Cradle Me—A Tribute to Trees is a memoir. It is also a reverent reflection and an expression of gratitude for the protective and spiritual nature of trees. The author visits childhood and adult experiences, including death, divorce, and disease, exploring how life offers us opportunities to grow through those moments. Connected through her affinity with trees, Cattrell’s words will take you literally into the woods and back to your own remembrances of play, fear, insecurity, accomplishments, loss, and love.
Tree-wisdom messages of comfort and calling to Spirit have guided this author’s life. Cattrell shares her memories of the trees that have witnessed and directed her growth along the way. Cradle Me invites you to deepen your own experiences of worship in nature and in community with other believers.
Cattrell’s writing is insightful and witty, encouraging and spiritual, an uplifting faith journey for all who recognize the sacred in nature.
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Cradle MeA Tribute to Trees
By Diane S. Cattrell
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Diane S. Cattrell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTrees praise God. I feel this in the sacred silence within the woods and in the hallelujah heard in the movement of leaves. With trees, as with people, expressions and interpretations are enriched by diversity. I've glimpsed Montana trees in evening vespers, Vermont fall forests in a glorious Hosanna, and wind-spun trees in Maryland in celebration of God's power in nature. There is a prayerful hush to be heard in the woods by anyone who is willing to listen. When trees are both large and ancient, their expression of praise can be profound.
I joined an arboreal congregation one Sunday when I paused among the giant western red cedars of the Ross Creek Cedar Grove in Montana. Grove is the proper description for this almost park-like acreage; with a boardwalk and well-groomed trails, this nature doesn't belong to the western wilderness. And yet these giant cedars, both living and in decay, gave witness to the magnificence of nature's ability to convey the sanctity of unspoiled creation.
I wasn't consciously praying, or perhaps I was. Mother Teresa said, "Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at his disposition, and listening to his voice in the depths of our hearts." In the company of the giant cedars, I was peaceful and open to the experience of the trees. I felt whole, holy, resting in God.
The cedars invited a solitary experience. I walked the well-worn trails with two friends, Odessa and Jane, spending over three hours on paths we could have traveled in twenty minutes. Together, we were alone. In our silence I heard the whispered worship of the cedars.
What caused this private contemplation? Why did a simple outing with friends turn into a moment for meditation? The American poet, Wallace Stevens, wrote in his journal in 1902: "An old argument with me is that the true religion force in the world is not the church, but the world itself.... In the shadows of the church I could hear the prayers of men and women; in the shadows of the trees nothing human mingled with Divinity.... as I went tramping through the fields and woods I beheld every leaf and blade of grass revealing or rather betokening the Invisible."
In the presence of the cedars, I felt that Invisible. Introspection and an intuitive adoration, with only minimal and subdued conversation, was the natural response. Reverence surrounded us and we entered into it with the trees. Their height drew my sight and heart towards heaven; the sparkling diamonds of light through their canopy placed me in a cathedral just as surely as light through stain glass. Connected through the constant praise of those giant cedars, I became part of their worship; I too became a living prayer.
Looking back on my life, I now know that in the company of trees, the feeling of that Invisible has always been with me.
Chapter TwoSome people are able to grow where they are planted. There is tree wisdom in that, which I admire. I, on the other hand, have moved a lot. It started when my father couldn't adjust to the loneliness of our house after the death of our mother. As a realtor, he used buying and selling at a good price as his excuse for our unsettled lives. By the time I was eighteen trying to move away from problems was a family tradition as well as an established trait of my own.
At times, family and friends have tried to persuade me to stay. It isn't that I don't know how much I love them and need them; I have left with my heart breaking and yet I leave. My motivations for moving have varied: marriage, divorce, illness, work, school, boredom. I am knowingly fooling myself but I prefer to attribute my many moves to my need for adventure. I've got gypsy blood; my father's mother was from Czechoslovakia and on the move a lot in her younger days. I've imagined her as a young girl, running away from the gypsy camp, stowing away on a steamer ship, moving from city to city in her early life in America. Romanticizing my moving keeps me wandering, wondering, and decidedly less likely to establish deep roots. Yet, everywhere I have lived, I've planted trees.
Some were just soon forgotten shoots; others became memories. In North Carolina, at age twenty, I gathered lob-lolly pine cones for the forest service. I was paid by the bagful, just biding my time while waiting for a real job. I didn't know it then, but I was waiting for love, expecting to find it in marriage. At that age, married meant security and prosperity to me. It would be embarrassing to admit my immature foolishness if it wasn't such a common misconception. Yes, there was a man, my reason for being in North Carolina, and I planted some of those lob-lolly pine-cone seeds in his suburban backyard. We didn't stay around long enough to know if they even sprouted.
We explored the West our first summer as a married couple. Each town and stop along the way was a possibility, a freedom and excitement in the consideration of where we would live: Boulder, Fort Collins, Jackson Hole, Red Lodge, Big Timber, Livingston, Bozeman, even Yellowstone National Park. We stayed in Yellowstone long enough to work the tourist season. His choice; I was happily along for the ride. I was in love with the man, the mountains, the West, and by the time fall came, the aspen trees. We settled into our first Montana cabin-home in time for me to plant dormant quakies. I enjoyed the tranquil beauty of their fall gold for five years, but we were foolish people; we asked for more.
Division seemed to enter our marriage as soon as we talked of moving from that simple but cozy mountain cabin. He wanted to build on five acres; I wanted to buy the old yellow farm house and barn that our friends were selling. He wanted me to work in his boot repair and retail business; I wanted to work from home by boarding horses. He insisted we attend a Baptist church; I dutifully sat next to him in church each Sunday feeling, more often than not, out of place and empty.
Our next house was new, nice, but not home. We planted many trees and shrubs on that bare five acres; our marriage didn't stand the transplanting as well as our landscaping did. How can it be that two people working together could grow so far apart? At home we were always together working on finishing the house, the fence, the barn. We were together at his store, working side-by-side. He was devastated when I left. It wasn't his fault how could he know my wants and my unhappiness when for thirteen years, I didn't tell him. If blame is to be placed on anyone or anything, I blame my youth. Ten years younger than my husband, with our marriage under the shadow of his mother's control, I never saw myself as an equal in our relationship.
We had the correct couple appearance and yet, I remember my grandmother, my mother's mother, asking me during one of her visits, "Why doesn't your husband ever kiss you?"
She left me with that question and a small, potted blue spruce tree as a house warming present. We planted that sapling in the front yard and our four-year old daughter, Natalie, considered it her special tree.
Properly tended trees grow slowly but strong in the West; unattended marriages die as quickly here as anywhere else. Almost thirty years later, I often drive past that blue spruce on my way to a friend's place: a friend who lives in that same yellow farm house I wanted so long ago. That tree is now a tall, splendid spruce. It speaks to me in remembrance of both who I was then and in appreciative awareness of who I am now. That tree holds no regrets.
Chapter ThreeOne of my earliest childhood memories isn't of an experience; it's of a presence. Home, in the company of my backyard maple tree, I was a contented child.
Have you noticed how babies and young children are intuitively drawn to spaces of comfort? Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. Maybe we should apply this to living our lives as well as our faith. One of God's gifts to me is my childlike sense of wonder. I still marvel at the sparkle of the first snow and still fall in love each time I look into a little fur face with the scent of puppy breath. It's not just OK to be childlike, at times it is essential, an intentional act of self -healing. I'm fairly certain that is why I still climb trees.
As a small child, did you carry a favorite stuffed toy or a tattered blankie for whenever you needed an instant cuddle? Did you hide from others under a tent created by old sheets draped over a picnic table? Do you remember what invisibility feels like? If you were lucky enough to know the fun of playing outside on winter nights, you probably experienced a sense of protection, from the cold winds, the dark, and your friends, as you pelted each other with snowballs, ducking behind the walls of your snow fort. I was a lucky little girl because I had the happiness of being safe in outside play, sometimes by myself but never alone, when I was with my tree in our yard.
Our south-side Milwaukee neighborhood wasn't affluent: homes were close together; garages weren't attached, they were behind the houses - entered through the alleys; mom and pop businesses dotted the communities; and every section of streets had schools, churches, and parks. The tree-lined streets are what I most remember of my childhood Milwaukee. Those trees framed our summer adventures and exposed our fears in menacing shadows during winter walks home from school.
As children we had freedom to roam and play all over those blue-collar neighborhoods. Within four blocks of our house lived seven girls my age, friends and cousins, to play Barbies, roller skate, ride bikes (we pretended they were horses), or to roam the school playgrounds and parks. Most summer days began with a one block walk to my best friend's backdoor, where I would call out "Oh Nancy, Oh Nancy." We invented this "Call Out" communication system because I wasn't supposed to bother Mrs. Marus and Nancy wasn't supposed to bother Mrs. Scholz. If OK'd to leave by her mother, she would bolt down the steps and we were gone for the day. We felt independent; I suspect our mothers knew where we were at least most of the time, with many calls throughout the day of "The girls are here" or "I'll make them lunch."
My friends and I often played at my house. In the summer we had a wading pool and in the winter a backyard ice skating rink. Mostly we made our own fun in make believe I had a whole stable of horses, right there in the middle of the city but only Nancy and I could see them. Towards the back part of the yard, mom and dad let my older brother, John, build a shack from scrap lumber. He also dug a hole in the lawn large enough for a cement pool, which became home for the turtles that he and his friends caught in the Saveland Park pond. That clubhouse part of our yard belonged to John and his friends. I guess I got the part of the backyard closest to our house, and My Tree, by default.
I was a climber, inspired by John, but lacking size and bravery to reach his heights. My maple was a climbing tree. Its bark was smooth, an important attribute when skinny legs in shorts are scrambling to hang on to that first branch. The tree's shape invited the climb. The lowest branch was just enough of a challenge for me to reach, but once up and over, I had a comfortable crook to rest in on a hot, muggy, Milwaukee afternoon. Or the perfect perch to plan my next move. That tree had sturdy, close together branches that created a safe climb for a small adventurer.
My mother didn't always agree with my climbing trees. I can still hear her calling, "Diane. Come down from there. You are going to fall and break your arm." Makes me smile.
My tree safely and lovingly held me; I didn't break my arm. I did, of course, come down when called. It's easy to accept climbing down when you are six because you think the tree will always be there. And intuitively you know you will feel happy with each climbing up, over and over, again.
Chapter FourThe most important lessons in my life have been learned through periods of solitude and silence, when I was listening, but with more than my ears and not necessarily to people. Vera Nazarian said, "Listen to the trees as they sway in the wind. Their leaves are telling secrets."
By age ten, I was no longer a climber of trees, nor a contented child. My mother was ill with cancer and John and I were needed to look after our younger brother, Jay, while our mom went for treatments. I think it felt good to be able to help. And this wasn't a sad childhood; it was normal to me because it was my childhood.
Still, I was so envious of John. My brother spent time alone with our grandparents, hunting and fishing in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. John was a Boy Scout, not just a Boy Scout, an Order of the Arrow Scout, and my parents were proud of him. He got to go to camp in Eagle River, Wisconsin while I got to help at home. It made him special, more special than me, or so I thought. It also created in me a longing to experience the Wisconsin woods.
I've never been good at suffering in silence. My parents decided to send me with Nancy to Girl Scout Camp. It was awful. Really. Then it was wonderful. Really.
I was excited to go but scared beyond my comprehension to leave my mother; helping to care for her was my job. What if I could never form words for the what-ifs of that fear. My mother was special - the mom all my friends loved. My friends often suggested we play at my house, maybe because my mom was always smiling and didn't seem to mind if we ran in and out a lot. I knew they thought I was lucky because my mom was so terrific. She started writing me daily letters even before I left home.
My Dear Diane,
You are sitting in the living room right now while I'm writing this note but soon you will be off for two weeks of adventure and fun. I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful time.
Don't forget to brush your teeth!
I suppose it will be hard for me to write "newsy" letters from the hospital but maybe something interesting will happen for me to write about.
Hope you get a lot of swimming practice so that you get to be a very good swimmer.
Have a good time honey - and mind your counselors.
Love & Kisses Your Mom XXXXXXXXXXXXX + 99 more
She sewed my name in my clothes, packed me up, and sent me off with Nancy, the confident and outgoing girl I wished I could be.
The first thing the counselors told us as they walked us to our platform tent/cabin was that we had to choose our own nicknames. These camp names were the only names anyone would know - our real names had to be kept a secret. It was the 60's, the British Invasion, and Nancy chose Herman. Who else could I be but Hermit? If that was revealing, I didn't know it. So far camp was fun but later, while walking alone to the mess hall, I overheard two counselors talking about me and about my mother having breast cancer. They were saying they felt sorry for me. I was crushed. How did they know? Who told them? They had drawn my attention to myself and made me different from the other girls.
After that encounter, I was not a happy camper. I was both flippant and withdrawn. During meals I was either making fun of the counselors or eating in silence. I didn't want to join in during arts and crafts or sing-a-longs. At night, lying on my cot, my mother's voice sang her special song for me: "I'm in heaven when I see you smile, smile for me, my Diane." Camp taught me what homesick meant. And Nancy was in the most advanced swimmers group, me in the next to bottom. And another girl collapsed the tents by releasing the cords while I was blamed for it. And I decided no one liked me. And I got a letter telling me that my grandmother, the free-spirited gypsy girl of my imagination who had grown into a critical, unsmiling, child-chastising woman, whom I was very afraid of, had died.
My darling Diane,
I'm sorry to have bad news to write to you, but I must tell you that Grandma Anne died this morning. Of course you know that she has been very ill for a long time and this really was expected to happen.
Daddy and I have talked it over and we have decided that it would be best not to spoil your vacation by bringing you home for the funeral. Especially because I am in the hospital, we just think it best. So do say prayers for Grandma and for me too honey. I will be able to get a "pass" to go out of the hospital for the funeral, which will be on Friday ...
That's all for now.
Will write again tomorrow. Love and Kisses, Mom XXXX
Perhaps I thought that I was supposed to feel sad? I didn't but I knew I wanted to go home. I even wrote the "Camp Granada" letter to my parents: "Take me home, oh mudder, fadder...." No phone call of comfort and no rescue-ride home.
Then one day after lunch in the mess hall, we were told to go off by ourselves to write about our camp experiences. Reluctantly, I walked the trail along the lakeshore to find a secluded spot in the woods. I sat, my back against a pine tree, and watched the light filter down through the trees, reflecting on the glass-smooth water. Settling into being alone there, I noticed the pine needles and cones on the ground around me. I listened to the sounds of the birds and the lapping of the waves against the shoreline.
I watched the squirrels chasing each other, scurrying up tree trunks and across fallen branches. I'd been sullenly thinking during my walk that I had nothing to write, but under the tree, I felt OK; in fact, I liked being there.
I wrote my Recipe for Camp.
Take a lake, a woods, and fill with songs and laugher. Take two friends and mix well in a tent with four other girls. Let set for two weeks.
I'm making this up I really can't remember what I wrote but I know it was all positive, all good moments of my Girl Scout Camp experience, in measured parts as if I were baking it.
The peel of the large, brass bell called all campers back to the lodge. Smiling, I handed in my assignment to one of my counselors as we were told to do and joined the other girls at the craft table. That night at dinner the Camp Director took me aside to ask if I would let her print my writing in the camp newsletter.
She hugged me; that was nice, but in the Wisconsin woods at Camp Alice Chester, I learned that trees hug me. Warm with a sense of both accomplishment and belonging, I knew trees weren't just trees - they could be my friends too.
Excerpted from Cradle Me by Diane S. Cattrell Copyright © 2012 by Diane S. Cattrell. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
One Living Prayers....................3
Three An Early Aquaintance....................15
Four Words in the Woods....................21
Five Heart Wood....................29
Six Seeds Planted....................35
Seven The Matriarch....................41
Eight Red-bronze Leaves....................49
Nine Iconic Trees....................55
Ten The Perfect Christmas Tree....................61
Eleven Forestial Heaven....................67
Twelve Cradled in Golden Willows....................73
Afterword The Next Chapter....................79
About the Author....................85