Cottonwood Tree - Sandra - Wild Western Hemlock Tree and Cottonwood Tree

Speaking with Nature: Awakening to the Deep Wisdom of the Earth - Sandra Ingerman, Llyn Roberts 2015

Cottonwood Tree - Sandra
Wild Western Hemlock Tree and Cottonwood Tree

Some of my most magical meetings with nature beings have been with the trees I’ve met while walking in the arroyo. On my frequents walks I meet up with ponderosa pine, piñon pine, juniper, aspen, mountain oak, and cottonwood trees.

I have fallen in love with one very old Cottonwood Tree about a mile from my house. This Cottonwood has an immense trunk and branches that span over a large part of the surrounding landscape. No matter how intensely the sun is shining, any nature being can cool off in the shade created by this massive tree.

One of the great teachings we receive when we spend time in nature is that nature is intelligent. We recognize beauty and the Divine in nature, but nature recognizes us as well.

I have an unusual relationship with this magnificent Cottonwood Tree, and its behavior toward me exhibits this teaching. The Cottonwood has a prominent place in the arroyo. It grows beside a steep sandy cliff in an area that is so full of prickly desert bushes that I cannot continue walking on the path unless I walk through the expansive Cottonwood branches, which touch the ground in a wide circle around the trunk.


Frequently as I walk through the arroyo and approach the Cottonwood, the leaves on the tree stir, creating a gentle rustling sound. The rustling of the leaves is not dependent on the wind or breeze. The air can be perfectly still, yet as I walk toward this giant ancient Cottonwood, the leaves make a welcoming sound. During the dead of winter when the leaves are brown and dry, I still hear the rustling sound of leaves. As I walk away from the tree, the gentle rustle of the leaves always stops.

Due to my teaching schedule, there are weeks when I am away from home. There are also times of inclement weather or temperatures that are simply too high to support my walks. It could be weeks before I get back to visit the Cottonwood Tree.

Once I start to walk again, when I come upon the Cottonwood, I am met with complete silence. The silence is quite striking. Even if the wind is blowing, the leaves remain still. After a week or so of visiting the tree daily, the rustling sound starts again.

I feel that the Cottonwood Tree recognizes me and responds to me in the same way a cat treats its owner who has been away for too long. Some cats ignore their owners when they return home after a trip, but warm back up in their own time. And trust me, I know how strange this sounds to you, but this Cottonwood treats me in the same way. The Cottonwood’s greeting behavior has been going on for the twenty years I have visited it. The pattern never changes.

Cottonwood trees are large deciduous trees with thick, deeply fissured bark. Graceful and solid, they know how to stand their ground against flooding and erosion. Their leaves are diamond shaped and the colors change with the seasons. Hawks use them for nesting, and their soft wood makes them a favorite medium for carvers.

It’s worth noting that when the upper limb of a cottonwood is cut crosswise, it reveals a five-pointed star, which in some spiritual traditions represents the divine. When we stand with our arms raised to the sky and our legs straddle the earth, we stand in the shape of a five-pointed star.

As I shared in the essay on Juniper, trees are sacred as they bridge heaven and earth through the connections of their branches and deep roots.

Trees always grow toward the light. We also grow toward the light on a physical level as well as through our spiritual practices.

The Lakota Sioux have a sacred ceremony called the Sundance, for which the dancers fast for days and sometimes are pierced. They sacrifice themselves while they dance as a prayer for the benefit of their community. A cottonwood tree is used as the center pole of the prayer arbor in the Lakota Sundance ceremony.

Susanne Simard, a professor of forestry with the University of British Columbia, shares that trees in a forest ecosystem are interconnected, with the largest old mother tree serving as the hub. The fungi that grow on trees work together with the tree and help to transport carbon back and forth among trees. Dying trees will move resources into a new tree that is growing.

I can easily see this with the Cottonwood Tree I visit. Each year I watch as more and more branches on the tree die. The bark has been stripped off most of the branches by time, rain, snow, and wind. But a short distance away new cottonwood trees are growing. Their branches grow in a way that they overlap, allowing me to walk through a beautiful arbor.

When I visit the Cottonwood Tree, I always stop to place my hands on the bark and share my love with it. I can feel the love being returned to me. I feel a tingling sensation as I place my hands on the fissured bark. Then I feel warmth flooding my heart. I feel my heart beating in connection with the life force of the tree. I feel recognized and loved by this magnificent, graceful being.

I also feel deep sadness as I watch this tree dying, for it has lived a long life dealing with intense and dramatic climate changes. I run my fingers along the bare branches that are now light gray and smooth as the bark keeps falling to the ground. I grieve knowing that it is time for the spirit of this tree, who has become such a precious friend, to transcend to the world of spirit.

The Cottonwood has become a great friend for me to practice the teaching that giving and receiving is all part of one cycle. In our culture we often are taught that it is better to give than to receive. But as giving is only part of the cycle, we never really understand what it means to give if we do not also learn how to receive.

In most of the essays in Speaking with Nature, I’ve shared soulful experiences and teachings I have received by taking walks in the arroyo where I live.

Once I step out my door, I walk through a narrow path surrounded by piñon pine and juniper trees. I walk on the soft ground blanketed with needles, and I hear the crunching sound as I pass over the brittle needles and leaves. After walking around a dog pen, I gaze upon the marsh that is the home of an artesian spring. Depending on the time of year, I might be met by tall, lush marsh grass dancing in the wind. And much of the time the grass lies flat as a blanket covering the marsh. As I walk further, I cross an open gate and enter the arroyo.

I call this a “magic arroyo.” As soon as I step onto the sand and walk over the red and crystalline rocks, a veil parts for me and I step into the hidden realms of nature and magic. I hear birds singing and scolding me as I disturb their sense of safety, lizards and snakes scurrying away from me through the bushes, bees buzzing, and other songs of nature. I delight in seeing the brilliant colors of the trees, the bushes, the blooming cholla, prickly pear, yucca plants, and the wealth of nature beings in the landscape. I feel a deep connection with the earth through my feet and feel her heartbeat as I walk. I smell the fragrances in the air and feel the dry desert air going through my nose, and I can taste it in my mouth.

I have been walking through this arroyo for the twenty years I have lived in my house. Sometimes I jog simply for exercise and allow my mind to wander. And there are times I walk slowly, truly connecting with the wealth of cacti, plants, and trees that grow here. I have gotten to know the juniper, piñon pine, pondersosa pine, cottonwood, oak, and aspen trees. Over the years I have felt so deeply connected with some of them that I can truly call them my friends. There is a very old piñon pine close to my house that I have developed a deep relationship with in the same way I describe my relationship with the Cottonwood Tree. Even when the air is silent and still as I approach, the leaves on certain trees will move as if greeting me.

I love walking through the small grove of aspen trees in the arroyo. The leaves quake making a melodic sound and sparkle and shimmer in the sunlight with different shades of green, to yellow, to deep gold, depending on the time of year.

Aspen leaves tremble even when there is no apparent or the slightest breeze, making a soft whispering sound. Some legends held that wind was the messenger of the goddess. Anything closely associated to the wind, such as aspen, was deemed sacred.

One magnificent, very old ponderosa pine in the arroyo seems to thrive during the most extreme climate changes, such as cold, heat, wind, and of course drought. This tree gets a lot of love and respect from local residents.

Some trees I worry about. I can see them struggling from a lack of water. I do my work to not project struggle and illness onto them. I see them in their divine light, and I often touch their trunks, deeply feeling their bark, and radiate love and light. And there are times when I walk through the arroyo in a very focused state and perceive all the trees in their divine light as I walk.

There are also times when I do not feel well emotionally or physically and ask that the trees recognize me in my divinity. This is a powerful practice that you can try. As you are outside engaging in your daily activities, set an intention asking nature to perceive you in your divine strength and perfection. Simply notice how you might feel nature connecting with you in a new and deeper way.

As I walk through the arroyo with questions or concerns, I find that nature continues to show me omens. I love working with omens, as this is a way to experience just how much support we are always being given by the universe. The universe, the helping spirits, and nature itself are always giving us signposts that light our path in life.

At the end of Speaking with Nature, you’ll find an essay on “How to Work with Omens,” which includes more ideas for ways you can recognize the signs the universe provides to light your way.

There are times I have walked through my arroyo praying and crying, asking for some help to guide me through particularly challenging times. And I always receive some kind of extraordinary sign showing that the universe is listening and sending help my way.

In my essay on Snake, I shared how she appeared to me during a challenging time. Snake continues to appear to me when I am in need of a sign. I had an amazing experience in which hawk and hummingbird appeared together when I was in need of some guidance. I have also watched a hawk or a group of ravens circle over me as I leave offerings on the land in honor of all of life. There have been some days when there was not a cloud in the sky yet a light rain fell, blessing me and letting me know I was being supported in a choice I had made and that I was walking on the right path.

While I was writing Speaking with Nature, I received a wealth of omens. I would like to share some stories with you.

In October of 2013 I was leaving to teach five different workshops on shamanism. I walked through the arroyo the day before my flight and asked for an omen that would inform me about my workshops. I had never seen a bear in the arroyo during any of my walks, but as I came to the spot where I always turn to head back home, I looked up and was surprised to see a large cinnamon bear walking slowly up a hill. The bear was very close but the wind must have been blowing in my direction so that the bear could not smell me. I stood very still and watched it meander up the hill. I assumed it was an old bear as I could see quite a lot of white strands in its fur.

As I wrote in my essay on Bear, many shamanic cultures consider Bear to be the sign of the shaman. I knew the universe was telling me that my workshops would go very well, and indeed, they were deep and powerful for all who attended.

Then in March of 2014 I was leaving to teach “Medicine for the Earth and Healing with Spiritual Light” to a very large group of participants. Before leaving to teach I could feel the excitement and energy of the group forming, and I was a bit nervous about being able to meet the high expectations of those attending.

I walked through the arroyo, and when I came to the Cottonwood Tree, I put my hands on its bark as I often do and told the tree I would miss it. The previous day it had snowed about five inches, and although the sun shone brightly on this day, there was still snow on the ground beneath the tree, as the shade of the branches prevented it from melting.

As I started away from the tree to go back home, I suddenly intuited a message telling me to go back to the tree. When I went back and again touched the bark of the tree, a small piece of bark fell to the ground. This had never happened in previous times when I’d placed my hands on the tree. It felt as if the tree were gifting me with a piece of its bark to take along on my trip.

As I bent down to pick up the piece of bark that had fallen, to my amazement I saw a mushroom growing in the snow. It was a type I had never seen before, with a dark brown cap and white dots in a circle around the outside of the cap.

I had just completed writing my essay on Mushroom, and as you read it is an ally for me. I could not help but get the clear message that this workshop would be filled with magic. And it was!

I was so amazed to see this mushroom growing by the Cottonwood Tree that I went home and got my camera so I could have a photo that would remind me of this scene. On my way back home after taking the photo, I realized I had never photographed some of the special rocks and trees that I love so well. Since I had my camera, it seemed a good time to do it.

Close to my home I went to the old piñon pine that has always felt like a protector spirit for me. Everyone I bring to meet this tree is struck by its obvious age and how hardy it has been to survive the harsh environment. The branches are tall and full and curve in a way that seems to represent feminine energy. The relationship I have with the Cottonwood has felt like my relationship with my father, and my relationship with this piñon pine carries the energy of my relationship with my mother.

I took a photo of the piñon pine, and to my surprise the photo shows a very wide bright purple band that looks like a shawl crossing the trunk of the tree. My mother’s favorite color was purple. I showed the photo to many photographers and asked if there was a logical explanation for why this purple band would show up across the piñon tree in a photo, and no one could explain it.

I had to open my heart to another wonderful omen that was being given to me when I felt vulnerable about upcoming time away from home, for I felt the love and support from my mother shining through from the transcendent realms.

As I reflect on how many gifts I have received while walking in the arroyo, I feel strongly that it has been my regular ongoing relationship with the spirit of this place that has brought forth a wealth of signs to help me on my life’s journey. I walk the same path on a regular basis, always with honor and respect for all that is alive in this area.

I believe the relationship I have built up with the nature beings here has created a deep and strong field that lifts the veils between the worlds. The help of the hidden realms can reach through to give me guidance and let me know how much I am loved and supported.

I did not always live in a place where I had the opportunity to go right outside my door and walk for miles in nature. I spent the first half of my life living in cities where there was a plethora of buildings and cement between me and nature. But due to my love of nature, I found ways to go beyond the cement covering the earth.

I grew up in Brooklyn, where I sang to a maple tree outside my house every day. I talked to it and felt the tree communicating back to me, bringing me comfort and a deep sense of peace. The tree was so tall I had to strain my neck to be able to see the leaves on the top branches, but when I went back and visited the tree as an adult, this tree that had seemed so enormous was certainly not as tall as I’d remembered.

I later lived in San Francisco, where I had favorite walking paths in nature and built up a strong relationship with the nature beings there. I felt a strong sense of mutual love and support with those nature beings.

The point I am making is that you can build a mutually supportive relationship with nature wherever you live—in a city or in a rural environment. There are probably parks you can walk in, and there is a tree or plant you can radiate love to every day. There is the sky above and the earth below that you can continue to honor. You can honor the living beings we call earth, air, water, and the sun as you go about your day. It does not matter where you live.

Nature will respond to you. Your life will change. Your relationship with the universe will change as you notice signs being given to you to light your path and let you know you are being recognized, supported, and loved by the spirit that lives in all things. Most importantly, your deep connection with nature will fill your soul.

There are a variety of animals, birds, and insects that appear to me on my walks in the arroyo, as well as in other places in nature when the universe is trying to give me a sign. Many times a heart-shaped rock will make itself visible to me as I am walking in a meditative state. The wind is another one of my spiritual allies, and I have come to rely on the messages that travel through the wind and breezes when I need guidance in my life.

As you spend time in nature, notice what nature beings appear to you.

All of life responds to love. As you express your love for nature, you will receive that love back exponentially.

Image Practices

Find a special place in nature where you can build up a relationship with the nature beings and the spirit of the land. Connect there with nature every day or a few times a week.

This special sacred place is a landscape you can visit to clear your mind, regenerate, heal, and find comfort. The trees, plants, rocks, and animal life get to know you as you walk through the land on a regular basis.

With intention, start to be more conscious of your energetic interactions with the spirits of nature. There are times when you might stop and say hello to the nature beings you have come to know. And there are times when you will walk the land sharing your energy, love, and light as you flow through that special space.

This place will become for you what my magic arroyo is for me, and as you deepen your relationship to this place, the omens and signs lighting your way will become more numerous and more obvious. As you build a relationship, notice how the universe responds to your questions, challenges, and prayers.