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Grove of the Ancient Willow

an interfaith community

    Step into The Grove, where paths converge and spirits intertwine like the free flowing branches of the willow tree. We are an interfaith community, a dreamcatcher woven from diverse threads of spiritual seekers. Our purpose is simple yet profound: to guide souls back to themselves through the embrace of nature's wisdom. Whether we're hiking forest trails, drumming beneath the stars, or welcoming the solstice sunrise with open arms, each gathering is a celebration of our shared love for the natural world and our deep reverence for Mother Earth. United by this bond, we embark on a collective journey, illuminating the path for others to rediscover their own connection to the sacred rhythms of life.

    We are proudly listed as a "seedling grove" with OBOD: the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (Druidry.org). Please contact me at refleur369@gmail.com with any inquiries, or if you'd like to join us! Whether that may be for a hike, single ritual, or for good, all are welcome.

The story of the ancient willow...

    Once upon a time there stood a mighty willow tree. You can see her photo above. She lived at the Veterans Memorial Park in Kent, NY on sacred Mount Nimham. The mountain, named after Sachem Daniel Nimham (1724-August 31, 1778) is the ancestral homeland of the Wappinoe (Wappinger) Confederacy. The Wappinger were a band of Algonquin natives, indigenous to the region of the lower Hudson Valley of New York State. Sachem Daniel Nimham was their last chief. He died in battel on August 31, 1778 at what is now Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.

    In 2000 the Daniel Nimham Intertribal Pow Wow was started, after Sachem Nimham appeared to Penny Tarbox (an amazing woman of indigenous heritage) at the top of the mountain. His message was clear: never let them forget who I am. And so the pow wow was born, let by Penny and Chief Gil 'Cryinghawk' Tarbox. It took place for 19 years at the upper Veterans Memorial Park, and ended with Gil's passing.

 

    I joined the pow wow in 2010 as the official photographer, but I became much more than that. Countless hours I spent under the hot August sun, capturing moments of song, dance, and Native American culture through my cameras. I formed lifetime bonds with my pow wow family, and my gratitude is beyond words. I truly believe it was my Native American ancestors who led me there. I am of Algonquin and Cherokee heritage. Although I am unsure as to where my Algonquin ancestors dwelled (they encompassed a large geographic range), it is possible that Mount Nimham could have been their home. Regardless, the mountain has become my sacred space, and my soul's home.

    Enter, the druids. There is some speculation that ancient Celtic peoples came across the ocean long ago, and may have shared the land known as Mount Nimham with the Algonquin. It's thought that the mysterious stone chambers were built by these ancient European explorers. I have spoken with Algonquin elders, regarding this claim, and some maintain that yes, this claim is true, and the druids were the ones who built the stone chambers, as passed down through their oral tradition. Other Algonquin say that no, it was their ancestors who built the chambers. We may never know the truth, but it was my research into the chambers that brought me to Mount Nimham and the pow wow in the first place. You see, I am a druid, and I live by my close connection with Mother Earth and my indigenous ancestry.

    In 2010 I met fellow druid, Jeremy Mack. He had just formed a small group of practicing pagans called Grove of the Ancient Willow. I'd been looking for a group to guide me in my personal practices, and so I joined them and quickly became immersed. We would gather on the mountain outside of its primary stone chamber often, to welcome the changing of the seasons. In 2017 Jeremy moved to New Hampshire and he handed the grove off to me.

    As fate would have it, the old willow at the Veterans Park fell at exactly the same time. My son (3 years old at the time) and I came to the park one February day to find that the willow had become a pile of mulch. The tree was old and sickly, and willows have shallow roots, so she fell due to natural causes. Ironically, the "ancient willow" is a short-lived tree (30-50 years).

 

    Deeply saddened, we gave our respects to the tree, and reminisced on the times we'd spent beneath her branches, only the summer before. It was then that I discovered a willow twig floating in a puddle beside the mulch. It had roots! She still lived, at least in a tiny stick, and I recognized the symbolism of what had happened. The Grove had become my responsibility, and now it was my duty to grow a new tree. So I did.

 

    I took her home, stuck that little twig in a pot of mud, and cared for her for the next 2.5 years. Eventually the tree became too much maintenance (willows require LOTS of water and they grow super fast), and I knew that she no longer belonged in my care. It was time to bring her back home. I went over to the park one day in late August, with an astonishing story, and I asked if they wanted their tree back. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Danielle (named after Sachem Daniel Nimham) was planted a few days later, on August 31st, 2019. That's two-hundred-forty-one years to the day that Sachem Nimham perished in battle. So many were moved by the tree's miraculous return, and the story of how Danielle came to be. She brought together a community. Today Danielle resides just to the right of where she once stood, in the land of the ancestors, on the sacred mountain. Her long, flowing branches sway in the wind, and my son and I can once again find shade beneath her towering stature.

    To add to all that, in the Celtic tree zodiac my tree is the willow. It has always been my favorite tree, and to the druids it was considered the tree of life, as it represents the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It is also the favorite tree of The Grove's founder, Jeremy. He's back from New Hampshire, and the two of us have found a meaningful connection in each other. Yes, there's even a love story in here somewhere.

    Today I make dreamcatchers from her branches. They are only harvested when she needs pruning, whether by myself or by the park. They are never cut "just because". The dreamcatchers are my way of keeping the memory of the pow wow alive, and they represent the interconnectedness of all things. Indeed, Danielle's story is interwoven.

    Below is a gallery of her journey. It spans from 2016 until March 2024. Like the sacred tree of life, the willow's story has come full circle.

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