Clarissa Pinkola Estés on growing the forest of our creative possibilities

painted dead trees by Curtis Killorn in Colorado

painted dead trees by Curtis Killorn in Colorado

Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

When I was a little girl, I married a Tree. I held a wedding ceremony and married an oak tree in the forest behind our little house. I loved Tree, like fire, and being near trees is the most calming, inspiring, and heartfelt. I understand trees as mothers and fathers, that they literally nurture us (and I don’t mean just scientifically, providing oxygen, which is one of the most merciful things they could do in culture like ours that loves to pollute the atmosphere).

I have always felt trees are Beings; when I read about the Ents” in Tolkien’s work, as a moving forest of living trees who would actually go to battle to protect innocent lives, I felt that was exactly right. That is exactly the way trees are.

In the old country where my parents came from, my father said the big trees were “Guardian Trees.” There was not a village that didn’t have Guardian Trees at the beginning of the road leading to the little houses. They literally said the sound of the wind in the leaves of the trees or the needles in the evergreens would change if people were coming from a distance–walking or on wagon or on horseback. The Trees would tell when someone was far off but advancing toward the village, and from which direction, and on what kind of conveyance, and sometimes whether they were armed or not. The trees were “Guardian Trees” and they would alert everyone to whom or what was coming next.


The idea of Trees being the essential part of life, rather than some extraneous decoration on someone’s lawn… this is how I grew up. We relied on the peach, cherry, plum, and apple trees for real nourishment. We handpicked all their fruits and then canned them in the heat of the summer, steam rising in the kitchen and everyone taking more and more of their clothes off then. We sterilized all the glass jars and put up all the fruit and then lined it up on the shelves in the cellar. They glass jars glowed gold and red and yellow in the wintertime in the dark and it was so beautiful and glistening. The Trees were considered our helpers and our mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.


Natalia Rak, in Bialystok (Poland)

Natalia Rak, in Bialystok (Poland)

In Women Who Run With the Wolves the motif is wolves, and The Dangerous Old Woman, has a motif too that runs throughout the entire manuscript: Trees, what beauty they are; the graciousness they are; what they teach us and what travails they endure. Trees are what I call “S.S.” for “Still Standing.” Just like us. And they are all scarred up, like us, too.


The drive to grow arms (to reach) and to bloom is inside of us in genome form in the psyche, pushing for us to develop all our gifts. Sometimes it really is a matter of time. We’re gathering the learning, the parts, the strengths; we’re gathering the right moment, the right atmosphere, the ‘good enough’ soil to plant ourselves in, the able root system. And one daywhat never showed above ground before suddenly begins to grow green and beautiful above ground… and we nurture our new arms, our blossoms in fresh ways then. However, there are ill circumstances that we, ourselves, can allow to interfere with that process of burgeoning.

Tami Simon interviews Clarissa Pinkola Estés on The Dangerous Old Woman: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype

calvin and hobbes by Oak Oak

calvin and hobbes by Oak Oak

As I complete this book, I look out onto the little tree farm I began to grow three years ago when I first began to write The Faithful Gardener. I began the tree farm and the book as active prayers in honor of Uncle and my other refugee dear ones, and to entreat the strongest intercession and blessing


Neighbors and passers-by stopped to ask why the yard was “torn up.” “Why is it so naked?” Didn’t I plan to put down some nice Kentucky Blue? “You gonna build a big garage?” I stood by my homely fallow land.

“You’re growing a what?”

I’m growing a forest in the city, an urban forest.”

People went away scratching their heads.

A village inspector stopped by. He said he had heard that someone in the neighborhood was building a forest in their backyard.

“Doesn’t look like a forest,” he said.

“Wait,” I said.

“Might be illegal,” he said.

“As you can see at this point it is only a forest in the air.”

“Hmmf,” he said.

The second year, there came the faithful miracle. Tiny trees began to appear in the fallow ground, trees so small that one would be tempted to tell children that these were lived in by elves. There were the tiniest sprigs of spruce, a delicate red-stemmed maple, and seven baby bays from a huge mother tree down the road. At the end of the third year now, there are two maples four feet tall, fifteen bays, two ash trees almost five feet tall, three golden rain trees whose small puffed up lanterns have bloomed twice, and twenty-seven elm starts.

As amazing, it appears as though the earth remembers its own most ancient patterns, for beneath the saplings, little grape ivies and fernleaf and other ground covers have begun to grow. Full-headed clover has broken through the skin of this earth. Flickers, sparrows and woodpeckers, and other small animals have brought seeds of various sorts. There is the start of a wild strawberry vines, and there are wild onions. There is yerba buena, there is mint, there is yanica, and other herbs, all thriving as though nature has a tremendous love for the medicinal as well as for the beauteous.

Onto this plot of land that once held so little, also have come new butterflies, the flying red-spotted ladies, and crickets-not the usual tired-out urban crickets who say “twe-twe,” but the crickets that sing four-part harmonies and ring like bells, “twetwetwetwetwetwe…” There is an old wooden garden wall that protects the little tree farm from north winds in the winter. The stars overhead can now shine on another tiny part of reclaimed Eden.

What is this faithful process of spirit and seed that touches empty ground and makes it rich again? It’s greater workings I cannot claim to understand. But I know this: Whatever we set our days to might be the least of what we do, if we do not also understand that something is waiting for us to make ground for it, something that lingers near us, something that loves, something that waits for the right ground to be made so it can make its full presence known.

I am certain that as we stand in the care of this faithful force, that what has seemed dead is dead no longer, what has seemed lost is no longer lost, that which some have claimed impossible, is made clearly possible, and what ground is fallow is only restingresting and waiting for the blessed seed to arrive on the wind with all Godspeed.

And it will”.

The Faithful Gardener, Epilogue, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Papy and Milouz (TSF - France)

Papy and Milouz (TSF – France)

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