A friend recently drew my attention to the Radio National Project – Trees I’ve Loved. They asked listeners for stories about their relationships with trees and then selected 40 for production and broadcast. I highly recommend you go and listen, they are mostly only 2-5 minutes long and very moving.
It has inspired me to reflect on my own relationship to trees and particularly Grandmother Gum, the great old gum tree in the grounds of the local primary school. I’ve spoken before about how trees function as a mindfulness bell for me but I find my relationship with this particular tree is deeper than that.
I went to primary school here and the grounds are steeped in memories of humiliation. That’s the bench where I was picked last for rounders, there’s where my ‘friends’ used to enjoy running off on me at random moments (taking advantage of my inability to keep up), and over the back was the library where I took refuge. The buildings are all different now (thankfully) but the ground and my heart hold the memories.
I don’t remember taking refuge in the tree back then but now I feel she was a silent witness to that time in my life. Her boughs sheltered me from the sun as I stood in the outfield lost in my own thoughts, oblivious to the game I was excluded from. It comforts me to know that if my son goes to school here, she will watch over him as she has watched over me.
I have introduced Mr A to the tree and encouraged him to speak with her. The idea has taken root, he refers to her as the Grandmother Tree, and also “your friend, Mama.” Yesterday we went to visit her but the gates were locked. Mr A said “she misses us” and then “I wish there were more Grandmother Trees, out here.” I sighed “Yeah, me too.”
I weep now as I write that, for the kind of world where Grandmother Trees are everywhere and duly respected. The kind of world where trees are actually allowed to grow that old. I am stunned by three and a half year old Mr A’s easy respect for this great being. It comes so naturally to him and yet so many people seem to miss the point, what happened?
I fear for the future of this precious tree. A family friend in the next street once said it’s a Corroboree Tree (a tree that predates colonisation where people would have gathered). I’ve looked for scars and found none so it can’t be verified. I find myself wanting to contact the Koorie Heritage Trust, to ask someone to come out and assess it. I want her to be protected. I also want other people to recognise that she’s special, perhaps to validate the depth of my own feeling. I feel lonely in my love for her, a weird hippie.
On the other side of the school there’s a mosaic that features local landmarks like the train-line and the creek. Along the top, holding it all in its generous embrace are the boughs of the Grandmother Gum. So perhaps I am not alone, other people honour her too. The school grounds are radically different than the days of my childhood but she is untouched.
The Radio National tree project is further evidence of the fact that people care about trees, find solace and joy in them, feel deeply for and about them, and grieve their loss. I wish this were more a part of our culture, that there were more places and spaces to speak of our connections, that trees were more deeply appreciated.