The Talking Forest Runes

Spring's Eternal Quest

Fieldnotes for May – June 2023

by Kay Broome

Hostpapa web photo of daffodils

The heady romantic, carefree days of spring give way so quickly to summer’s heavy toil of leafing and fruiting, hiving and nest building, birdsong and frogs trilling.  The childlike tulips of spring cede to the subtle, heavier scent of rose.  The diminutive leaves of April yield to the ubiquitous, eternal green of summer.

 As the Bell Rings the Maypole Spins

Rochester Maypole - Wikimedia Commons
Maypole Dancing in Rochester, England (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

May 1st, Beltane, is all about the mating ritual of the young Solar Lord with the Maiden, who has just returned from the underworld.  The well-known ritual of the Maypole dance enacted throughout Europe at this time, in part symbolizes this pairing or dyad.  Traditionally the maypole is fashioned from the trunk of a young tree – most commonly a birch, but other trees used are pine, fir or ash. Coloured ribbons are tied to the top of this pole, which is then fixed into the ground.  Traditionally, two circles – one of men, the other of women, dance counter to each other, each dancer holding a ribbon. They twine around until the material is wound completely around the pole.  There are many variations on this dance: sometimes the men compose the inner circle; sometimes the women. Dancers may also weave under and over each other. In addition, winding, unwinding then rewinding the ribbons is a common motif.  Sometimes the ribbons are completely plaited around the pole to the bottom, but often they are only partly wound with the ends hanging down.

Basque Maypole Dance - Wikimedia Commons
Maypole dance Basque Region, France 2012 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Just as there are many types of Maypole dances, there are various theories as to what the dance represents.  Obviously, the pairing of men and women represents the union of the God and Goddess – masculine and feminine. The pole is definitely phallic and the bright colourful ribbons are generally believed to represent the yonic female.  The winding and unwinding of the ribbons may also suggest the lengthening and shortening of the days as the year travels through its seasons. The ritual was common throughout much of Europe and even into Asia and to this day, is upheld around the world by pagans and non-pagans alike, in both traditional and unconventional forms.

The Cherry Walk

Hostpapa web photo
Annual Hanami Walk during Spring Blossom Time

Save for the return of songbirds, the orchard trees are perhaps the most blatant display of spring’s return. Apple’s flowers, arriving in May, are showier, but cherry blooms earlier in April, just as most other trees are starting to leaf.  The blossoms, in white and various shades of pink, are a joy to behold after the drab neutrals of winter.

Like spring, cherry’s blossoming is so poignantly fleeting. More than any other tree, cherry conveys spring’s sense of youthful longing and urgent energy. The impermanence of the flowers deeply inspired many Asian cultures. The Hanami Walk, a notable and charming feature of Japanese culture, has spread around the world.  Devotees of this walking meditation go every spring to their local parks and orchards to ponder life's beauty, vigor and evanescence, as it is portrayed in the Sakura, the splendid Japanese flowering cherry.

Here in Toronto, the annual Cherry Walk in High Park attracts large crowds, many of whom are tourists from Japan and other East Asian countries.  In 1959, Tokyo gifted Toronto's largest park with a friendship gift of over 100 Sakura trees.  Since then, hundreds more of these cherries have been planted and are enjoyed by visitors every spring.  

Cherry (Prunus)

Cherries in High Park (Wikipedia)

As with virtually all of the orchard trees, cherry is a member of the Rose family. For much of the year, cherries and their cousins the plums, are inconspicuous.  All have somewhat leathery, oval shaped leaves and usually smooth grayish bark with lenticels or dash-like pores that help the tree breathe.  Otherwise, these small trees are often hard to tell from many other species.  Only when the flowers appear, do we realize we are in the company of the delightful Prunus. The flowers are ephemeral and the delicious fruit quickly perishable. However, the trees, especially our native black, laurel and chokecherries, are in fact quite tough, being able to thrive well into the Boreal forest.  Eurasian cherries moreover range throughout Japan, China, Russia and the Caucasus. Cherry wood, usually in shades of pinkish or reddish brown, has an attractive grain and is noteworthy for its use in furniture, utensils and building. It vies with walnut and oak for its beauty and utility.

In the Talking Forest, the Cherry rune represents desire or want, a challenge often needing much effort to achieve.  Its kenning is the Quest, the Odyssey or Grail.  As the Cherry rune deals with passion and yearning, the tines are heart shaped. They spiral upward and inward in imitation of the flowering tree’s often upswept branches. A round dot at the centre of each tine suggests a fruiting tree.  The rune's shape also alludes to the fact that cherries are often hard to pick as they are out of reach, much like our desires often are.  In the Talking Forest lexicon, Cherry is the solar rune of the month of May. Herein, passion and desire grow in the lengthening, warming days.

Talking Forest Cherry Rune

Talking Forest Cherry © 2009, Kay Broome

You can learn more about Cherry and other Talking Forest runes by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.

Prior Plantings