Friday, June 14

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Mother Tree Festival: Remembering our Roots

By: Chantelle Pence

We can’t choose our relatives, but we can choose whether or not to interact in a sacred way with all our relations. Over Mother’s Day weekend, a crowd gathered at the Crestone campus of Colorado College to explore ways of being in better relationship with the spaces we inhabit. The Mother Tree Festival featured an impressive lineup of speakers representing science and traditional wisdom. The event aimed to inspire and educate people to be intentional and active participantsin the network of life within and around us.

Jose Lucero, a traditional Tewa Pueblo elder from the Santa Clara Pueblo, spoke about the interconnectedness of all beings and our relationship with all of life. He shared the significance of the “Butterfly Song,” sung during the butterfly migration. People in tune with natural intelligence know the significance of the small winged creatures. They don’t need a textbook to tell them. Nature informs them. Scientific data confirms the importance of insects and their role in the natural world. However, hard data doesn’t always inspire pathways for connection. This is why traditional science is so important. It includes methods for relating, not just intellectually understanding. 

All relationships begin within.  Bill Smith, a local Qigong practitioner, emphasized this point as he guided participants through a series of gentle movements. He emphasized the idea of simplicity. The more complicated we make things, the more trouble it brings. Practices such as Tai Chi help cultivate a sense of peace. A mind at peace may pay more attention to a monarch butterfly on its way through Crestone, and make one more inclined to plant native milkweed to provide food and shelter along butterfly migration routes. One may choose to avoid chemical products like Roundup, a key contributor to the declining population of precious insects. By befriending our own inner nature, we can better care for nature that surrounds us. 

Angie Jensen, a forester who knows the land intimately, offered a new prescription for fire mitigation. Many mitigation projects focus on removal of trees but fail to address the fuel sources on the ground, including dry wood chips. Fires may nibble on the trees, but they devour the dry buffet underneath. Angie proposed a prescription that focuses on the cultivation of healthy soil, a more conscious approach to selecting trees for cutting, and utilizing the aid of animals such as goats for ground maintenance.  

Peter May, lead organizer of the festival, provided a traditional perspective on fire science and mitigation. The original caretakers of this land used fire intentionally to aid in the health and restoration of the soil. It was a practical and proactive approach. Peter asserts that “low intensity fire, in the appropriate context at the proper time, can lower relative fire danger, increase biodiversity, and increase the resilience of the land.” When fire is a known and respected element, we can work with it rather than be dominated by fear of it.

Peter also taught the group how to identify “Mother Trees,” and how to apply intentional but simple strategies for boosting their wellbeing. He demonstrated how to nourish the soil around the largest trees annually. The trees will then nourish other plants and trees in the vicinity, through a mycelium network (fungus), an awe-inspiring example of natural intelligence. It may seem almost magical, but the evidence is in the trees. For example, a nourished Piñon tree will produce nuts more frequently and abundantly than a tree left untended. 

Some people question the wisdom of human interference. For example, the reintroduction of beavers to Crestone, where they have essentially gone extinct, is concerning to many. Beavers can significantly impact an area, so the concern is valid. However, in their absence, the land suffers. They are nature’s engineers, and in the decades since they were eliminated from the immediate environment, the once green grassland has become dry and shows alarming signs of illness. The beaver is a helper to the land. A friend. 

We can’t be in true relationship with another unless we interact with deliberate intention. We can’t ignore our loved ones and expect a good relationship. Neither should we dominate or control them. There is a balance. The Mother Tree Festival provided a balanced perspective on habitat restoration, and practical tools for being in right relationship with the web of life. 

The Mother Tree Festival was initiated by e3ecologic. For more information go to

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