The Druid tree calendar, of which I’ve written over the past year, is a wonderful symbolic language of myth, magic and poetry. The trees are portals into an alternative universe of imagination and initiation, As they are specific to the Celtic lands, Ireland, Britain and Brittany, the trees of the calendar are prominent in the myths and folklore of these regions. But I wondered, why not choose our own trees?
Unlike many trees that were brought here by the early settlers, the magnolia is an indigenous species, and is one of the most primitive plants in evolutionary history. According to fossil records magnolias existed in North America over 100 million years ago!
The seduction of the magnolia begins with the lilting syllables of its name, and unfolds with its hypnotic perfume. With its dinner plate size creamy white blossoms, and shiny dark green leaves, its beauty is unparalleled. The Southern magnolia is an iconic tree: it speaks of warm summer evenings and woods echoing with mockingbird and redbird song; old, mossy cemeteries and crumbling mansions. It stirs memories, too, of a not-quite vanished culture in the South, brooding, dark and bloody. Yet it stands for the power of beauty to prevail over war, ugliness and death.
I grew up in Florida on the edge of a wild swamp, part of our “yard” really, where there grew an ancient, gigantic, magnificent magnolia. Everything seems bigger in childhood, but even the grown-ups judged it to be one hundred years old at least. It must have been a sapling when the Indians still lived on the land and buried their dead in the mounds in the adjacent woods. Its parent tree might have stood when the Spaniards sailed up the river and began their conquest. It seemed to reach up to the very heavens. Free roaming children (an endangered species today) will naturally gravitate to special, sacred trees. For my brother and me it was the World Tree, axis of our universe, the tree of life in our timeless childhood Eden. It offered us shelter from Sun and rain, and endless hiding places. Huts and forts were constructed beneath it; the tree and its surroundings were fertile ground for childhood imagination.
After my family had scattered and moved from that home, I would visit the magnolia from time to time. On my last visit in 2011, it was gone. Not even a stump remained. Vanished like a dream. Perhaps it simply grew too old and died. Or more likely, drought had drained the swamp and the tree lost its water supply. No matter ─ it lives on for me in memory and myth, and sometimes in dreams.
Here in Colorado I have grown an Asian magnolia with smaller, but beautiful pale yellow blossoms and the same divine scent. It blooms early and often succumbs to a freeze, but as it keeps its fuzzy, candle shaped buds all winter, it is lovely in every season.