Legends of Vashon – Speaking of Trees
February 2024, Legends of Vashon

Legends of Vashon – Speaking of Trees

By Jane Valencia

This story began overseas in the mid-1990s, in mid-Wales. With an Ordnance Survey map in hand, a friend and I sought a cairn circle on farmland in the hills. Lovely views of secluded valleys dotted with sheep opened up to us, and we passed crags of jumbled stone. I finally spotted a series of slightly taller than knee-high stones. For a moment, we were doubtful – the stones were so small, and barely distinguishable from the surrounding rocks. As we reached the stones, our uncertainty vanished. The stones of the circle were rough and gray, but at the center lay a flat end of beautiful white quartz.

The place was utterly silent. Lying down near the center stone I listened, eyes closed, to that silence and stillness. Then, I heard a chorus of birdsong, and the rushing of the wind. I could have listened to that music all day and into the night. I wished I could sleep there, under the stars!

Two chips of the white quartz lay beside the stone. A third piece lay wedged in an all-too-modern iron hook. My hand hovered over the loose stones, tempted to take one home. No. Those bits of stone belonged here, in this corner of Wales. I left them near their mother stone. The metal hook in the circle was another matter. I couldn’t stand to see it lying there as garbage. I finally picked it up, intending to leave it, with its captured shard, at the road. On the way, I fiddled with the stone wedged in the metal. The chip loosened and fell into my hand, like a gift.

Even so, I felt a bit nervous when I slipped the stone into my pocket. I half-expected the red-eared white hounds of the Welsh Otherworld to come charging up the hill to tear me to pieces. When the hill remained quiet, I silently vowed to return the stone to the circle, cast it into the nearby lake, or offer it elsewhere in some suitable way. I knew it was not a stone to keep forever.

A few years later, our family moved to Vashon Island, and the stone did too.

In time, I pondered giving away the stone. But to whom or where? And would I really have the will to give away something so mythic to me as a quartz from a cairn circle in Wales?

One day, a teen – “Mia” – contacted me and another friend. She’d had a vision about a great elder Tree, and a festival celebrating the Tree. We adults listened, and then helped make this festival happen.

I emailed our community, detailing Mia’s dream. The festival would celebrate All Beings, and focus around a great and venerable Tree. At the Tree would be “Tree-speakers” – those who would listen to the Tree and speak what they felt the Tree saying. Around them would be musicians representing the four directions. There would be vocalists, dancers representing the chakras, and animals and other beings. Mia had found such a Tree in the Burton Woods, a kindly Bigleaf Maple. We invited our friends to bring the vision to life by taking on the other roles from the vision.

Several days before the Tree Festival, I held a music practice at the Bigleaf Maple. The forest duff lay thick around it. Mia mentioned that she had a special stone that she intended to leave at the Tree during the festival. As she spoke of how hard it was to consider parting with the stone, I knew: I’d leave mine with the Tree too.

At once, I felt conflicted: If I did so, I felt sure I’d never see the stone again – it would be swallowed by the Tree! At the same time, my fanciful nature decided that perhaps this might be the start of the stone’s next journey: to enter some mythic realm of our Island.

The day of the Tree Festival arrived. Reaching the trail to the Tree, I was startled to see that a bunch of party confetti – little, colorful metallic bits that included words like “happy birthday” and “celebrate” – was strewn everywhere. Some other group had had a party of their own. I love sparkle and festivity, but was sad to see all the tiny metal bits lying along the trail and on the bushes, impossible to fully clean up.

Folk arrived at the Tree: adults and children, some dressed in rainbow colors, some as animals or magical forest beings. The celebration began with honorings and blessings spoken to the Tree. Then true greenwood music ensued – lilting and light-hearted fiddles, flute, pennywhistle, and harp; drums and rattles; and the otherworldy sounds of crystal bowls, digeridoo, and voices.

Mia and I settled in with the Tree. We listened to what arose in our hearts as a result of being with this Tree, and we spoke. I don’t recall the words, but, nestling in with the Tree with the intention of serving as a voice for it opened my cells and imagination to a different way of perceiving and existing in the world. As a Bigleaf Maple might, I felt in communion with this forest, the Island, with the air and the soil, birdsong, sun-warmth, and starlight.

Eventually, the festival wound down. Stones in hand, Mia and I turned to each other. She placed her stone in a section of bark on the trunk. I placed mine in a hollow at the Tree’s base. The next moment, we both felt an electric charge of “What have I done?” She reached into the bark to take back her stone, and I reached into the hollow to take back mine.

My fingers closed around something … different … as did hers. We opened our hands.

In hers and in mine lay tiny metallic party-decoration words, both of which said “THANK YOU.”

What?! How could this be? Could the Tree really be thanking us? For the celebration and for the stones? It seemed so. Needless to say, we hunted no further!

I can’t say I’ve never looked for my stone since. Years later, Mia and I returned to those woods to find the Tree – and failed. We actually got a little lost in the woods, and that was strange to us because Burton Acres is a park with clear boundaries – not a deep wilderness. I took that as a mischievous message – perhaps from the fairies – to leave well enough alone.

A few years later, I returned to the woods and did find the Tree. I gave a half-hearted search for the stone, but really, I sensed that the stone was now firmly nestled as an inhabitant of the Island, perhaps even as a guardian, with its own destiny.

As a Catholic Christian now, I marvel at these events, and wonder what it means to have experienced them. Scripture is full of words like these: “For you shall shout in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12), and, “The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).

God’s Creation is woven of glory. Perhaps at times, the Holy Spirit moves with a sweet wild mischief within it.

The author in a Bigleaf Maple, Burton Woods. Photo by Michelle Burke
February 9, 2024

About Author

jane Jane writes about what it means to be an Islander, and how we can nourish healthy community. A harper, storyteller, and herbalist, she also shares tales and art that she is sure the Island told her. Having lived with her family on Vashon for 20+ years, she is convinced of the Island's magic.