I said goodbye to Belgium, and for the first time I do not know when I return. This blog is a sort of goodbye to the linden trees and the forests in Flanders, and a small little conversation with Maria the mother, and how I connect with her too, in my own journey to a new home.
When you find a new home
I had always an idea, even when I made my solo world travel, 8 years ago. I had a return date in mind, which changed (I returned even three months than planned, because I was broke, had to work – but I heard then also about a cheap travel to Norway, which I still consider as the final stop of that world solo travel). But now, I do not have a return date. I even do not think “return” is the appropriate. When I will visit Belgium, it will be more like a stop. I do not plan to stay in Japan, or again do some woodwide wanderings. No, I am called by a place, and I know I will head there in March, when the water is back in the birches. I just know. A Belgian friend listened to my story last week and said; “This is it, Wendy. You are one of the persons which the best intuitions, and you never had this feeling, so that your body recognised this place, means you should take the risk and get your house there.”
So I walked for a last time in the forest of my village and saw how all the linden trees started to lose their yellow leafs. It was raining a bit. I took the extra long and crooked path, because I knew I would not see these linden trees for a long time.
Maria chapels and the linden trees
As I explained in Guiding my first Forest Bath – and reconnecting with Belgium in October, my region was “christianised” for many centuries, but only on paper. Many people were still “pagans” during the medieval times. The introduction of Maria could have led to a diffusion. People cannot connect easily with Jesus, a man who can walk on water and rise from the death, but they could connect with the seven sorrows or sufferings of Maria, the mother of Jesus. Everyone knows how it is to lose someone or how it feels to see your beloved ones suffering, or giving birth in not even good circumstances. She was not giving birth in a palace, but in a stable. Maybe very recognisable for my ancestors who had no clean hospitals or baths with dolpins to which some of us have now access too.
You might have noticed that Catholics put more emphasis on the Virgin Mary (Jesus’s mother) than many other Christians, calling her the “Mother of God,” “The Queen of Heaven,” and praying for her intercession to Jesus. In my region, you find many Maria chapels, big and little ones, and often accompanied by the linden tree.
According to the website of Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska:
Old lindens were considered sacred trees in (…) past. They were symbols of exalted, divine power, valour, and victory. The ancient Greeks and the Slavs regarded the Linden as the habitation of their goddess of love. Later, as Christianity came to the area, this legend was incorporated into Christianity as the tree of the Blessed Mother. In folktales, the Blessed Mother hid among the linden’s branches, and revealed herself to children. Many wayside shrines were placed under linden trees for this reason. Lightning was thought never to strike a linden tree, and thus it was a “lucky” tree. (…) Rings of lindens often were the tree of choice in courtyards, markets, cemeteries, and pilgrimage chapels devoted to the Virgin Mary, and the bees, the Linden blossoms attracted, provided beeswax candles to illuminate the church.
Linden in culture
According to wikipedia, The lime tree or linden (Tilia) is important in the mythology, literature and folklore of a number of cultures. In Germanic culture, for instance…
The linden was also a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the Germanic peoples in their native pre-Christian Germanic mythology.
Originally, local communities assembled not only to celebrate and dance under a linden tree, but to hold their judicial thing meetings there in order to restore justice and peace. It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth. Thus the tree became associated with jurisprudence even after Christianization, such as in the case of the Gerichtslinde, and verdicts in rural Germany were frequently returned sub tilia (Unter der linden) until the Age of Enlightenment. (…) In German folklore, the linden tree is the “tree of lovers.” The well-known Middle High German poem Under der linden by Walter von der Vogelweide (c. 1200) describes a tryst between a maid and a knight under a linden tree.
In Belgium, I do not know so many poems about linden trees, but I know they had, like oaks, a symbolic meaning to my ancestors. When I bicycled with a friend around to learn more from him about local environmental history, we talked especially about the importance of linden trees, and how they were present in the center of each settlement.
Also in the book “Around the world in 80 trees” by Jonathan Drori and Lucille Clerc, the linden was associated with Germany and romanticism – and how all Germans apparently think they got their first kiss under a linden tree. By the way, the romanticism in the 19th century, was characterised by some remarkable Marian apparitions, the most famous of which is Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), between 11 February and 16 July 1858 in the cave of Massabielle, where in 1864 a statue was erected in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Maybe the romanticism connects me with the linden tree. I know I have a romantic soul, celebrating imagination, folklore, dreams and local knowledge, and writing about love and death. MI think the oaks and the pine, as described in Big Pine Memories, had a more profound impact on me than any specific linden tree. I never got a kiss under a linden tree. Still, I was raised in a region full of lindens and imagination, and in some way that influenced me too.
A small conversation with Maria
I do not call myself deep religious, only spiritual awake. However, there is a chapel where I can always find some calmness and imagine there is something more, you know… I am maybe more an agnostic. I am not sure. This chapel is dedicated to Maria, and 20 minutes walking from the house I inherited from my grandfather. I have had small talks with Maria before, and also the candle light draw me for a last meeting with Maria. I can connect with her. 2019 was an amazing year. I had some milestones in my career, initiated my path to become a forest therapy guide and had a beautiful romance with a man that is still my friend, and who let me realise so much about myself… but I had suffered also a bit in the last year. I had given birth to a book, and I had struggled a lot. It was not so glamorous as I expected. I had faced discrimination and sexism like she did. I thought I had lost someone who I loved from the bottom of my heart, and he came back, but he was not really there and the love was not the same. And I am moving around, saying goodbye to places, I did not want to leave then. I can understand why Maria speaks to people, and especially women.
It has always been Norway
When I left for Japan the first time, more than two years ago, I knew I would return in March next year, to attend a wedding of a Norwegian and Maltese friend. I would miss the cherry blossoms, but I would be reunited with friends I have not seen for ages. That wedding had reunited me with a friend I have not seen in the last five years, and who became my biggest inspiration. One year ago, the same week, I had decided to meet him in Norway during the winter holidays. Meeting him, listening to stories about trolls and other nature spirits and being in Norwegian landscape, would awake some old childhood dreams in me, that were having a long wintersleep.
I know that Norway could be home, but I was still insecure… because I had no exact place in mind. I thought I might go after my PhD to Norway, do some voluntary work at farms in different regions and find “it” then. But then a friend told me about a town closeby his own home, and recommended me to check it out. I would like it, because there are many “preserved 300 year old wooden houses.” I went there… and I knew.
Here it is.
I can still remember I was walking there, and felt I wanted to cry, as if I had returned home after a very long odyssey. My chest bone was singing. I knew. How more I discovered and talked with residents, how more I understood my gut feeling was right. I will spend this winter in Japan, to fulfil the last requirements of my Phd, and then move to Norway.
Bravery for the next steps of my path
But I am also scared for the unknown. I am camping in the woods on a dark night. Beside my camp there is a bonfire made from birchwood (of course birchwood), and the bonfire casts a circle of light around you. At the edge of that circle, there is a mystery because I cannot see what is beyond it. I know if I move closer, my eyes will adapt t the darkness and I can see more. But it asks for some bravery and resilience. Some faith. After maybe 14 year wandering and keeping my options open, it is time to find the bravery to see if, no… to have faith that Norway is really the place where I belong, buy a house and the dog I dreamed about for years, and start the most intimate relationship with land and its communities I ever had.