Joseph Anderson

Tree Calendar: Alder

Down at the foot of the sloping neighborhood where I live, in Carkeek Park, alders gather in abundance alongside the creeks, lifting their leafy branches in great arches above me. Alder, that ubiquitous water-loving magnificent teacher and healer, is the special focus of my tree-calendar attention between May Day and the Summer Solstice. 

Among the many gifts of my work with Julie Charette-Nunn, her teaching me to listen to plants has been a special blessing. These generous one-legged beings have so much to offer, and over time I continue to learn to distinguish their voices and moods. Cedar speaks to me of deep healing, and Rose longs to share its beauty. Apple celebrates it fragility, its dialogue of dependence on humans, and Nettle chuckles as it offers its stings us (to our benefit, though it may not feel that way).

Alder is something different. The communication doesn’t bubble up into my consciousness in any form that can be translated. Alder teaches me to listen below the hum of linguistic formations, of concepts, of the self-creation and self-justification that gets tangled up with language. This results in a being-in-relation that is infinitely precious, mesmerizing, transformative.

My chant for Alder is:

O Alder of the springtime, teach me to see your green-gold light

For there is an emanation that settles down into me on a warm spring day, feet planted in the soft earth by a churning creek, feeling the greyish papery bark, the unfolding alder leaves high, high above me, showering me with green, green light flecked with golden sunshine.

I don’t know what Alder is telling me. I may never know, on a conscious cognitive level. But there is much more to consciousness than cognition. Alder reminds me of that very salient fact of my being.

When I turned 30 I memorized Stephen Mitchell’s translation of one of Rainier Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus. It has stayed with me ever since, and is popping up now. It speaks clearly of what Alder is to me.

Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by the sound of your own voice–l

to forget that passionate music, it will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
A gust inside the god. A wind.