When my grandpa Averill bought property on Wolf Lake in the Irish Hills of Michigan in the early 40s, he picked the choice lot for himself, and then parceled out smaller lots along the lake edge in a little barony he named “Averill’s Basswood Terrace”. (My grandpa liked to see his name on things.)
I had a vague notion that basswood was a kind of lumber, and in my child mind, maybe it was what he used to build the terraced flowerbeds on the hill in front of his place, thus “Basswood Terrace”. (All the grandkids knew those gardens well, as we were the weeders and planters and tenders, kneeling in the juniper prickles swatting bugs and gazing longingly at other people’s kids swimming in the lake.)
Time passed, the lots were sold to the neighbors who build cottages on them, Grandpa died, and the road sign dropped the “Averill” from Basswood Terrace. My dad and his brother bulldozed the showy flower beds in favor of an easy care, mowable lawn.
1980: I went to college at OSU and there was a Linden tree by my college apartment. It had a tiny cluster of blossoms so small to be barely visible, but the smell was heavenly and I needed a personal totem and decided the linden was MY tree. When I walked across campus to sit through endless lectures – (and I had some pretty bleak seasons, in those years) – I would pick up the linden blossom or seed cluster attached to that one pale sail, carry it with me to class, set it on the corner of my desk, sketch it in my notes. It was my link to nature and my reminder that somewhere the forest was waiting beyond these walls and halls and tests and college dramas. It heartened me.
Whenever I ran across lindens in literature or fairy tales, I got a little thrill. Later when I opened a studio in a botanical garden, the windows opened under a linden that would bloom and fill the place with that intoxicating scent, and I felt like fate was approving of my choices.
Then last summer, my friend Christie was helping me prune and weed at the cottage and called the big linden tree a Basswood.
The Basswood of Averill’s Basswood Terrace has been my magical linden tree, all this time?
Now, in my 60s, I have fallen down a fiber arts rabbit hole. Added to the wildcrafting I taught every summer at girl scout camp, I have found even more things to make from foraged things besides pit fired local clay, papermaking with wildflowers, berry inks, feather quills, eco prints and walnut stain batiks.
I joined slow textile groups and signed up for online classes about growing flax for linen and indigo for dye, gathering plants for cordage and basketry. The experts in this field (along with spinning, weaving, felting, etc) appear to be middle aged women in the UK, Australia, Ireland, and Scotland, who know all the area plants and their uses. The English ladies call their forays “hedge bothering” and consider “put the kettle on for tea” to be a measurable unit of time.
But they keep referring to “Lime trees” as a source of cording fiber, which just bewildered me because none of those areas sound like citrus growing places… so I looked it up, and guess what? “Lime” is the regional word for Linden (probably derived from “lind” (lentus, for flexible, liana… but there was also a pre-Christian tree goddess Liama who inhabited lindens… so…)
Anyway I discovered that my tree bestie here has a super strong, flexible inner bark that can be harvested from fallen sticks without damaging the tree (and who wants to tick off a tree goddess?) – and they they make nice twine and date back to the ice age (which made me choose an audio book about ice age people to listen to when I work on this stuff). It is strong enough to make a bowstring or a load/baby carrying sling or hammock. I made myself a bracelet and have been wearing my own linden tree magic now for two days.
So this evening I was regaling my very patient husband with all these details. (We have a rule that whenever we start a story with “so this is interesting” we pause and add an asterisk, “To me”.) I googled the Linden/Basswood/Lime, and read him what I learned. It was an important tree in areas where my ancestors lived, (which I loved, because I enjoy a completely unscientific theory about inherited memories, please don’t talk me out of it). Germanic, Prussian, Baltic cultures valued the tree. Artists loved the smooth, easily sanded wood that didn’t warp; cathedrals made triptychs from it.
Then after a bit, Jeff said, “I wonder if the name Lindahl is related?” He is Italian/paternally and Swedish/maternally, and has been tracing the Lindahl family name from his mom back several generations on the ancestry website.
I looked it up. Lindahl means from the slope/valley with the linden tree(s).
So this has been a fun little exploration, tying up a lot of strands that ran through my life, and the history of this place and brought Jeff’s family “tree” (see what I did there?”) back to the slope in the shade of the lindens. This cottage is ours, now, and the “Averills” sign at the top of the driveway needs to be replaced, but we are not so invested in putting our name on things, and my kids and grandkids one day may have their own last names. So we are thinking of putting a new sign at our place at the end of Basswood Terrace, and calling the cottage “Linden Hill”.
I feel like Grandpa would approve. That is, if he’s not still mad about his boys bulldozing the flowerbeds.