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Tree of Life by Quinn Blackburn

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This is some of my hand embroidery work from a few years back. Originally made for sale, this ended up being one of those pieces that I just couldn’t give up. The World Tree or Tree of Life is nearly a universal symbol found in cultures around the globe. This is one of my favorite views of this symbol. I imagined an Oak as I stitched, especially good friends to me and more reflective of my Ancestors… but the feeling behind this image is best expressed in this work written for and inspired by the Lakota Tree of Life… the Cottonwood…

Spiritual Warrior

“Awaken and listen
to the sacred voice within.
I will teach you how to heal
burns on soul or skin.

My wind-wise rattles
teach the rhythm of Mystery,
as I quake with power.
Self-reliance and spiritual evolution
can be learned within my shady bower.

With the wisdom of Ancestors.
from cradleboard to shield,
I will protect and guide
Secrets of astral travel,
transcending fear,
triumph over adversity,
and righteous living I confide."

Who sings now?

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” ~ Denis Waitley

Cottonwoods are related to Aspens and Poplars belonging to Family Salicaceae (Along with Willows) Genus Populus. There are only three species of Cottonwood in their own section called Aegiros. Cottonwoods can be found in North America, Europe and Western Asia. Cottonwoods are associated with spiritual growth and awakening, prayers, blessings, purity, creation, truth (especially the seeing of truth), endurance, higher communication, hope, rebirth.

Species of Poplar or Aspen, like Cottonwood, can be found in North America, Europe and Asia. Cottonwoods typically reach a height of 40 to 80 feet! Male and female Cottonwood flowers are in separate catkins, appearing before the leaves in spring. The seeds are borne on cottony structures which allow them to be blown long distances in the air before settling to ground. Cottonwoods are quite tall trees, the Plains Cottonwood reaching a size of 60-100 feet tall with a canopy of similar proportion. Prone to wood decay, Cottonwoods can become potentially dangerous once they begin to get on in years, around 60-70 depending on the kind of Cottonwood and the conditions. I know I wouldn’t want one of those huge limbs hurtling in my direction!

Most Cottonwoods can live up to 100 years, but a few have been fortunate enough to be placed in conditions that have allowed them even longer lives. There is a Rio Grande Cottonwood (or possibly a Fremont Cottonwood) growing in the Ruby Canyon along the Colorado River near the Utah border. This lovely tree was measured and examined in 1995, and was found to be just over 200 years old and still thriving!

The Fremont Cottonwood has many uses. The active biochemical constituents are salicin and populin, the precursors of aspirin that are useful wherever a fever needs reducing or an anti-inflammatory is appropriate (Moore 1979). The bark is the most effective part for tea but is rather bitter; for this reason the leaves are often preferred. Leaf buds make an excellent ointment for burns and skin irritations. A wash of the bark is applied externally for cuts, bruises, abrasions, burns and fetid perspiration, as well as healing chafing sores on horses.

A poultice has been used for sprains, muscle pain, and swollen joints. A salve can be made that cleanses and conditions the skin when used regularly. Internally, it is considered to be an anti-inflammatory agent, reduces fever, indigestion, aids coughs from colds, expels worms and intestinal parasites, is effective against scurvy, heart troubles, back pain, excessive menses, and urinary tract infections. It is a diuretic, and has been used to prevent premature birth.

“Native American isn’t blood. It is what is in the heart. The love for the land, the respect for it, those who inhabit it, and the respect and acknowledgement of the spirits and elders. That is what it is to be Indian.” ~ White Feather, Navajo Medicine Man

The young catkins, inner bark and sweet sap are all edible (a helpful food source to Native Americans, especially during lean times, as it could feed man or horse), the wood was often used as the roof beam for lodges, and Cottonwood was rather popular for basket making. The Hopi of Arizona make Kachina dolls from this Teacher’s roots. Chumash skirts, cordage and cradle padding were made from the inner bark, and this Teacher was also very popular for the making of cradleboards.

Cottonwoods are also drawn to water, and grow only in wet soil. They were a welcome site to pioneers on the Oregon trail which supported few trees. The shade they provided must have been almost as welcome as the water so often found nearby. They are found along lakes, riverbanks and irrigation ditches and do very well surviving flood conditions. Their leaves are often described as triangular. Personally, they look like spades to me, and I have to say that the sound of their leaves is quite unlike any other tree that I’ve heard thus far. They “twinkle” in the slightest breeze and turn a brilliant shade of yellow in the fall. While this Tree is not considered high-grade for building or as fire wood as it doesn’t split or burn well and rots easily, it is currently being consider as a “fuel crop”, along with the Willow. They hope to develop a more efficient and cost effective fuel, cellulosic ethanol, with which to wean us off of oil. It is also favored by artisans for carving.

“May my life be like a great hospitable tree, and may weary wanderers find in me a rest.” ~ John Henry Jowett

To many Native Americans the Cottonwood tree holds great significance and is considered to be the Tree of Life. It is said that to tell a lie under a Cottonwood will bring illness to the liar. The “Shield-maker’s” tree, Cottonwoods are associated with old age, the wisdom of our elders, and the many eye shapes found upon it’s surface indicate an ability to see truth or perhaps even into the future and dreams.

The Cottonwood is essential to the Sun Dance ceremony, and some study of this may be useful to those who feel called by this Teacher. The study of Medicine Shields, another Native Tradition, as well as other sacred ways may also be beneficial. These “quaking” trees are much respected. From my own experiences I can say that Cottonwoods speak clearly and loudly, and have a great sense of responsibility from a very young age. Tucked away I have four Cottonwood leaves from a very special friend I made one year. She placed them in my mouth herself as if to say, “Shut up and listen already! Close your mouth and look!”

I’ve tried to do just that ever since, and my own spiritual growth since that day has risen by leaps and bounds. Life is a dance; sometimes we stumble or even break a bone, sometimes we miss a turn, or just want to give our aching feet a rest. The point is to dance with all your heart, and remember that you aren’t dancing alone. Every day is a challenge, it is up to us to turn our lives into artwork. Truly, an excellent friend for anyone looking for spiritual awakening, healing, and the strength or inspiration to simply live a good life. Be warned though, that road is never as easy and untroubled as it oft times appears! Cottonwood will help you bear the load and make the best decisions possible though. Belonging to the Family Salicaceae, Cottonwoods can be good as pioneer trees in an unwooded area, and they will even tolerate dry soil if they begin their lives in area with dry soil.

Awareness, walking our talk, and maintaining a spiritually healthy life are important topics to the Cottonwood and those called by this Teacher. Without these things, we too may begin to decay and become a potential hazard to others! Owning and expressing our emotions properly is equally important to being well grounded, and acting as a vessel of Divine will is vital. Honoring our Ancestors and exploring their wisdom are also key Cottonwood concepts. Perhaps more than any other lesson, Cottonwood would like us to choose to live every moment to the best of our abilities by being a good example to others.

“Friend do it this way – that is,
whatever you do in life,
do the very best you can
with both your heart and mind.

And if you do it that way,
the Power Of The Universe
will come to your assistance,
if your heart and mind are in Unity.

When one sits in the Hoop Of The People,
one must be responsible because
All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do effects everything in the universe.

If you do it that way – that is,
if you truly join your heart and mind
as One – whatever you ask for,
that’s the Way It’s Going To Be."

Translated from Lakota, passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman

Potential Balancing Energies: Horse, Bison/Buffalo, Deer, Rabbit, Bear, Wind, Water, birds from the Hummingbird to the Eagle, Willow, Poplar, Aspen, various Fungi, Prarie dog, Gopher, various Lepidoptera, Bees, Ants, Swan, Citrine Quartz, Sapphire, Swan Fluorite, Dragonfly and other Insects

Key Concepts: Sun Dance ceremony, spiritual growth and awakening, prayers, blessings, purity, truth (especially the seeing of truth and spiritual vision), endurance, higher communication, hope, soul work, creation, death, rebirth, healing, transcending fear, Ancestors and living as an example to others.

Associated Gods/Goddesses or Mythic figures: A World Tree of North America, Creator and the individual spirit of the Tree, Balm of Gilead, and through European connections Hercules, the Heliads, the nymph Leuce, Inanna,Persephone, Hecate, Ua-Ildak, Jesus


axis mundi, embroidery, entwife, needlecraft, tree, tree of life

I look to All My Relations for advice, wisdom, and inspiration. I’m a Gemini with Pisces rising…everything else is subject to change without notice.

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  • tkrosevear
    tkrosevearalmost 5 years ago

    this has always been a fave image Quinn ;) xoxox ♥

  • This piece simply grew as I sat stitching half in dream on my porch with only the trees, birds and wind for company… perhaps that’s why I found I simply couldn’t give it up. :) The Axis Mundi or Tree of Life is one of those symbols that I just love to see from another’s perspective, and I’ve already seen quite a few beautiful renderings in my short time here. :) However similar the images may be superficially, each is unique and beautiful unto itself. I’m glad you too enjoy one of my favorite pieces, my dear. As always…

    wishing you laughter :)

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • SummerJade
    SummerJadealmost 5 years ago

    Awesome work! You are very talented. ♥☺

  • Thank you! Embroidery is something I learned as a child, and returned to with joy many years later. ~ wishing you laughter

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • Mary Campbell
    Mary Campbellalmost 5 years ago

    Lovely work

  • Thanks :)

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • nishagandhi
    nishagandhialmost 5 years ago

    very unique work!!!

  • thank you :)

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • Jan Landers
    Jan Landersalmost 5 years ago

    ooh….this is so beautiful….one of my favorite images, quinn…..lovely work!

  • Thank you :) it’s one of my favorite pieces, and quite possibly my favorite general symbol.

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • theyellowfury
    theyellowfuryalmost 5 years ago

    That’s excellent, I love trees

  • :) Me too, and thanks for taking the time to comment. Feedback is always welcome. ~ wishing you laughter

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • Doug Wilkening
    Doug Wilkeningalmost 5 years ago

    My wife Cindy also does needlework, and, although she exhibits at a local artists’ co-operative gallery, she never permits anything to be sold. She gives pieces away to friends, but she never sells. Maybe when you put that much effort and TLC into something it becomes very personal.

  • Oh definitely… I’ve done more trade/barter work than outright selling, and all our nearest and dearest have some piece of my embroidery. In fact, my favorite embroidery project is, hands down, a baby blanket. To me, the focus there is never whether I’m getting something in return, it is all about putting thought, care, and positive emotion into the work as it is meant for a brand new person who knows nothing yet of the mundane cares of this world… and they’ll find those out soon enough! :) I’ve never actually sold a baby blanket, although I’ve gifted a few… but I also have a practical side and if doing a piece for sale, whatever it might be, would help me meet the necessary goals for the care of my home and family, I’ll do it.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share your view. It’s good to know that others have a similar connection to the items they craft, making it difficult for them to let go too. lol It’s not as bad as seeing your youngest child off on her first day of school.. but it’s close!

    :) wishing you laughter

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • nmbrplus
    nmbrplusalmost 5 years ago

    it’s really very beautiful; I can see why you couldn’t give up this one…..JD

  • Thank you :) Many times, I’ll begin a piece of embroidery just knowing that it is destined for someone… maybe not anyone I know yet, but someone soon. Finding that person and giving them their piece is almost more enjoyable than hanging onto those pieces that mean too much for you to give them away. :) It’s like matching up just the right home with their own puppy. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    :) wishing you laughter

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • Windsmane
    Windsmanealmost 5 years ago

    Lovely work. Drew me right to it when I saw it. Thought it was a drawn image at first even more impressed with it seeing how it was done now.. Very cool

  • Thank you :) Oddly enough, I can’t recall ever actually drawing out first any image that I’ve planned on embroidering. With a more complex piece, I have done what I think of as a layout sketch though… It helps me decide how to arrange the images I’ve chosen for, say, a blanket, but it’s never a detailed sketch. My embroidered pieces are very clear in my mind’s eye, and my needle just coaxes out the shapes I see there. Glad you enjoyed one of my favorites!

    :) wishing you laughter

    – Quinn Blackburn

  • SacredSpace108
    SacredSpace108almost 5 years ago

    This is lovely. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • thank you for taking the time to offer feedback, always appreciated! :) wishing you laughter

    – Quinn Blackburn

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