Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A New Tree

For some time, I have been drawn to the cypress tree.

My grandfather painted the cypress trees that line the northern California coastline. I have also heard that they can grow to at least twice their size under ground, with an expansive root system. This gives them the ability to endure arid and precarious conditions, as well as the intense winds associated with the sea.

As I am in search for a new tree, a new association set apart from the Arrow Poison Tree, a picture came to mind amidst a deeply stirring conversation last night with a dear friend, and saintly guru. It was of a tree rooted at the edge of a cliff alone and along a sea shore. It did not occur to me that this could be a cypress tree, until I came across this picture.

So, I'm in pursuit of more information, both mystical and physical, regarding the cypress tree, in hopes of some new imagery for my life. Here's what I've learned thus far:

* In Greek Mythology the cypress is associated with the god of the underworld, Hades.
* The cypress is an evergreen, cone-bearing tree whose branches are often meant to represent grief or mourning.
*
The wood of the Cypress is hard, remarkably fine and close in grain, very durable, of a beautiful reddish-brown color, and resinously fragrant.
*
There can be little doubt that the Cypress was originally a native of Asia Minor, and probably also of the island of Cyprus, from which it almost certainly derives its name.
* The tree at Soma:
Perhaps the oldest living tree of any kind, is the historical and gigantic tree at Soma, in Lombardy. It is popularly supposed to have been planted in the year of the birth of Christ, and is looked upon with great reverence in consequence. It is more than 120 feet in height, and its stem is twenty-three feet round. In addition to the interest arising from this great age and size, the tree has the distinction of having been wounded by Francis I., who is said to have struck his sword into it in despair after his defeat at Pavia; and of having been so respected by Napoleon that in planning his road over the Simplon he deflected it from the straight line to avoid injuring the tree.
* The legend of the origin of cypress from Metamorphosis, by Ovid:
"Praying in expiation of his crime
Thenceforth to mourn to all succeeding time.
And now, of blood exhausted, he appears
Drain'd by a torrent of continual tears.
The fleshy colour in his body fades,
A greenish tincture all his limbs invades.
From his fair head, where curling ringlets hung,
A tapering bush, with spiry branches, sprung,
Which, stiffening by degrees, its stem extends,
Till to the starry skies the spire ascends.
Apollo saw, and sadly sighing, cried,
'Be, then, for ever what thy prayer implied:
Bemoan'd by me, in others grief excite,
And still preside at every funeral rite.'"

If you are able to find any more information about the cypress that might offer insight, please do so. Or, if you see any meaningful connections between myself and this mysteriously old tree, please do not hesitate to speak.

3 comments:

UmberDove said...

Ok Girl, you know I have a piece to say (well, technically Fred Hageneder, author of "The Meaning of Trees" - great book! - has all this to say):

1) The essential oil of cypress is especially supportive of the venous system - Navajo women take an infusion after childbirth to regain their strength.

2) The Lawson false cypress (botanically not a true cypress but a member of the cypress family) has been used for centuries to "call in the spirits" to a sacred ceremonial area after sage has been used to cleanse and purify.

3) The Lakota Sioux and Brule tribes associate the cypress with the gift of music (from a legend of the wind blowing through the holes made by a woodpecker in the branches of the cypress - the first flute given to man).

4) In ancient middle Eastern beliefs the cypress was regarded as the "tree of light." It was used in funeral / graveyard customs because of its association with divine light and heaven, not because it is an "underworld" tree.

5) The sacred cypress groves in Greece were places of political and judicial asylum - so much that a cypress twig would secure free and safe passage across the borders.

6) According to Taoist tradition, the earth spirit of the East dwells in the cypress, and a portion of its immense life force can be absorbed if the resin is chewed.

7) In Japan, Shinto tradition holds the legend of the sacred "sugi tree" (cypress) that whispers in the wind and asks the birds of the air to deliver its messages. It is the king of the forest, and when harmed all the other trees will assemble at night to heal its wounds.

8) Lastly, the Japanese tradition of "shinrinyoku" (forest bathing) involves "bathing" in the fresh and healing air of a forest of cypress trees.

That's all I have for now, but I think it's plenty to chew on! Take that and banish all the negative cypress talk, because after reading all this, I think it is more than coincidence that you feel a kinship with the cypress.

- your tree-ly educated umber

mme. bookling said...

Oh this is amazing, and a lot to chew on.

Everything seems relevant to me, you picked the cyprus and i think you and it are eternally bound.

As I get my distance from all the words, I wonder what will be left that I will know is you.

Initially? This pinprinked me most acutely, "The wood of the Cypress is hard, remarkably fine and close in grain, very durable, of a beautiful reddish-brown color, and resinously fragrant.
"

i couldn't have described you better.

i think the other thing lingering is kelly's comment about "Navajo women take an infusion after childbirth to regain their strength.
"


"all other trees will assemble at night to heal its wounds"

oh, so much.

Iscah Mara said...

my dove - i knew i could count on you to find my tree. i am of course drawn to the middle eastern perspective. a light in dark places. destined to live amid death, but not bound to it.

i'm not sure how i feel about a rooted system soaking nutrients from the grave. i think i'll stick with the refreshing odor of hope standing tall for those in mourning.

mme. - kiss your saint for me.