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I am a children's writer from the Virgin Islands. Growing up there was like living inside a history book; an imagination stimulator. Consequently I've been writing for just about forever. I am a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature and a member of SCBWI.

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I post on Monday and Thursday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Spirit Trees - Part One

Trees play a prominent roll in our psychology, mythology and collective unconscious. Yggdrasil, of Norse mythology, is the World Tree that supports the heavens. In the Bible we have the Tree of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. There are oracle trees, wishing trees,  evil trees and sacred trees. They have roles in fairy tales and in modern literature - think of Treebeard, the Ent.

In long ago times in Africa there were Spirit Trees. These were trees under which people sat and told stories, where lovers met in secret, or where those who had lost a loved one went to mourn. They offered shelter, protection and comfort. 


This is a tamarind at Estate Whim on St. Croix. It
must be between 250 and 300 years old.
Among the more beloved of Spirit Trees was the tamarind. Native to tropical Africa, it was brought into the Caribbean with the slaves and is one of the most widely distributed trees in the world. They are slow growing and can reach 60 to 80 feet with a cool shady spread of 40 feet. The brown fruit pod, with delightfully sour brown meat, is used in many foods.


Flowers and fruit pod.
















This ancient tamarind is on the trail between Lameshur  and Reef Bay on St. John. At some point in its life it was split in half. The hollow space inside is large enough for two or three people to stand in. In a pinch you could build a roof and live inside it.

It is easy to imagine groups of slaves, after a long day in the fields, sitting under these trees telling stories, passing on oral traditions. I think too, the tamarind may have provided a thin thread, connecting them to a homeland that was lost.











The kapok, or silk cotton tree, was considered magical and housed spirits called jumbies. These trees came into the Caribbean from South America. They can grow to 150 feet with buttress roots supporting their great height. The soft silky "cotton" from the tree was once used to fill life preservers.

I took this picture of the kapok tree at Caneel Bay with my little red Brownie camera when I was eight or nine. I think it's the only picture I took with that camera that has survived the ravages of time.




This is a kapok at Magens Bay on St. Thomas. That's my friend, Margaret, standing amid the roots to give you a sense of size.

Next week Monday, more about large spirit trees of the Virgin Islands.

Do you have any big old trees in your yard or near where you live? Do you hug old trees when you get the chance?

12 comments:

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Those trees have so much personality. I love the bark on trees. The texture and and patterns make for some really neat photos.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You could almost climb inside some of those trees.

Rena said...

Those are spectacular trees! I grew up near the Redwoods, and the Native Americans believed that the spirits of the dead lived in those ancient groves (and I can totally see why!).

cleemckenziebooks said...

Amazing trees! In Laos they believed evil spirits inhabited trees, so when they built on land with trees, they'd cut them down. Very sad.

J.L. Campbell said...

Interesting post, Bish. Here in Jamaica, people do believe that spirits hang around cotton trees.

Liza said...

That silk cotton tree is cool!

Jan Newman said...

These are wonderful, trees you'd want to write stories about.

Rosalind Adam said...

I love trees. When we bought our house it had six mature trees in the garden. I loved the largest one and often hugged it. There was something truly spiritual in that hug. Then it developed a swelling and we were told that it would split in two and possibly demolish part of our house if we didn't have it cut down. I miss that tree.

Medeia Sharif said...

Those are amazing trees. They're like snowflakes, unique in their own way. I can see how people view trees as being spiritual.

The Desert Rocks said...

Beautiful. I wrote about the monkey pod tree a couple weeks ago. Love this amazing spirit tree!

Christina Farley said...

These trees are lovely. We live in a new neighborhood so the trees are more like sticks. It's kind of sad. Someday I'd love to be able to buy a piece of property with heaps of old trees with moss hanging from them.

farawayeyes said...

I love the idea of 'Spirit Trees'. I just may have to do a post about some of the huge Ponderosa Pines in my new neighborhood.