A Beloved Tree, Maple, well-known for its generous and delightful fall colors among all variations of this Tree. Who among us does not know the species Sugar Maple, whose lifeblood sap transforms through fire into maple syrup. And do you remember tossing the little whirlybird or helicopter (I only learned the word "samara" a few years ago) in the air during the fall?
As I sat with and also researched Maple, the phrase Generous Friend to Other Beings came to my heart. Generous with Beauty, with Shade, with its Lifeblood Xylem. To me, this sums up some of Maple's brightest gifts. What do you sense in relationship with Maple?
Maple first appeared during the Cretaceous period, between 120 million to 100 million years ago. Early Maples had three-lobed leaves instead of the familiar five-lobed leaves found today. They evolved into a diverse group of species, some of which have both male and female parts on a single plant and some with two separate sexes. The earliest fossilized remains have been found in Alaska.
During the Ice Age 2.5 million years ago, Maple were pushed further south ahead of the advancing glaciers. In Europe, where mountain ranges run east to west, the southward progress of Maple was frequently blocked, leading to localized extinction. The North-South mountain ranges of North America and the open steppes of Asia, on the other hand, allowed Maple to retreat southward from the ice.
Today over 128 species of Maple grace the landscapes in the temperate zone of the planet, from Asia, Northern Africa, Europe and North America. Most are native to Asia. The distinctive palmate leaf and winged fruit (the samara) make Maple easily recognizable. Most Maples grow 30 - 150 feet tall and can live up to 400 years.
Maple Family has both pioneer species that grow well in recently disturbed land as well as climax species that live in mature forests. Many unusual and beautiful Japanese Maples grace our cultivated landscapes; Maple is also popular as bonsai. Maple's wood carries sound well and is thus a favored tonewood. Living, growing and breathing Maples give us not only the gifts of color and syrup and play and resonance, but also the ever-present and necessary gift of breath.
A generous and welcoming shade tree for all of us, the animal and insect friends and the planet.
Medicinally there does not appear to be much in the way of a western herbal tradition of use of Maple. Indigenous people of North America had many uses for Maple, however, including using the bark for poultices for wounds, making a tea for kidney infections, coughs, colds and bronchitis, and using a decoction of the inner bark as a wash for sore eyes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, an infusion of the bark, twigs and leaves is used externally to treat inflamed eyes and also used internally as a popular treatment to improve liver function and liver disease.
The xylem sap contains sucrose and also glucose, inorganic salts, protein precursors (peptides and amino acids), some enzymes, and a few mystery organic compounds.
The seeds, sap and inner bark are edible.
Some of Maple's gifts take work and yield Abundance.
I found references to both Algonquin and Iroquois people developing the art and craft of boiling maple sap to syrup, bringing abundance and success with a measure of practicality. The syrup could be used not only as food but also for trading, like money. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to boil down to just 1 gallon of syrup -- a concentrated sweet, a huge source of richness is multiple ways.
Here is the story of Maple told by Bob Red Hawk and translated in Lenape (the Algonquin-based language of the Delaware tribe) by Margret Lenfest:
In balance with the landscape, indigenous native folks do ceremony to ensure good sap harvests each year. These ceremonies are typically done right as the sap began to flow from the trees. These ceremonies may have involved gathering around, speaking, and offering tobacco, creating a sense of exchange and gratitude for shared life.
Generosity and Longevity in Reciprocal Exchange
Maple needs to grow for about 40 years before they yield sap. After this, sap can be given by healthy trees for many years; there are some sugar bushes with trees well over 100 years old! Patience and Abundance! Maple syrup can be made from any species of Maple Tree, although not all are as delicious as Sugar Maple, which is simply the sweetest one. Sap flows when daytime temperatures rise above freezing and nighttime temperatures go below freezing.
Maple is a Gentle Tree.
Maple exudes a peaceful, gentle energy in my experience and is a lovely tree for meditating near. Perhaps this is because Maple is so generous with us humans, providing us with food and a means of exchange among ourselves without needing to offer her life or have it taken. The Japanese Maple symbolizes grace, great blessing, serenity and peaceful retreat. Talking sticks made out of Maple are said to represent gentleness. Maple wands are known to assist with spiritual healing.
Maple symbolizes Balance, Intelligence and Practicality.
One reason behind these meanings may be that Maples have the ability to adapt to many different soil types and climates --- practicality, intelligence and adaptability. Many Maple species are pioneer trees, hardy enough to repopulate in disturbed or damaged ecosystems: this ability reminds us that to shift our reality we must take necessary action, in accordance with our true inner nature.
What might Maple be inviting us to tap into?
In the winter, Maple draws its sap up and within through its deep roots in order to survive and replenish. In spring, the sap flows down to replenish the roots. We humans may literally tap in at this point. Though we may truly tap in at any point. Always asking permission, and always giving thanks, and always listening deeply before asking for anything --- perhaps asking isn't even necessary if we learn to listen deeply enough.
Maple is said to reveal the options – even those that are hidden in plain sight – which lay before us. Maple enables us to make sound choices rather than rely on blind luck. It is also said to be a wonderful wood for divination.
What are your challenges right now? Restless or interrupted sleep? Inability to dream or remember dreams? Being resistant to allowing dreams to guide you? Excessive daydreaming or fogginess? Meditating with Maple, in person or in the spirit realms, may guide you.
Maple in Transformation.
A few weeks ago, a Maple friend whose rooted place is not entrusted to my care was scheduled to be cut down, due to some damage and the unusual way the tree had grown over a human dwelling-place. I did some resisting, some pleading, some arguing...."wouldn't a good pruning take care of this lovely Tree?".....then with deep sadness, I turned to allowing what had already been arranged to come to be. My son and I sat with Maple, listened....meditated, listened....touched, listened....sang, spoke....listened.
When a beloved one is dying, there isn't much we can do
but accompany, be with, abide, hold space, witness.
Whether or not you have a spiritual calling to do this work,
each of us can show up as we feel called when we see what is happening,
see it for what it is, and energetically provide support
for the passing that is happening before our eyes.
I was still filled with resistance, sharp and heavy inside, sadness like a backpack full of rocks. My back and chest ached. I felt I wanted to leave before the cutters arrived, and made plans to depart.
By the way, whatever happened to arborists?
Tight and grieving, my prayers offered, I felt my habitual response to pain kick in ---- Get away. Don't watch. Numb by disconnecting.
I drink the rain,
I eat the sun,
I give the breath that fills your lungs
I hear the roaring engines come....
I cannot run.
(Heartwood, from the album Lost Words: Spell Songs)
Oh. Tree can't run away.
So somehow, I remembered to breathe. Just one inhale and one exhale. Then one more. And I relaxed, muscle by muscle, tendon by tendon, joint by joint, nerve by nerve, blood vessel by blood vessel. Mercy and Grace flowed into this moment so I was able to stand by and witness the passing of the life of this Maple. And not run away.
What if they find a bird's nest?
I stayed close to devote the day to Maple, co-creating a mandala of transformation. What else really needed to be done?
I softened. My chest tightness began to relax just a little, although the heavy ropes were in place and the cutters were standing by, making plans to do their jobs. Chainsaws. Strong arms. A chipper. Some machine to drag limbs.
What about the little tree frogs?
I started picking up small limbs, and gathering and sorting leaves. I asked the Cutters to hew me some logs. I kept breathing and singing to Maple. "I'm not leaving."
The mandala began to take shape as Maple came to pieces under the cutters. I was still aching, still breathing. The cutters passed by, asking me what I was doing, that they had never seen anything like this before, never seen anyone do something like this before. I told them I was thanking Maple for breath, for shade, for its presence with us. "That's good."
A dear friend of Trees spoke with me and held space with Maple, from thousands of miles away.
Another friend texted to say she could use Maple logs for innoculating mushrooms, that Maple logs are a preferred species for mushroom propagation. I asked the cutters if they would but some 3' - 5' logs. "Whatever you want, we will cut it for you. This long? How many?" So some logs would go back to a forest farm.
The mandala created itself as the leaves, twigs, small branches spiraled into place. Another friend told me she wondered what swirling maple mandala dreams the cutters would be having tonight.
All day singing and witnessing. Remembering how to do this, again. So many things to reclaim. So much to relearn. We all have this capacity to witness and to ease pain and to stay present to what is. Even if we cannot change an outcome to what we want it to be --- in this case, to this particular and beautiful living being Maple not being cut down.
Since this day, I visit the stump with little offerings. I am making wands out of some selected branches. (Want one? Ask me.) I grieve the continuing loss of neighborhood Trees, a loss which almost seems to be accelerating for some reason, no matter where I go. I keep witnessing these losses, always ready to sing to Tree. You can do this too; just remember you already know how, and your love and care make a difference.
Our world is living, breathing, intelligent and alive. Trees and Plants and Animals and Insects are feeling, breathing, alive beings deserving of respect. (Even the ticks and mosquitos. I am still working on that part.)
If you have read this far, I thank you for journeying with me, and with Maple. I would love to hear about your friendship with Maple. Please share if you wish!