I love words. I am a word nerd. And one of my absolute favorite words in the English language is tuckamore. It is a word used by my neighbours in Newfoundland to describe the stunted, twisted evergreen trees that grow on seashores and barrens. First of all, just take a moment to say it out loud: tuckamore. Isn’t it a fun word to say? Besides being such a bouncy word on the tongue, it ends with “amore” , love, although the etymology of the word is not latin and the “amore” was not intended as such. As far as I can tell, the old version of the Newfoundland word was tuck-a-moor – “tucked up” or huddling on the moor. We don’t use an equivalent word here on my island in Nova Scotia, although they are plentiful here.
The North shore of my island in particular is lined with tuckamore – gnarled ancient black spruce. They cling, sometimes to bare rock, facing the direst of conditions and yet survive. In winter Nor’ Easters (a fierce storm from the North East, from across the open water), these trees bear sometimes 140 km per hour winds, -35 degree C wind chills, and yet they persist.
To me, tuckamores are the living embodiment of the Strength card in tarot. In most traditional tarot decks, Strength is depicted as a beautiful woman calmly and gently holding closed the jaws of a huge and powerful lion. The lion is the Nor’ Easter, rushing and roaring, fierce and brutal. The tuckamore is the lady. Gently persisting. Storms end, gales die out, seas calm and flatten, the sun comes out. But the tuckamore endures, quietly, calmly, and seemingly effortlessly.
Real strength is not the Nor’ Easter, though it puts on a good show. Real strength does not blow and bluster and howl. Real strength is silent. Enduring. Resilient through the harshest conditions, like the tuckamore.
The tuckamore is not unmarked by its struggle. It doesn’t grow straight and tall towards the sun like it’s sheltered forest brothers and sisters. Tuckamores are stunted, gnarled, and twisted. But there is a beauty in their convulutions, their curves, their interlaced branches and roots. Like bonsai. Shaped by adversity.
Besides their beauty, tuckamores serve a function. They are the front-line in our defense against the weather. They bear the brunt of the North Wind’s wrath. They provide shelter and a wind-break.
We can all learn about Strength from the tuckamores. Putting down firm roots, even on rough ground, digging in and holding on, no matter what life throws at you. Quietly persisting. Allowing adversity to shape you, knowing that your twisted branches hold more beauty than the unbent sameness of the forest trees. And being the strength for others – sheltering them because you know you can face the harshest elements, you’ve faced them already.