Home California Happy Halloween! Or, And Now for Something Completely Different (and a little random): The Heritage Madrone, a Bonus in the Wine Writer’s Life, for Shiloh

Happy Halloween! Or, And Now for Something Completely Different (and a little random): The Heritage Madrone, a Bonus in the Wine Writer’s Life, for Shiloh


The Oldest Madrone in Sonoma County, Likely in California

On the Western ridge overlooking Lake Sonoma stands the oldest known Madrone in Sonoma County, believed to be the oldest in all of California. The tree is over 300-years old and measures approximately 11 1/2 feet in diameter about the base. In such remarkable state, it’s registered a Heritage Tree, which means it stands as a protected growth, treated and maintained only by those certified by the county to handle treasured plants.

Madrone do not typically spread so wide at their base, instead usually growing up for a distance before then branching into an open canopy. But the heritage Madrone grows at a curve where the crest turns into the slope of a hill. It is believed that because of its position at the arc of a slope the structure of its trunk started differently than others might.

In 1995 I happened into a seminar on past life regressions being led by a woman skilled in what she called “Vibrational Healing.” Generally curious I decided to participate, and then found out she also needed someone to demonstrate her techniques on for the group. I volunteered. Though deeply skeptical that I even had past lives to explore, I was also quite willing to experience the process directly and share in the intimacies of what was discovered.

Since I’d practiced meditation before, the Vibrational Healer was able to bring me into a conscious trance state easy enough. After guiding me through the initial steps, the Healer began asking me questions to move me through the reality of my previous incarnation and discover together who I was.

During the question process I simply remember feeling a deep, grounded, incredible calm. The kind of consistent steadiness in the feeling persisted through the duration of the regression experience for me. The Healer would ask me questions about the life I was experiencing and within that steady calm I would answer. Every step of the way I felt an incredible ease. As we moved through the stages of the life I could also feel nuances of other lives around me–other beings alive near me–but the entire experience was marked by a lack of visual stimulation and little focus too on sound. At times I could see the color of things moving, but it was like I felt the movement more than saw it.

I found out later that this steady calm I was feeling was actually coupled with a long period of low level anxiety for the Healer, and a sense of uncertainty for those observing. It turned out the way I was responding to the session, both in terms of the slowness of my responses, and the kinds of answers I was giving, were unlike anything the Healer had experienced before, or read about, after more than 30-years “in the business.” While I was pleasantly relaxed in my steady state, others in the room were perplexed. I could feel a sense of their confusion from within the trance I was in but more than that was a clarity that it wasn’t something to worry about. The confusion would work itself out, and in the meantime all of us were quite okay. We could just continue as we were, okay. The overall feeling was carved by that combined sense of knowing my own state, while understanding at the same time we were all together. Whatever we happened to be doing both were true–I was simply me, and we were in it all together.

Finally, the Healer decided she had to ask me a direct question. None of the tricks she had to sorting out when in history, or what sort of person I was had worked. So, at last she simply asked if I was human. In my happy calm, I laughed and said, no. Still perplexed, she asked me if I was an animal (she told me later people often regress to animal past lives), again, I said no. Finally after some series of questions I told her that of course, yes, I knew who and what I was. I was a tree. It hadn’t occurred to me to worry or say such a thing until this point in the session. I also knew I wasn’t an oak, but I had a shape kind of like one, with bark like oak in places. There were berries instead of little nuts, and I’d helped grow many small ones [younger trees]. I told the Healer that because my human self didn’t know the name my kind of tree, I wouldn’t be able to name it for them then.

The Healer told me later she’d never had someone regress to a tree, nor even heard of anyone having a past life as a tree. By the end of the session, we also discovered that my life as a tree was actually still existing. Though my tree had started its life long before my human had, the two of us were coexisting. We were in our lives together, even if we hadn’t met. In that sense, my tree life wasn’t a past life at all, but a concurrent one. Whatever may happen through the rest of my life, there was always a tree-me out there somewhere.

The steady calm I felt during that session was a gift that stayed with me. Whatever else I may think of the idea of past lives, or past life regressions, that feeling is something I’ve always been grateful for. I have to admit too in some weird way I draw strength from imagining I could be living two lives simultaneously, and endless humor in thinking that while Shirley McClaine is lucky enough to have been Cleopatra, I get to be a Madrone near the California coast.

The Heritage Madrone resides on the Gustafson Estate about 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean, looking over the intersection point of the Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile AVAs. It’s one of the loveliest trees I’ve had the fortune to meet, a bonus in the midst of visiting vineyard sites and interviewing people in wine.

Folk viticultural knowledge tells us that Madrone are markers for a good place to grow grapes. In the right place Madrone grow deep and steady roots, but require good drainage in the midst of an available water table. That is, they grow where water is provided but doesn’t pool, much like what grape vines need.

A few weeks into November I’ll be doing a series on the Dry Creek Valley AVA. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a range of interesting sites, and to interview people important to the history of the AVA as well over these last few weeks. In the meantime, for Halloween, I thought I’d share a bit of silliness and good fortune–the haunt of a spirit older than any of us, the Heritage Madrone.

Cheers! Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

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