a thousand miles of desert without maps.
Following songlines they acquired through tuning in to the inner voices of the land, Aborigines crossed the Australian continent, walking from waterhole to waterhole, from ghost gum to ghost gum, from a place of the sand goanna a kind of lizard, to the place of the honey ant.
When they follow those trails, they’re aware that everywhere they stop is the place of a Dreaming with a great big capital D. A place of spirit, a place of engagement with the speaking land.
A songline, in the life of an individual, has an expanded meaning for me. It is a path in life on which our soul's trajectory meets the spirits of the land, perhaps in many landscapes.Maybe we can construct personal songlines, road maps for our life journeys in which our soul odysseys correlate with the land and the lands we have traveled or lived in.
How can this best be accomplished? The trees might hold the answer. As I look over my own life, I find that nearness to certain trees, more than anything else, provides the score for my songlines.
For much of my life I have felt like my fellow-Australian poet Christopher Brennan, like "the wanderer of all the ways of all the worlds". Yet wherever I have wandered, certain trees have given me grounding and connection with the animate world around me.
I want to name some of my own Trees of Belonging, and honor them.
I am six years old, walking home from school in Queensland, through a sun shower. The casuarinas, called she oaks, whisper to me. They tell me I will be very ill again, but I will recover. When the crisis comes, the eucalyptus helps me to breathe. When I am made to sit with my head over the steam of an inhalation bowl, a frisky little tree man no one else can see makes me laugh. Decades later, across an ocean, he calls on me when my nose gets stopped up or a cough goes down into my chest and my room is filled with the scent of eucalyptus though there are no gum trees anywhere near.
The beech wood that welcomed me to England and the hazel and rowan that called to me on an ancestral land in Scotland.
The old white oak that made me leaves cities to live close to the land on the edge of Mohawk country.
The maple that held memories of an ancient shaman. The poplar that opened a vision gate in the Smoky Mountains.
The Moreton Bay fig that welcomed me back to my native Australia when I had been too long away.
The yew in an English churchyard that gave me a bridge to dear friends on the Other Side. The lovely silver birch. A splendid ash standing tall by an ancient field of battle in the heart of Europe. The apple that can open the way to the Otherworld on any day.
The redwood. cored by fire, still standing tall and producing new leaves in a forest near the Pacific in Big Sur .California
The Great Stump in a red cedar forest in the Cascades, with new trees rising from it, promising birth from death and the power of regeneration.
The three-trunked red cedar that has been our Council Tree for many creative and shamanic gatherings at magical Mosswood Hollow,near Seattle.
In these shut-down times, on my regular walk around a lake in a park in a small Northeast American city, I salute the weeping willow who greets me with quiet grace and softly caress her streaming green hair.