Returning to the Roots By Heather Angstadt
It was well into the cool November evening as we drove the two lane road toward Lake Seminole. The trees and plant life on both sides of the road seemed to hug the passageway in a balmy embrace. Nocturnal sounds of abundant animal life came bursting forth out of the darkness, weaving their way into the expanse of night. Though I was in a van full of family, I found myself mesmerized by an energy of land and place that was palpable, that I could sense in all ways. This feeling stayed with me during the visit, as I connected with the land, my ancestors, and my roots in a way that I’d never experienced before.
Thirteen years had passed since I’d stepped foot on the sacred piece of Earth that is deep South Georgia, way down in the Southwest corner of the state, thirty minutes to the Alabama line and twenty minutes to the Florida line. Growing up I lived in the town of Bainbridge, formerly a Lower Creek Indian village called Pucknawhitla, situated along the Flint River. The early Native American inhabits of this land were Cherokee, Yamasee, Hitchiti, and Apalachee peoples, later known as either Creeks or Seminoles. The institution of slavery brought people from mostly the western coast of Africa to the southern colonies and early settlers in those days were mostly from Germany, Ireland, and Scotland. My last family member to live here was my grandfather, who passed into the world of Spirit in September of 2004, marking my last visit to the area.
The morning after my arrival, I awoke to find the state tree of Georgia, a huge Live Oak, outside my window in the front yard, with Spanish moss draped across the branches and stretching down toward the Earth. I remember playing with this moss as a child and being told to put it down because there were “red bugs” in it. Thinking back to those memories makes me laugh, as I can simultaneously feel the curiosity of my spirit along with my family’s belief that moss was something I should not be playing with. Spanish moss is not actually a moss and yes, there are “red bugs” and other bugs in it because it provides shelter for them. When prepared correctly it is actually edible and has some medicinal properties, including being antibacterial. I can just see the look on my grandmother’s face now if I were to pick moss off an Oak tree and eat it. I imagine my punishment would have been washing my mouth out with soap and a spanking, common Southern ways to discipline children in those days. As with all plant medicines, it is imperative to know how to honor, harvest, and prepare these medicines appropriately.
Speaking of Oak trees, they are also sacred to the ancient Celtic people. These lovely trees are majestic symbols of wisdom and strength, having the ability to stay alive and green throughout the cold winter months when other trees are dormant and lifeless. As a testament to their sturdy nature, they typically live hundreds of years, with the oldest one estimated to be over 1500 years old. These trees, like people in our family, are our ancestors as well and have seen and held some of our human ancestors. What stories do these trees have to share?
I felt those stories as I rested my body and soul under that tree, feeling the heartbeat of the land as I stared up at the dangling moss and curvy branches. The heartbeat of a land that is lush and primal, that I felt in a way that I had never felt before. I sensed the roots of these trees running deep into the Earth and the memories held within them. My belief is that the land, the trees, the waters, and the plants carry memories just as we do and we can access those memories by spending time with them in quiet reflection. As I sat under that Live Oak, I honored the memories of nature and the memories of all the folks who walked on, lived on, died on, loved on, suffered on, bled on, sweat on, cried on, and celebrated on this land. I heard their spirits through the owls in that Oak tree and other trees along the circle of land around our home, hooting at dusk and throughout the night.
The Magnolia tree in the neighbor’s yard drew me in as well, reminding me of the large, bushy one in my grandparent’s yard that I played in all the time as a little girl. I frolicked around in the center of that tree for hours, getting lost in all the leaves and branches. I remember the lovely, fragrant scent emitted by their large, white flowers. These trees represent magnificence, perseverance, nobility, dignity, and a love of nature. It is no coincidence that the term “Steel Magnolia” is often used to refer to a strong southern woman.
Just beyond the beautiful Magnolia, the family of Oaks in the backyard led me to the slough that ran into Lake Seminole. Walking quietly to the place where land gave way to water, the spirit of the land was rich with the voices of souls passed. In that space, I thought of how the voices of our ancestors speak through us. I heard the lyrics of Ayla Nereo’s song “Hum” playing in my head - “so we give our voices, so we give our voices to the ones who’ve left us”. We carry their stories inside of us and keep their memories alive. We give reverence for their lives, their experiences, their sorrows, their joys, and their stories. They speak through the alligator and bald eagle I saw on a boat ride and the trees and plants I sat with. And they speak through family and cultural traditions like making black eyed peas and collard greens to bring in the New Year with good luck and prosperity.
I believe that connecting with our ancestral lineage is vital to claiming all of who we are and a way to receive support through our bloodlines. And connecting to our roots is as much a connection to the land, the plants, the trees, the waters, and the animals as it is to our human ancestors. The spiral in the Celtic cross I saw in the “Oak City” cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried sparked thoughts of the passing of time, cycles, and right timing and direction. Everything in life has its season and timing. This season of my life has brought me to a space of deep appreciation of the land where I spent most of my younger years. Arriving at this place of reverence for my past has given me a more profound understanding of how my life affects future generations. And though I’ve said that many times before, this time I feel it in my soul.
Heather Angstadt was born in California, raised mostly in South Georgia, and currently resides close to the ocean in Santa Cruz, CA. She is the co-owner of Heartsong Speech and Language Services and the creatress of The Ruby Spiral, offering women’s wisdom and womb care. She loves spending time in nature and has recently rediscovered her passion for writing. For more information about Heather and The Ruby Spiral, check out www.therubyspiral.com
Was born in California, raised mostly in South Georgia, and currently resides close to the ocean in Santa Cruz, CA. She is the co-owner of Heartsong Speech and Language Services and the creatress of The Ruby Spiral, offering women’s wisdom and womb care. She loves spending time in nature and has recently rediscovered her passion for writing. For more information about Heather and The Ruby Spiral, check out www.therubyspiral.com