by Joan K. Maze
I was in the middle of doing research for my WIP, Widow’s Walk, which takes place in the Northern Minnesota area near and around the Grand Portage Reservation. The photo of a twisted tree, set upon the rocks above Lake Superior caught my eye. This tree, known as the Witch Tree, has an interesting history, which includes legends.
Clinging to the rocks ten feet above the churning water of Lake Superior is the Witch Tree. Called Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Spirit Tree by the Ojibwe Indian tribe, the tree is an ancient Thuja occidentalis.
The first written records by Europeans were by the French explorer, Sieur de la Verendyre in 1731. He said it was a mature tree then and claimed it to be at least three hundred years old.
This single white cedar is located on the east side of Hat Point on the Sibley Peninsula. The trunk is twisted like a corkscrew and the green scale-like leaves are few. Many have wondered how the tree could remain alive with no soil under it and its roots on rock. It is because of this precarious position that it is considered a powerful spirit.
Considered sacred, the Ojibwe traditionally leave tobacco to ensure a safe journey. The Cree and Ojibwe have both used this tree for offerings and consider it a Manitou or Spirit Tree. One legend is of the manitou Manboujou who wears the cedar tree on his head with the roots bound around his body. It is also considered to be the Tree of Life.
Another legend is that of an evil spirit in the form of a bird who would plunge from the top of the tree and swamp canoes.
Today, the Ojibwe tribe of the Grand Portage Reservation own the tree and surrounding land. Because of the tree's sacred nature and recent vandalism, admittance to the area is not possible without the presence of an Ojibwe member. You can pass beneath it in a canoe or kayak. Many boaters leave offerings at its base, to appease or as a gesture toward cultural tradition.
Originally, the Witch Tree had no part in my story. However, this tree and the stories behind it have intrigued me to the point that I know I must include it in Widow’s Walk. The last half of Widow’s Walk is in the past, before 1850 (I haven’t decided the date yet), and will have many scenes at the Reservation. As I continue outlining and working on this story, I hope to come up with an interesting and intriguing legend/story to make this book more exciting.
I would love to hear of any similar experiences any of you have had while doing research.
Joan K. Maze
Writing as J. K. Maze
Murder By Mistake, book 1 in the Mollie Fenwick Mystery Series, available from Red Rose Publishing
Murder For Kicks, book 2 in the Mollie Fenwick Mystery Series, available from Red Rose Publishing
Framed In Fear, romantic suspense set in Colorado, available from Red Rose Publishing
Murder By Spook, book 3 in the Mollie Fenwick Mystery Series, in progress
Murder By Mistake, book 1 in the Mollie Fenwick Mystery Series – paperback due out soon