Out walking the Dungeness River levee not long ago, our sights set to spend time at Raven’s Bend so named for our rowdy corvid cousins who hang out there most seasons taking advantage of the river’s salmon runs, roosting, and nesting trees, Michael and I both sensed a shift of energy. Looking forward, the usual landmark of dead and bare, sharply-shaped top branches was missing which meant only one thing: Grandmother Cedar had fallen.
Down at Raven’s Bend on the Dungeness River
Grandmother Cedar lies resting,
her top branches, long dead and devoid of green,
now splintered from the fall,
where once the eagles and ravens
sought to roost and rest fledgling wings,
where salmon and avian flesh was ripped apart and
where maturing birds held territorial jousts.
Offerings sometimes hung from the
dark green lower branches––
prayer beads, feathers,
talismans of human design,
weathered neckerchiefs resembling prayer flags;
her bark impregnated with blessings and questions
spoken aloud or silently of love,
wedded commitment, condolence, youthful jibberishness,
unfulfilled wishes seeking answers––
words ushered from the lips of us drawn
to her over the centuries
to touch the rough bark, rest our backs,
soak up the surroundings and share her wisdom.
Her trunk leaned more with each passing season
until the shallow root structure
and rotting heartwood gave way,
aided by wet soils and strong winds,
to the mysterious force of gravity
which pulled her down to rest
in the wetlands adjacent to the river
among the prickery salmon and blackberry canes,
wild roses, and stinging nettle clumps;
it seemed as if the towering ancient knew
to grow where one should not tarry long
in the entanglements we navigated to get close
but rather to withdraw and
put her sharing insights into practice.
Grandmother Cedar’s trunk already anchors
leathery lichens and bright green mosses,
and now as a nurse log
she’ll host more mosses, lichens,
ferns, herbs and tree seedlings as they
take root and blanket her rotting body
open to mice, insects, reptiles,
amphibians, birds, mycelia, bacterial life
and all who seek shelter within and to grow upon.
Perhaps one day in the decades to come,
the wild river will wear away the gravels
now separating her from the river’s bed,
come caressing the ancient’s body, and
carry her down stream to help form log jams
where fish and playful humans might swim
in the protection of her bulk.
Rest well Grandmother Cedar Tree.
I remember when I first approached Her. As new arrivals in the area, Michael and I had begun to scout out the Dungeness River and its rabbit warren system of trails made by fishermen, dog walkers, berry pickers, swimmers, birders, wild crafters and those out enjoying the wetland riparian zones. We noted the large cottonwoods, bigleaf maples, cedars, willows and alders along the river, the patches of nettles, salmon berries, wild roses and seemingly endless blackberry canes. When our friend, Ellen, asked me if I’d met Grandmother Cedar yet, I acknowledged we had not and thus found another reason to do some serious scouting.
I took off by myself one afternoon and meandered down one trail and on to the next, letting each trail give me hints as to where and how to get to the next, something I enjoy doing when I know the area is one I’ll not get lost in and thus feel safe. After a lengthy search, I’d just about made ready to get back to the main trail atop the levee when I felt I was in Her presence. Sure enough, once spotted, I wondered why I hadn’t seen her before. Then a time when I’d just gotten out of a ten-day Vipassana retreat and had gone into a small community to do some touristy stuff with other participants came to mind. I was so overwhelmed by all the stuff, odors and noise, I had to turn my back on the activities and just stare into a corner of a store to catch my breath. I did essentially the same with Grandmother. I turned my back on her and shut my eyes, shed a few tears of joy and recognition waiting until I could catch my breath and make an approach.
Filling up my view, She stood massive and majestic. Her top branches were dead and bare as if having been struck by lightning many years before. Her trunk bore jagged scars from top to bottom. Surrounded by tall equisetum, grasses and prickly vines, I found it difficult to approach her directly and wound my way through the thicket near her trunk, finding just one spot to plant my feet and put my hands on her. When I did, Grandmother Cedar’s message rang clear: “Thank you for searching and please return often.”
Michael and I have, indeed, returned often during the six years of living in the area. In every season, her distinctive top was a beacon in locating and entering Raven’s Bend wondering what the raven’s were doing because it was here in the immediate surroundings that ravens and eagles nested, reared families, taught the fledglings to fly, molted, and practiced their maturing and territorial voices. We even recorded their calls from time to time along with the sounds and songs of the river.
Lying now on her side, it will be interesting to note the passing seasons and watch life begin anew around and atop her body. Will the green living part of her find enough sustenance in the root structure still attached to the soil to stay alive for a few more seasons? What will be the timing of plants and lichens and other life be on a cedar tree known for its herbicidal and insecticidal properties? How will her collapse affect the avian roosting and territorial management of the riparian zone?
Regardless, Grandmother Cedar is now transitioning into a new phase. Michael and I offered prayers, shed a few tears and left cloth and feathers in gratitude for her gifts. May She continue to be abundantly blessed by those that come to visit and by those who dwell within and live upon.
Dear readers, until we journey together again, peace be with you.
Here is Michael’s recording of raven calling to one another along the river: