Lindsay Myron
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The Mother Tree, Coconut Cookies and Not Santa Claus

November 19, 2009 @ 12:30 PM | Permalink

My last day roaming Selenge province went a little like this:

Duul, Boloroo and I were navigating the snow covered roads in search for Tumenjargal’s home, a farmer just outside of Shaamar.  Scratching the frost crystals from the inside of our car window all I could see was blinding white snow.  Duul diverted from the main road onto a narrow path wide enough only for the modest axle of our green Japanese van.  Short cut, I thought.

Duul had stopped the van several times on these countryside roads to check tires and headlights or just answer to nature’s call.  So when he put the van in park and reached into the glovebox I watched passively, expecting him to retrieve a wrench or a flashlight.  When his hand emerged with a carton of milk I understood that this wasn’t a typical pit-stop. Boloroo looked back at me and asked, “Do you have any baaw, or biscuits?” I reached into my bag and pulled out my favorite coconut covered tea cookies and we all stepped out into the snow.  Santa, I thought?  Why would Tumenjargal want milk and cookies?

The dune of sand covered in snow was a challenging climb, but as soon as we stumbled to the top I realized those cookies weren’t for Tumenjargal nor were they for St. Nick--they were for spirits.  We were at the Mother Tree.


Buddhism and Shamanism have coexisted in Mongolia for centuries and rituals in each have intermingled in the interim.  For example, ovoos, or rock cairns, are traditionally shamanist monuments usually adorning mountain crests or prime overlooks of navigation.  But if you come across an ovoo today you’ll most likely see it covered in blue or multi-colored Buddhist prayer scarves.


Both religious paradigms believe that nature is alive and the Mother Tree is just one of many faithful manifestations in Mongolia.

“The Mother Tree grants wishes,” Boloroo told me.

We circled the tree once offering the biscuits and milk to its trunk and to the clever birds that sat waiting in its branches.

The scarves covering its lower branches had splashes of milk dried into their fabrics from years of ritual.

A low wall of tea bricks had been erected over the years encircling the Mother Tree and its surrounding saplings.

The base of the trunk harbored snow covered offerings of rituals past: incense, ceramic bowls of aaruul, or cheese curd, and glasses of water.


Offering more milk and biscuits to the shrine, we each made our wish and circled the tree twice more.

We circle it three times,” said Boloroo.  “The number three represents the fullness of things.” 

Following a final bow and prayer we descended the sandy, snowy hill and continued to thrice circle several large pines surrounding the Mother Tree that in years past have been similarly ornamented with hundreds of scarves and splashed with milk and grains.

By the time we had reached Tumenjargal’s home the cloudy sky was nearing complete darkness and the coconut cookies were gone, but my wish came true.


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Lindsay, Enjoyed the woven threads of humanity in the family lesson on telling time. Thanks for sharing. TIm

Tim Matthews on Nomads Give New Meaning to the Cuckoo Clock 2009-11-03

Ouch. Not a fun way to finish off the semester. Get well soon and safe travels; look forward to seeing you back on the hill next month!

Matthew Hintsa on I've Never Been More Afraid of Pigs 2009-12-06

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