Quercus (oak)

Week 35 of the PBP.

The oak as door. That is probably the most powerful association this tree holds for me. The lightning’s path between cloud and soil.

There is so much lore from so many cultures about the oak. It’s clear that this tree has fired the imaginations of humankind for centuries. And nothing in a blog post could possibly capture a fraction of its majesty.

Ocymum basilium (basil)

Week 31 of the PBP.

Basil: the king’s herb. I believe this to be the tastiest weed on this good green earth. So many different flavors, so many colors, I could go on and on. With just a little pinch back at the beginning of the season, you’ll soon have a wealth of materials for pesto, thai cooking, even sorbet!

I associate basil with Earth and Jupiter, not least because it has the reputation of being quite handy in money spells. I also find it to be a mood brightener. It’s almost impossible to feel sorry for oneself when munching on a tomato salad garnished with basil greens.

Basil is everything that is good in life, summer’s bounty and the promise endless fragrant breezes ahead.

Maple

Week 26 of the PBP.

If you ask me, this is probably one of the fundamental trees in the New England landscape. And yet, the maple is often lacking in traditions which descend from the British Isles simply because they don’t have these flaming beauties.

I grew up on a street lined with maple trees—it was even named for them, in fact. The autumn was  a riot of color and kids would wade through waist-deep leaf piles, jumping and swimming their way down the road.

Then there is the wonder that is maple syrup, or boiled tree blood as one friend calls it. A foodstuff that many consider a luxury, but once you’ve had the real thing, high-fructose corn syrup really just doesn’t cut it any more.

The maple, along with the oak and white pine, comprise the majority of the trees on my land. It’s such a vital part of the landscape, it’s honestly the impetus for my desire to create an ogham for my bioregion. Any system which would leave this tree out feels like it has a gaping hole to me. The Druids of old used their alphabet to record knowledge and wood lore, how can I not attempt to follow in their footsteps?

Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)

Week 21 of the PBP.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, this series is more than a little bit of an exercise in nostalgia. Here we have Kalmia latifolia, or Mountain Laurel, a plant which promises that summer is close. It is native to the eastern United States, and there are areas of New Jersey which have wide swaths of mountain laurel forest, which is absolutely magical to walk through as they bloom. Like many beautiful things, it is poisonous—although it is related to the blueberry, in fact.

One of these tall beauties grew next to my front door. I loved the clusters of pink and white flowers that started out so intense and then faded as the weather grew warmer. I’d put clusters of them into my barrettes as I went about slaying the dragons that lurked in the deeper flower beds.

With regards to magical associations, Air and Jupiter seem the most apt, mountain laurel being both expansive and abundant. It also might make a good wand wood, as one of its names is “spoonwood” as the native peoples used it to carve their spoons; it never gets large enough to be good for bigger projects, though it can sometimes be seen used as hand rails.

Ilex (Holly)

For week 18 of the PBP.

Well over a ton and a half of lore exists around Ilex, or holly. In many ways, I feel like it’s more appropriate to writing about this prickly plant now, when its berries are gloriously red, than back in April when I had scheduled to do this prompt.

Hollies were always a big part of my life growing up. We had several in the back yard, one “pretty” one with glossy leaves, and one dull one with matte leaves. They were what led me to be reluctant to walk barefoot, as their sharp leaves were particularly vicious in the summers once they had been dried out.

Holly brought out the martyr in my mother each holiday season. She would insist on making the traditional holly wreath for the door herself—and she always refused to wear gloves. Her hands would be scraped and bleeding by the end of the process, but it was somehow all worth it for the neighbors’ comments on how lovely it was to see a real holly wreath. (Happily now she just puts some boughs in a basket on the front door, which gives her all of the color and little of the injury.)

Dad would use holly to help start the fireplace in the winter. According to one of the old English wood lore poems, “holly burns like wax.” The mantle was another place where we always put holly during the winter; Dad always claimed in the old days it kept evil spirits from coming down the chimney.

I personally associate holly with Mars and Fire, a fiercely protective plant. A holly wand is on my list to make, for both nostalgic and aesthetic reasons. It’s one wood that I particularly look forward to carving and polishing. With any luck I’ll be able to get some from my childhood bushes!