The Waldorf school my daughter graduated from last week names each class after a tree. That tree becomes the class name, a symbol to rally the class together and form them into a cohesive unit. I wrote this poem to honor her teacher and the Linden tree class. The image was drawn on the chalkboard by her lovely teacher on their very first day together. I hope you enjoy it.
Under the Linden Tree
I. Branches and Leaves
Swept forth into the strong branches of the Linden tree, you call out “look at me” and “it’s not fair” straining to be heard among the others. Within your fellow heart-shaped leaves you found symmetry, serrated edges—your pointed tips sharpened by your proximity to magic.
Noisy bees circled, drawn by your sweetness, your softness transformed by storms into hardened beauty carved into any form you like. Tilia, basswood, lime— your names ring out like justice and peace dancing around the base of graceful towering magic.
Seasons danced happily through your green leaves, braced together and held firm by the juggling trunk’s deep roots far deeper than any tempest could shake. Tiny creamy yellow flowers burst forth in bundles, hanging tight to the tree with ambrosial scented, delicate magic.
Youth green fullness, brash and vividly bold, gave way to golden autumn’s crisp firmness curled tight together clinging on for one more precious moment. Yet, breezes come to transform one into many, flying on fitted spiraling wings from your fertile orchard, singing the forever song of Linden magic.
Blown into an orchard, banded cord thick with butterflies, steady roots plant deep in slippery soil ripe with crawling, noisy seekers crying out with “whys” and “how comes.” Beneath the Linden branches the red-winged cardinal’s two-part whistle sings of beginnings, suns, moons—ancient woody magic.
Gathered together under loosely woven branches communing and feasting wildness transforms into dancing movement. Light streaks through limbs to cover crowns as Jack Frost frolics with snowflakes as hands, melting hardness into puddles of kindred kindness. Leafy bunches become conical, balanced magic.
Ridged, furrowed scaly bark grows and smooths until shining with etched runes it reaches across fast-moving water to capture sacred geometric truths within bright colored folds. Bears prowl near, scratching fears, stretching up toward cascading waters, ravens, dragons, stones–Earth magic.
Winds blow birds nests nestled into grooves worn smooth by patient hands. Across distances the song remains strong, drawing the Linden into itself, singing melodies deeply woven through delicate leafy veins forever connected, forever entwined, forever part of sunlight’s loving embrace, warmth wrapped in bonded magic.
Ellyse wants to check the doorstep for a gift the second she wakes up, but she restrains herself. Yesterday when she rushed outside her grouchy neighbor, Old Bobsy the Gnome, saw her in her rose petal nightgown and shook his watering can at her and scowled. She should have punched his wrinkled old face and pulled his filthy white beard, but she’s not that kind of elf. Not anymore, anyway.
She changes into a maple leaf dress topped with her favorite cotton fluff sweater and takes a quick peeks out the screen door. Sure enough, there stands Old Bobsy wearing his stupid red pointed hat and doing his daily snooping under the guise of watering his vast mushroom patch. If Ellyse wants to avoid conversation, which she most certainly does, she better wait until after her morning cup of chicory root tea. She’ll wait for the sound of Old Bobsy snoring in his hammock and then do a proper check.
After heating the water on the stove, she settles into a place in the backyard where she can drink her tea and watch the birds dive and play in the birdbath. A pair of doves, the same ones she can hear cooing down her fireplace most afternoons, wash and splash until an enormous Blue Jay chases them away. If her knees weren’t hurting her, Ellyse would do something about it, but instead, she turns her attention to the treasures set on her table.
The gifts started arriving three days ago, all wrapped in bright green leaves and tied with a thin strand of white wool. She’d found them on her doorstep with no note, and not even snoopy Old Bobsy saw who left them. It’s a mystery, something she hasn’t had much of since her son Farryn headed out on his own last spring. She lays them out in a row, touching each one.
At first, she thought the gifts were from the pack of grubby goblin kids who live down the street. They are always running through her yard trampling her garden or knocking over the flowerpots. However, she can’t imagine those wild things sitting still enough to wrap something so carefully.
Her second thought was her friend Arylea, but she’s on a trip with her teenage son to visit some distant relatives across the ocean and won’t be back for another month. They had invited Ellyse to come with them, but she couldn’t stand to leave her garden and her animals.
When she was young, caring for a garden would have felt like a punishment worse than death. Back then, she was filled with energy and a restless spirit, adventure luring her with a song so clear and strong she could hear nothing else. Her parents tried to stop her, but when war broke out, she ran away to fight.
The Great Fairy War, pitting the creatures of light against the forces of darkness, lasted decades and Ellyse grew up slinging arrows and fighting with short swords. She can remember the horrible blasts of the human rifles, the roar of the hideous snarling beasts, and the sting of magical rain. It still clings to some part of her and, although Farryn wishes he could experience it, Ellyse is happy he won’t have to. Peace and harmony have filled the land for decades now, and she does her best to keep it so.
The chickens squawk from their coop, and Ellyse slips on her rubber boots and lets them out. She sprinkles feed across the yard, lets the rabbits out, and gathers eggs in a wool-lined basket. The carrot patch needs weeding, and it’s time to prune some of the rose bushes. Her body aches, but it’s a good feeling, and Ellyse surrenders to the work.
Her stomach begins to growl around noon and she realizes she’s forgotten to check for another gift. She rushes to the front door and there it sits, another beautiful leaf package wrapped with a thin thread of white wool. She bends over to pick up the treasure and cradles it in her arms.
She unwraps it carefully and finds a bundle of dried lavender, brown twine woven intricately around the stems. Breathing in the sweet herbal smell, she’s filled with memory. When Farryn was a small boy she taught him how to gather the lavender without stripping the flowers off, and how to tie them into bundles exactly like this one. They would hang the bundles from every beam in the house, letting them dry, and then give them as gifts to all their friends and family at Winter Solstice.
Ellyse begins to laugh as she adds the bundle to the row of gifts. Each one of these items is connected to a memory of Farryn, her only son. She can’t believe she didn’t see it before. The realization makes her heart sing with joy, and she touches each one again, feeling the energy and love of each.
The first gift was a fat dark brown acorn with a wide textured hat. Each fall, she and Farryn would travel two hours on foot to harvest acorns from the large oak trees near the fairyland border. They would carry home one bucket each to make acorn flour, but leave the rest of the acorns for the squirrels to hide. She taught him a little song. She can still hear his golden, high voice singing as they walked home swinging their full buckets:
Squirrel Nutkin has a coat of brown, quite the loveliest in woodland town; two bright eyes look round to see where the sweetest nuts may be.
Squirrel Nutkin in his coat of brown scampers up the trees and down; dashing here and swinging there, leaping lightly through the air. All the livelong day he plays in the leafy woodland ways but stop at night when squirrels rest in their cosy treetop nest.
The second gift was a dried seedpod from a white birch tree, the kind found in the backyard of Ellyse’s family home. When they’d visit for the Summer Solstice, they would collect the pods, dry them in the sun, and snap them open to release the seeds. The dried petal-shaped pieces would be made into jewelry or saved to make sweet, sticky syrup. She can still see Farryn balanced on a chair stirring a huge wooden spoon through the thick, rich liquid, making the house smell like caramel and honey.
The third gift was a greenish willow tree stick, the kind she’d cut from the trees lining the slow-flowing creek at the far back of their property. They’d stand at the top of the rocky bridge and throw the sticks in the water, rush to the other side to see whose stick emerged first. Farryn would then scramble through weeds to the water’s edge, balance on the slick rocks, and retrieve their sticks so they could play again and again. It took forever to pull all the stickers and burrs out of his socks afterward.
Ellyse looks up and sees the moon has risen high in the sky, and she’s amazed at how time can slip by so fast these days. Lost in her memories, she wonders how her son has been managing to leave her these gifts, and why he hasn’t shown himself. She devises a plan to catch him, and giggles at the silliness of it.
Dressing all in greens and purples, Ellyse hides behind the giant lilac bush beside her front door. She waits and waits, enjoying the deep, rich smell and watching the stars twinkle across the sky until she sees a familiar shape sneaking on silent steps. Just the way she taught him, dressed in dark colors to camouflage in the night. She watches him place another gift on her doorstep with an enormous smile on his youthful face. Her heart feels something she’d tried not to feel since he left, a sort of longing mixed with pride, and she elicits a loud sobbing giggle.
Farryn jumps and pulls aside the branches to see his mother’s face peering out at him.
“What are you doing mother?” he asks.
“Catching you,” she says.
He lifts her to her feet and hugs her to him.
“What took you so long?” he says. “I thought you’d figure me out the first day.”
“Getting old, I guess.”
They hug and laugh so loud they wake Old Man Bobsy who emerges from his house wearing quite scandalously short red shorts, his wrinkled chest as white and hairy as his beard. He holds a stick in his hands and begins yelling a string of threats and curses at the mother and son. They duck inside, giggling madly.
Once they are sipping hot cups of mint tea by the fireplace, Ellyse opens the final gift, a large heart-shaped river rock. She glances over to a shelf covered in seashells, rocks, and bark, all heart-shaped items found by her boy. She holds his hands in hers and smiles.
“I’d have definitely known from this one,” she says.
“I’d hope so,” Farryn says.
“I love you, mom.”
“I know. I love you too.”
Author’s note: When I first read the prompt I had the idea of a time travel story where the items are left to help prevent something terrible from happening. However, when I sat down to write, my mind kept wandering back to stories involving a mother and son. I suppose I wasn’t done feeling all my feelings yet about my son turning 17. My first draft was a very sad piece about a mother and son not talking to each other, and he leaves little gifts out for her so she will know he remembers the fun they’ve had over the years. It was fine, but it felt too sad and too raw. So, I took another crack at it, and this silly little elf story took shape. I think it captures some of the same feelings, but it’s not nearly as heavy. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!
Next week’s prompt: Week 3
Mash up two classic fairy tales into one story
Include: fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, giver
As we walk around the blacktop, her little hand in mine, I can feel her body tense up.
She was fine all morning, but the reality is here.
We stop and she looks at me. Her new haircut frames her face in the light perfectly and it hits me how completely I know her, how intimate we are without words.
Her eyes tell me all the fears she carries right below the surface.
“Nobody will be my friend.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“I don’t like this.”
I smile at her and then squeeze her hand gently three times in mine.
“I love you.”
She squeezes back four.
“I love you too.”
We walk more. Both of us look forward, lost in our own thoughts and emotions.
Does she know how I feel, I wonder? Are my eyes telling her all the fears I carry close?
“I don’t want to be alone all day.”
“I’m going to miss you.”
“I don’t like this.”
Before I know it, her teacher is playing a harmonica and signaling it is time to lineup. I stand back with all the other parents.
She stares at me from the line and I ask if she wants a kiss. She makes fishy lips and we both laugh.
I walk over, give her a quick hug and kiss, and then stand back to watch her walk to her new classroom.
I follow her like a lost puppy and then I’m temporarily struck.
My little sidekick is going away.
She won’t be with me most of the day anymore.
I’m going to be alone.
I really, really don’t like this.
When we get to the door, I watch her teacher. He stands on his knees so he is at eye level, he takes her hand into his and he welcomes her with so much kindness and genuine love.
His words from an e-mail the night before pop into my head: “I will do my best to take good care of your hearts, and then you will come and pick them up at the end of day.”
I take a deep breath and I let it go slowly.
I don’t cry. I don’t even feel sad anymore.
Before I have time to really examine my feelings, this wonderful teacher invites all the parents to walk in and see the children at their desks.
My girl is in the front row, paying attention to him talking and she is perfectly at home there. The classroom is warm, inviting and feels so right.
This is good.
If you’re unfamiliar with Waldorf school, entering first grade is huge. This class will be together until they leave the school in eighth grade. I really couldn’t have asked for a better environment for my sweet, sensitive girl.
This is going to be wonderful.
I walk out and actually feel excited.
For us both.
She will learn to read.
I will learn to run.
She will learn to knit.
I will learn to write a book.
She will learn how to be out in the world and make friends.
I will learn how to have goals and reach for them again.
It’s going to be a good year for us both and I’m really happy.
The first day of Waldorf school includes an opening day ceremony where the eighth graders welcome the first graders with a rose. We are at a new campus this year that only goes up to fourth grade, my son’s class.
When I found out my boy would be handing his sister a rose, it was as if the universe was giving me a gigantic hug.
We all head to the tiny outdoor amphitheater. So many familiar faces, hugs and smiles. The ceremony begins with the teachers and staff singing a lovely song about harmony and unity.
Then my son’s gorgeous teacher, who I adore beyond words, strums the guitar and leads the entire school in singing:
“From you I receive
To you I give
Together we share
By this we live”
As we all sing, my sweet boy hands his sister a beautiful white rose and they walk together across the stage. I feel giddy, silly and almost break into hysterical laughter.
My life is shifting in so many ways right now and this one moment, one rose given to another, seems to symbolize all that is good and wonderful in my life.
The ceremony is over and I get in my car. I have friends to see, errands to run and freedom to feel.
I’m opening myself up to what might be. I’m saying yes to opportunities, allowing myself to be vulnerable and releasing all the anxieties that hold me back.
As they filed passed her, she grabbed a smooth stone from the basket and placed it into their waiting hands. In silence they accepted the stone and lined up outside the classroom.
For the next 20 minutes or so they walked in complete silence. Some clutched the stone toward their chest. Others tossed it in the air occasionally letting it fall to the ground. All were silent.
They followed their teacher as she led them off the school campus, across the street, through the neighborhood to a well-worn path that cut down to the river.
Forming a line along the river’s edge, the children watched their teacher and mimicked her movements. She held the stone out in front of her with both hands. She closed her eyes. When she opened them she threw the stone out into the river and watched the ripple cascade out from where it fell. Recognizing their cue, all the children started tossing in their stones. They stood quietly watching where they fell.
Stepping back from the river they formed a circle.
“Would anyone like to share what they were thinking about?”
Hands raised very quickly.
“I was thinking how I need to be nicer to my brother.”
“I want to do more things for my dog.”
“I want to work on my patience.”
“I think I can listen to my mom more.”
After sharing, the class sang several songs they had prepared for the day. The songs were filled with glee and hopefulness.
The walk back was anything but quiet. Lots of silliness, giggling and reflection.
“That was weird not talking, but cool.”
“I think we could have surprised a deer!”
“I’m proud of our class.”
Once in the classroom they had the traditional snack of apples and honey.
The teacher then presented the children with a new stone and said “Shanah Tovah,” which means “Good Year.”
The stones that were thrown in the river represented things to “cast off” from the previous year. The new stone represents the year to come.
This was my sons third grade class celebrating Rosh Hashanah. He attends a charter Waldorf school and it’s part of the third grade curriculum. They have been learning, through story and watercolor painting, the creation story. Rosh Hashanah is the “anniversary” of the creation of Adam and Eve.
These are 8- and 9-year-old children who walked in complete silence for almost 30 minutes AND participated in self-reflection.
Next week the children will be building temporary structures called sukkah’s and the week will culminate in an evening feast for all the families.
Love this too.
I feel so lucky to have witnessed this beautiful example of reverence and reflection that is at the heart of Waldorf education.
I was even able to cast my own stone into the water. As I watched it sink to the bottom I tried to let all my pain, anger and sadness sink with it.
I’m doing work, my friends. I am starting to feel hope. Thanks for all the kind words and hugs. They have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.