It’s National Tree Day on 29th July and sadly after days of wild winds the sound of chain saws dealing with fallen trees is a background constant. So time to think of planting some more and I have a few in mind. A group of Silver Birches at the side of the house – a special variety, Jack Monty, bred in Victoria that are resistant to borer, and near the shed at the bottom of the garden a Pink Dogwood and Judas Tree.
I had planned an essay on trees but time has got away from me so instead I’m posting a few of my favourite pieces of writing on trees. There’s many more I could include but for the moment I’ll stick with four. The first is a poem by my late dear friend and Kangaloon colleague Martin Harrison (www.kangaloon.org) called simply “Plum Trees.”
What the plum trees were doing
was loading galaxies of flowers
like the night sky’s sprawling fire
in the middle of daylight.
Space turned into bloom and fruit.
Soil rose into juice and scent.
Electric, shaken, utterly still,
unpruned wands thirsted for Spring.
Like gluttons, the trees sucked everywhere
from hidden water, seemingly nowhere –
that was the ground inside the dark
as we walked day earth, dead grass.
Unreasonably, not beyond forgetting,
it’s that year’s dry light which falls away
as if plum trees flare in unfenced shadow, momentary as thought, or as a trace of thought.
And with Martin in mind my second piece is quoted from Anne Whiston Spirn’s book The Language of Landscape published by Yale University Press in 1998.
“The wide path up the Hill of Remembrance in Stockholm’s Forest Cemetery is steep at first – climbing eased by low stone steps, deep stone-dust treads, landings every dozen steps; then the slope tapers, steps pass between trees through an open gateway atop the hill, ending just inside low walls. At the beginning of the ascent, steps are set into the hillside, so the slopes enfold the climber; at the end frames of trees and wall enclose. Form and material shape the experience of path and refuge; all modify processes of movement and grieving, in agreement with the meaning its author intended: ‘To give form to a sorrow that cannot be told,’ and experience of difficulty, comforted.”
And now a short piece that opens the chapter “Growth” in David Suzuki and Wayne Grady’s Tree: A Biography, published by Allen and Unwin in 2004.
It has been sixteen years since the fire. The burn is no longer a black hole in the forest but a swath of fresh greenery, lower than the unburned portions but obviously returned to vitality. The smell of charcoal has long left the air. After an exceptionally wet spring, with more than 150 centimetres (60 inches) of rain, the summer has been hot and dry with vigorous forest growth. It is early fall now, and the stream is invisible from the ridge, although there is a sense of it – a line of glossy green – flowing among the dark trunks and writhing roots of the forest floor. The forest is still quiet, but it is not the silence of death, as after a fire, but rather the stillness of rest, of waiting.
There are so many extracts I could quote from Roger McDonald’s beautiful book The Tree in Changing Light but the book happened to fall open at page 125 so here is a short paragraph.
“A tree grew from a rocky crevice. Out of the torn earth’s mouth came the old cry of praise. So whatever the tree was, counted. Whatever the bird was, was perfect in the bird. Poets were born with a stone in their hands, staring and listening until they died still holding it, leaving their words escaping it.”