The Sisters in the SummerPhoto by Ann Loyola

— by Ann Loyola —

The Seven Sisters have become a closely-held secret for at least two reasons. Mostly, I was loathe to share them; and secondly, I feared I would be rightfully labelled as a weirdo. Still, their presence is so obvious and commanding that surely I can’t be the only person wandering in the woods to come across them.

The Sisters stand in a snug circle: cottonwood giantesses seemingly sharing one underground bole. When I spotted their distinctive canopy, I had to wade off the trail and through the grasses for closer inspection. Of course I slipped between their trunks to stand in the center, approximately three feet in diameter. Of course I looked up to the sky, down to the earth, and between their spaces. I swear that for at least 30 seconds, the forest was absolutely silent. I had an egocentric thought that they had been waiting for me. As I settled down on the dark, mulch-deep dirt, I realized that I was being welcomed, as any animal or living thing would be welcomed to its primal nest.

Is it overdramatic to say that there was a natural force emanating from the center? Would you think I’m misusing the word “sacred” to define this space among the trees? I’ve introduced my daughter to the Sisters but no one else. When I visit while accompanied by my three ridiculously silly dogs, the dogs don’t disturb me. They peer at me from outside the circle with a look of understanding.

The view looking up through tall cottonwood trees

The Sisters in the winter | Ann Loyola

I’ve always felt that any time spent in the woods rejuvenates my senses. Mountain streams also carry some form of magic as the waters brush against mosses, rocks, roots, fish, a bear’s muzzle. The smell of the woods is medicine. After reading Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s book To Speak for the Trees*, I was stunned to learn that there’s scientific proof supporting the vast medicinal value of simply wandering about in forests. I learned that the scent of pine trees is the result of an atmospheric aerosol called pinene that’s proven to boost the immune system. Just 20 minutes of walking among pines imparts a biological effect that lasts within my body for about 30 days. The knowledge she shares in her book draws from Druid, Celtic, and scientific foundations. I found it all validating and enormously thought-provoking. Yes, I may be a weirdo—but at least my weirdness is informed.

Until recently, I would push through thriving underbrush, damp grass, and serviceberry trees to get to the Sisters, but now a gravel road is pushing through the woods. There’s a new, tight fence to climb over. The shrubs have been removed and some limbs have been trimmed off mature aspens that were growing nearby. I had to frown as I picked up a Reese’s peanut butter cup wrapper from the circle. The Sisters stood solemnly, teaching me a silent lesson about resilience.

To respect nature is to respect humanity. To know the value of trees is to understand that they have the ability to save our planet from our own ignorance.

I like to read and I like to walk in the woods. With Diana’s words now etched in my mind, my forest wanderings are differently illuminated; brightness, depth, and shadows stand in high relief while I listen to the quiet authority of the trees.

Ann’s history with Earthfire began 20 years ago when she signed on as a part-time fundraising consultant. She was on-hand for the birth and official IRS nonprofit designation of Earthfire Institute. After 18 years serving as Marketing and Development Director at a rural hospital, she’s come back to Earthfire as Assistant Director. Ann enjoys skiing, bicycling, fly fishing, and horseback riding.

* Beresford-Kroeger is a brilliant, globally-recognized botanist and medical biochemist. Her book reads like poetry on steroids, braiding Celtic wisdom, childhood memories, and science into a visually engrossing immersion into our natural world. I hope you’ll take an opportunity to check it out.

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