Hawthorns and Landsense

By Susan Beal

I walked up the hill without any particular destination in mind, heartbroken about a conflict over potential futures for our family land. It had opened old wounds, and made me doubt myself and my ability to deal with all the issues in question. My heart literally ached, not so much physically as emotionally, my chest tight with the pain of old sorrows. But the sun was bright and the air was warm which was wonderful all by itself, being the first hint of Spring after the long winter. The brooks were full as they sparkled and surged down from the woods through the pastures, and I could hear bluebirds, sparrows and titmice calling from the trees. As I walked up the farm road, the pastures and hayfields opened out to either side of me and I could feel my mood opening out too.

I have loved this place since I was a child, and more and more recently, I feel the land’s love for me. It’s palpable in the way love is, as a sense of warmth, a brightening of heart, a deepening of recognition and understanding. It is personal and surprisingly intimate, as if the land knows what is in my heart and my thoughts. Even my physical state seems to be part of the connection, because the herbs and wildflowers that grow voluntarily around the house and edges of the lawns usually have healing properties that exactly match my needs through the seasons and years. It’s astonishing, to be honest, and hints at a level of awareness and connection beyond what I can quite grasp.

I made my way to the top of the hill and picked through a mowed side field to a little hillock in a small copse. It’s an oddly discrete mound, topped with grass and surrounded by woody shrubs and small trees. I felt welcomed. I lay down on top and gazed up at the sky. A chickadee landed on one of the little trees surrounding the hillock and flitted from one branch to another, watching me with friendly curiosity. A chipmunk dashed past, scuttling in the dry leaves. I closed my eyes and let my awareness extend outward into a sense of sovereignty and belonging, an assurance that land and I were partners. I could trust and be strengthened by that. These latest emotional swirls and eddies were simply part of the larger current of beneficial change on the land.

I became aware of the small trees around the hillock, as if they were reaching out to me. Suddenly I was certain they were hawthorns. I sat up and studied them. They had no leaves yet— it being early March— but their shape and what remained of the dead leaves that had fallen around them were hawthorn-like. After some searching I found a few thorns on the inner branches, just enough to convince me these were, indeed, hawthorn trees.

Fairy mound 2(1)

Hawthorns are among the most magical and sacred of trees. Their leaves, flowers and berries are beneficial for the heart on all levels, easing and healing both physical disease and emotional and spiritual distress. The trees themselves are said to be portals to the Faerie realms. Tradition has it that if you cut or disturb a hawthorn without permission from the tree, great harm may befall you, but if you approach the tree with respect and gratitude, you can receive great healing.

I had been looking for hawthorns on our property for a few years, and had only found two struggling ones, mostly choked out by vines and larger trees in the hedgerow where they were growing. I marveled that of all the places I could have wandered with my grieving heart that afternoon, I ended up in a little grove of hawthorn trees that I had not recognized until just then.

Sometimes my communication with the land and its spirits feels like a conversation of sorts, an exchange of ideas or thoughts between us that I could put into words, though it isn’t usually necessary. Sometimes it’s a felt sense. But sometimes it just feels like listening to myself and following my own heart. The separation and distinction between myself and the land, between human and nature, falls away.

Years ago I read a fantasy novel in which the rulers of the land had what they called “landsense.” They grew into such close attunement to their land that they learned to feel it as an extension of themselves. They didn’t so much communicate with the land as know and sense what was happening throughout it. I think all of us have the capacity to be that attuned to the people and places around us, to hear and feel what happens to the whole as keenly as if it is happening to us individually.

On my way up the hill, I felt sad and uncertain, wondering if my alliance with the land and the spirits mattered in the “real” world. As I walked and tuned into the landscape and then lay amongst the hawthorns, I was reassured that a loving connection was vital not only to whatever happens here in the future, but to my own—and the land’s—day to day well-being.  Returning from my walk, my heart was light. I realized how much the Earth longs for each of us, in our own ways, to cultivate a sense of place, and to cherish the love and intimacy that grows from conscious partnership with the land around us.

Views from the Lorian Community publishes essays from a team of volunteer writers expressing individual experiences of a long term, committed practice of Incarnational Spirituality (and the general principles shaping such a practice.) If you wish to share how your life has benefited from your relationship with Lorian and IS, please email the editor at drenag@lorian.org. We prefer submissions between 700-900 words. However, we rarely accept previously published material (including blog posts.) We also reserve the right to edit or decline your submission. Any accepted submissions will be published in the order that best fits our topic schedule.