When I first decided I wanted to create a space for military significant others, I knew I wanted to include trees. For me, there is no greater example of dignity and grace than a tree. A place of comfort. Of sustenance. Of independence. And of nurture.
I wasn't sure what kind of tree I wanted. Chris and I both knew we wanted the HWHV logo to be emblematic of a a woman who had endured. And continued to bend and evolve.
A willow tree naturally began to emerge. As a child, willow trees were very special to me. I spent time with my grandmother under one--a woman who taught me so much in her quiet, gentle stature.
Under that tree, I learned of home and identity. Hope and faith. And of dignified grace.
A willow tree bends with the wind. It does not fight it. And that beautiful sway of the leaves looked and felt like a woman moving in the breeze.
In the original drawing of our logo, I put the yellow ribbon around her waist. Long seen as the symbol of waiting during war, she wore it like a belt--accentuating her curves, and showing her love for all to see.
As we grew and evolved, it was time for our logo to evolve. (The story of how she progressed can actually be found here under the "Our Tree" tab.) As Her War, Her Voice grew in stature and awareness, more and more creativity began to emerge, and, also, she began to let her hair down a little more. Her story began to emerge.
Now, that willow tree has a belt that is loose. The yellow ribbon is flowing freely as she moves from waiting during war to exploring her own story.
People have asked me if that is me in the tree. And the answer is simple: No. That is Her.
I’d never seen one before we moved to the Pacific Northwest. I remember driving over a bridge and looking up on the rocky ledges around us and seeing these trees.
They were red and had peely bark and lovely green leaves.
They were hanging on to the rock face around us in the most tenacious way. I couldn’t understand how they could put down roots, but they were not only perched in outlandish places, they were thriving there.
They seemed drawn to the water, and I have always especially loved trees that laid down roots by the water.
They were twisted. They were motion and stillness entwined.
When Melissa asked us to choose a tree for the website I agonized over it in a way that felt ridiculous. I knew I wanted a bent tree of some sort. I looked at Douglas Firs. I toyed with the Pacific Cedar. My family and I took walks and hikes and I looked for the right bent tree. I sent e-mails to my brilliant brother-in-law who has a degree in botany and asked him questions he must have thought were ridiculous…. “Tell me about the spirituality of this tree.” And he was patient, and kind, and took the questions seriously….
Still I couldn’t find my tree.
One day we were going over the bridge again, and I saw the Madronas. They certainly were bendy. They contorted themselves into all sorts of shapes. Their bark had so much texture—silky smooth in some places… As though showing a placidness within, but in other places ruff and peeling…. Almost frayed around the edges.
I did a little research, hoping to find the answers to the kinds of questions I had asked my brother-in-law….
I read that the trees are self-pruning. When a branch is no longer serving a madrona tree, it will die and fall off, particularly if it is hampering it’s path towards the light.
One website said they represent the balance between darkness and light. It’s almost as if they are always grappling with those things that would keep them from the light…. But they keep snaking their way towards the sun. It is this wrestling that causes them to have the beautiful shapes that they do.
I know that struggle. I know that shaping. I know that dance of light and dark. I have had to learn to prune my branches—sometimes the ones I loved most of all, in order to get the light I need…. To find the balance to be able to continue to grow and thrive.
I find within me stillness that I can tap into, but sometimes get wrapped up in the frayed edges…
And somehow or other the Navy has tied me to the water, in ways that I never expected as a girl who grew up in the cornfields.
So a Madrona it is…. I may never have the wisdom and grace that the mythology of the Madrona suggests.
But I can learn.
I can keep grappling with darkness and reaching for light.
I can stretch my roots out in this life I never expected and hold on tight.
And one day, all this wrestling just might make something beautiful.
My Why Val's Story of her Her War, Her Voice Journey
"Why I Stay and Keep Staying" Kristina's story of her Her War, Her Voice journey
All my life, I've been drawn to the "hippy stuff". It's been something that I find frustrating, because I am very logical and try to be "scientific" in my approach to life, so having a part of myself that finds comfort in the smell of sweetgrass burning, the colors of the stones I collect like a curious bird, the candles and incense I burn has always been difficult to reconcile.
And then I met Melissa at the very first Her War, Her Voice retreat.
And I realized that it was okay to be both. That neither detracted from the other parts of myself.
So when we started looking for trees that would represent ourselves for our Her War, Her Voice work, it seemed only natural for me to pick a tree that holds so many myths and magical ideas.
Hawthorn myths tell of the leaves, flowers, and branches being used for protection, to promote love and good relationships, and have long been considered a place where the fae will meet you and take you away to a different reality.
So it makes sense, to me, to use a tree with such history to describe myself and the reality I discovered during my time as a military spouse.
Because I was swept away into a different world, one that has, for better or worse, changed my very being and how I perceive myself and the non military world.
And because while I was in that world, so different from my old one and the one I live in now, where I found love and relationships that still, to this day, lift me up and hold me in kindness and sisterhood.
Because the relationships I made while whisked away into that world are still magically transforming me into a stronger, better, more loving version of the person I was before.
Even if I still get embarrassed about my hippy feelings.
My tree doesn't fit in with the grove of trees very well. It's not colorful, or pretty. It isn't awe inspiring. As a matter of fact, I am almost sure it is nearly dead. It stands between two large rock walls, to the side of a rock staircase leading down to unknown places. I'm sure someone knows where it leads, but I never ventured further down than my tree, so I don't. I discovered my tree with my group of sisters at the first retreat.
There is seemingly nothing special about it. It simply looks like a gnarled tree in the middle of the path. It bends and curves in odd ways, and doesn't have any nice branches or leaves. It doesn't grow beautiful fruit, or even nice flowers. It is just there, looking bleak and somewhat hopeless. It looks out of place.
The magic of my tree lies in its unassuming nature. When you walk around the tree, it is hollow. It is so deep inside that I can fit my entire body with room to spare. It is the perfect place to hide and listen to the world. It is arched perfectly to hold my back and head comfortably and cradles me as I get lost in the breeze and nature sounds floating around. The beauty lies in its hidden qualities. The qualities that take a bit of searching to discover. To get inside one has to climb a bit of the rock face, and step further than is normally a comfortable step.
I feel this is how most of us are. We hope that someone will take the time to look past what we show, and see our hidden beauty and magical qualities. I am that person who is willing to dig. To ask. To search. I look for that beauty and magic in everyone. I hope others see it in me.
How I came to Her War, Her Voice Devin's story of her Her War, Her Voice journey
Her War, Her Voice Beginning Colleen's story of her Her War, Her Voice journey
Growing up in Georgia means peaches, pecans, and pine trees. We never had mulch or black soil, just red clay and pine needles. Fall meant jumping in piles of stinging pine needles and pointy pine cones. School crafts centered around those bombs of pain while we poured glitter and glue over them for every holiday. We scooped piles of of peanut butter and messy bags of birdseed to make bird feeders. The smell of pine always filled the air.
When I married my soldier and moved to Kansas, I felt lost in the rolling Flint Hills dotted with cottonwood trees. Any type of conifer tree was far and few between in the grassy prairie. I longed for the smell of the pine. I only got headache-inducing whiffs at the candle section during the winter as the aisles of the stores filled with the overwhelming fake scent of “pine.”
A few years later, we moved to Kentucky. There were a few pine trees among the fat hardwoods. Fall meant piles of leaves for my daughter to jump in as leaves clung to her curly brown hair. We had a small pine in our backyard, but it still wasn’t the same. It was short and the needles were short. The pine cones were tiny. It never appeased my longing for home, but rather it made me miss “home” more than ever.
We received orders for Georgia and my heart soared. Our new house had three majestic southern white pines in our back yard. They swayed in the wind. Pine straw was everywhere. Oh how I missed those spiky needles and painful pinecones. The smell of pine fills the air everyday.
During road trips, our children know we are far from home when they don’t see pine trees anymore. As we head back to the south, they squeal with delight when the pinetrees grow taller and more frequent. My heart fills with content when I see my pines and I know I’m HOME.
The Japanese Maple Tree signifies great blessings and peaceful retreat.
The tree is associated with peace and serenity and represent balance-fall is my favorite season and I love the vibrant colors of the trees.
This tree has always been one of my favorites because it can adapt. It can be a small bush in a small garden space or grow to be a 20’ tree. The leaves look like hands and the branches can form a canopy to cover and protect someone sitting under it and it provides nourishment to wildlife, from the seeds to the buds and flowers of the leaves as they grow each spring.
That is me, I can adapt to pretty much any situation and I protect and nourish those that I love and care for.
Even though I was a quiet, shy person growing up, I guess there was a vibrant personality waiting to bloom.
Why I came to Her War, Her Voice Tricia's Story of her Her War, Her Voice Journey
I grew up in a city in the middle of the country. It was a lovely home and a lovely childhood. What I didn’t know was that my soul belonged to the ocean. My first real duty assignment with the Air Force was to Hawaii. That is when I found out that I needed the ocean. The smell of salt water that hangs in the air. The sound of the wind in the palm trees. Even all these years later, the sound of the wind in palm trees brings me peace.
Not the Only One: My Journey and Why I Stay With Her War, Her Voice Heather's Story of her Her War, Her Voice Journey
Victoria Diehl Holm
Victoria Diehl Holm is the talented artist who created each and every one of our beautifully lovely trees.
When Melissa first talked with us about having our own personal trees, with their own artwork, I was a little skeptical.
I thought "If we have our own trees, will that divide us? Will Melissa be able to find an artist that we all will love, that will do our thoughts and our selves justice?"
And then she told us it would be Victoria.
She and I had both been at that very first retreat.
I knew that she would create something that would speak to us all.
And she did.
This is her story for us:
Breath, Just Breath