I call it “The Urban Druid”—a big cottonwood that stands on the east side of Dow’s Lake in Ottawa. Actually, it’s not one tree, but several: five trunks sprouting out of a single base. It used to be seven trunks, which created a ring of trees, but two were either blown down or cut down because of disease. I imagine its family motto is something like “Still and Ever Unconquered.” And if you walk by this tree on certain Pagan holidays (the seasonal equinoxes, for example), you will often find mysterious food offerings around it—nuts, carrots, and fruit. It is actually a sacred tree to a group of modern-day druids, an Ottawa “grove” that belongs to a larger international organization called Ár nDraoícht Féin (Irish for “Our Own Druidry.”)
That’s the thing about a big tree: you never know who will draw inspiration from it.
Trees stand at the heart of the narratives we create for ourselves. They are landmarks, storytellers, and venerable citizens: they can tell us a thing or two about the old days. It makes sense, then, that we should recognize them just as we recognize other landmarks and relics—with the “heritage” designation.
A heritage tree, simply put, is any tree that has a place in our natural or cultural heritage. It may be particularly old, crazy-looking or rare; it may display evidence of cultural alteration (for example, blazes cut to mark a trail); and it may be associated with some historical event or person. Finally, it may play a role in local legends, stories or traditions. I’m not sure my Urban Druid would meet all the official criteria for a heritage tree, but it certainly ranks high in the “nature spirit” category.
Though we celebrate heritage trees as individuals, they are not isolated figures. One reason for identifying heritage trees of the rare-species variety is that they might provide seed stock for future legacy trees. By protecting heritage trees, we protect the treescape that gave birth to them—and which they in turn will nourish.
So if you know of any outstanding pillars of the community (Pagan or otherwise), why not nominate them for the heritage tree status? See the links below for more information on heritage tree programs across Canada. Let’s make sure these trees continue to thrive as muses, landmarks and Old Ones.