For Valentine’s Day, I climbed a tree.
A friend mentioned that Valentine’s Day, if one wishes to put a strongly Heathen spin on it, makes excellent sense as a feast for Gullveig. While it gets shoved into most Ásatrú-type calendars as Valablót, this comes from a bogus folk etymology and a bad sense of history. And yeah, to be fair, the idea of Valentine’s Day as Gullveigsblót has no historical basis, either. But the secularized cultural traditions certainly have more relevance to her.
We eat an awful lot of heart-shaped things in February.
I’ve also been whittling a lot lately, since the weather is warming up. But since I didn’t know what I was doing when I started, I picked up a lot of juniper twigs to work with. The ideal starter wood for newbie whittlers is actually basswood–a very soft, minimally-grained wood which comes from the linden tree. By contrast, juniper is roughly one and a half times as hard as linden. Harder woods, when they’re being whittled by someone with no clue what they’re doing (e.g. me) tend to crack and tear.
So after making dubious progress on a hair fork and mini-godpole (with a surprise twig dick–Loki, wtf) I decided to go poke around under the linden in my yard for deadfall, because I’d been planning to fashion little wooden hearts to burn as offerings. I try to stick to deadfall because it tends to be pre-dried, and I don’t like to take living or healthy pieces off trees without good reason. I figure it causes distress.
It happens to be doubly important not to break off live, healthy pieces from a linden. These are familial, generational trees with valuable medicinal properties. Þings were hosted underneath them, because lindens were believed to reveal the truth. This association with exposing hidden truths, in combination with the heart-eating passage in the Hyndluljoð (“on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked”) makes me associate linden trees with Gullveig. They command respect.
Also, I’m a bleeding-heart hippie. But, eh, that’s kind of a given.
Poking around at the base of the tree didn’t turn up any sufficiently dry or large branches. I tested a few of the lower branches, but a lot of them were still wick and clearly healthy. Upon looking up, however, I noticed a lot of dead or sickly branches that were tangled up in the live ones.
I hadn’t climbed a tree in about ten years, and I am not particularly strong. But I wanted to help this tree out and see if I could get some spoon-making wood for my trouble.
I have no clue where the strength came from, but I managed to hoist myself up, parallel bars style, to a point where I could get a foothold and clamber up about ten feet to the first dead branch. I felt ancient, in the sense that climbing a tree is an instinctive skill that never seems to go away. I’d say it’s like riding a bike, but I was a much better climber than cyclist as a kid.
After freeing the first dead branch and letting it drop to the ground, I forgot all about whittling and focused on identifying and removing all the dead or sickly branches I could reach. While it probably still annoys a plant to remove dying bits, the plant benefits, because it’s no longer wasting energy and nutrients on a limb that is unproductive and possibly infected. Basically, the same logic as amputating a gangrenous finger.
Which makes you wonder what it would be like if trees had fingers, but that image already made me lose enough sleep, thank you very much.
I got stuck in the tree for a while when freeing the last branch, but eventually made my way down miraculously unscathed and patted the bark gratefully. I had to circle the tree again to make sure all the branches were accounted for, and finish disentangling a particularly large one. One still-attached branch caught my eye, and when I tested it, it peeled off with almost no effort. It felt like a gift, and because it was mostly dry, it’s becoming a little heart-shaped spoon for Gullveig.
I figured the best show of devotion for her, since the spoon would take forever, would be to symbolically rebirth the branches. Rotten wood is a beautiful source of nutrition in the forest environment, and while this linden was in an awkward, otherwise empty spot, it has its own little ecosystem. This is especially true in the spring, when the blooms attract bees. I broke the bigger branches into pieces and left them at the base, to increase surface area for the microbes that would turn them into nutrient-rich dirt. This also invokes the “laving with loam” that the Norns provide to Yggrasil in Voluspa.
Come spring, that compost will nourish the tree and help it grow new branches and release new seeds. Decomposition is a destructive result of the wood dying, but all life on land is dependent on death. So, like Gullveig, who is repeatedly destroyed and revived, these branches get to come back new.
Three times burned, and three times born,
Oft and again, yet ever she lives.