THE BIRCH GROVE

Step back.

There’s our pretty, blue and white marbleworld, spinning and wobbling in the dark vastness.

Zoom.

We’re hovering just above it. More colors play across the surface.

Zoom.

Zero in on a small piece of land in the place called northeastern America, and

now zoom backwards in time, and here is a place called home.

A girl plays next to a big birch tree shaped like a willow.  The tree is Betula pendula, the European silver birch, or weeping birch.

It is known to the girl and her brothers as forbidden-to-climb.

She leans in to the pale bark with its crisp black markings, and reads them like a book page, a calligraphy of fissures and dashes.

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She drinks in the bark and the thick old trunk that stretches up into an endless web of slender branches hung with papery, heart-shaped leaves that flit in response to every breeze.

The home place, and it’s sounds, smells and sights permeate the girl’s consciousness. As she grows up the big birch tree fades in memory, but when she sees birch trees her heart understands them. There is a congruence.

She thinks about a birch grove in a park near the new place where she lives now. The feeling of these trees is an old one. It calls her.

She drives to the park.

If again, you hover just above the land and look down, you see her scattered meanderings through the birch grove.

She has a black box in her hands.

Click. Step.

Click. Step.

 

 

This birch is native to Europe, where it has a long history, culturally and economically. It’s been used for everything from lumber to bread (Wiki says Scandinavians made emergency bread from the bark).  It is Finland’s national tree; whisks made of birch twigs are used there to awaken the skin during saunas.

Bundles of birch branches were used to push out the old year in Celtic lands, where mythology associates birch with renewal.  The yule log is birch, and bundles of twigs were used for beating the bounds – ceremoniously walking the parish boundaries – in old England.

It is said that many sacred texts were written on birch bark in India – perhaps a different species, but still birch.  In Russia there is a tradition of carving extraordinarily tiny, detailed scenes and designs in birch bark, which is fashioned into small boxes.

The girl’s ancestors lived in places where birch grew, places where it was perhaps revered. Europeans brought the trees, purposely or inadvertently, to the place called America when they immigrated. Gradually, birch trees took hold in new northern lands. When the girl’s parents bought a house for their family, a large and beautiful weeping birch dominated the front yard.

That was long ago. Now she lives in another place far away, and here too, Betula pendula finds a comfortable home. 

The girl with the black box watches as shreds of birch bark sway and dance in the cool September breeze.

 

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She looks up into the places where branch meets sky.

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The haze of green hearts, wiggling in the wind.

Leaves turn yellow and drift down onto the moss. They will decompose over the wet winter months, nourishing the soil. Their substance will change and evolve, providing energy to push life back out of the soil next spring.

Whether the girl returns to the birch grove or not, she will see white birch bark and weeping, sinewy branches in her dreams.

***


18 comments

    • Oh yes, that’s me. Thanks to my brother, keeper of the family photos, for putting them on disks. All the others were taken last weekend but I processed the first two birch photos in sepia for to work better with the text. Thanks for your words – it’s satisfying work putting these posts together, but it becomes something more when people like you respond.

      • Well, I do mean what I say about your posts, it is a definite pleasure to see them, I’m so glad that I decided to follow you – and that’s not a common thing with me. A

  1. The concept behind this post provides a very effective thread and there is a delightful ‘feeling’ relationship between the text and the photographs.

  2. What a sweet testimony to a tree and the place it holds in memory. I lived in Europe as a child and remember the birch-lined roads…and then found their cousins, the Aspen, in Utah…now, again, the substance of memories. Beautiful post, Lynn….

  3. I was born in Latvia… just a bit south of Finland. There we shared many of the customs you spoke of. My mother mentioned missing the birch trees when we came to the States. This post of yours really touched me. I’m glad I tucked it away during my travels and didn’t lose it altogether. Beautiful.


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