also started to hear what they said. Not only the singing of the wind, but messages. Calming and comforting, urging me to write and telling me things that was about to happen. Things, as it turned out, that always came true. They also spoke of the landscape around me, thereby helping me to relate to everything new. They told me about their own nature, their souls, and how they lived their lives. The trees made me feel welcome to this new home of mine. They simply made it easier for me to adapt.
Perhaps my relationship with trees grew because I had to get to know these sentient beings all over again, through slightly different species, familiar and new at the same time. I have traveled a lot in my life, so it wasn't so much that I was unexposed to many kinds of Eco-systems. But traveling is another thing than moving somewhere. When you move to another place in the world what is alike becomes as enhanced as the differences. It is like interacting with a new culture. We're all humans here, but this is slightly unfamiliar. You're all trees, but this is a bit exotic to me.
I have always loved oaks. In Sweden we have the sturdy kind, with fat trunks: generous giants with housing for thousand of beings, old masters with secret interiors for owls to live, created to sit under and see summer days pass by. In Virginia there are an abundance of oak species, the spiky leaf ones being fascinating to me, and some oaks have leaves bigger than my head. My white birches was
nowhere to be seen. Everybody who has walked in a white birch groove during the moonlight know how they reflect the light in a manner that cleans your soul. So I missed them. But there was other tree magic to delve into. When I realized that the grand tulip trees growing close to the cabin where me and my husband lived - making the cabin appear almost to be a tree house hanging in invisible threads between them - was going to blossom with light green waxy flowers, infused by orange flames, I was beyond excitement.
As the months went by the faces of the trees changed. I have watched them over autumn – then they are rich and humorous, leaf covered smiles tilted my way. I have watched them over winter – with the leaves falling most trees go to sleep, catching me only in my own dreamworld. Instead the evergreens take over, it is their season. I have watched the trees in the valley through spring – sap rising and new life sprouting making them giddy, their faces often showing off as young and childish. When the tulip trees blossomed I literary saw the spirits of the trees dance. I gathered tulip tree branches and placed them in pots all over the porch to have the energy of the house guardians even closer. And during summer – that's when the trees sing.
The trees where I live in Virginia, has now become familiar. And even though I work and have made my way more into the human USA society, they still watch over me. Every morning I go out on the porch and greet them. They greet me back. Some of their botanical names I still don't know. Sometimes I miss my native fat trunked oaks, and slender white birches. But I am thankful to the trees around me. Just when I needed it the most they reached out and let me see their souls, they allowed me to hear them talk, they comforted me and told me things would work out. Things did work out just fine. The trees seem to always be right, rooted in reality, and hearing messages in the wind, unfettered by human limitations. Neither do we have to be. If you don't know where to start, if you feel lost in a strange land - begin a conversation with a tree. They will make you feel safe. They always know just what to say.
This article was first published in the January issue of ECHO 2016, and subsequently in issue 90 of SageWoman
Photographs by Sofia Karin Axelsson