…the tree: in five parts (4)

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Part 4

Sugar spirit

‘The staple of the tree diet is sugar, which is generated through photosynthesis.  Chlorophyll in the leaves absorbs the energy from sunlight, which is focused on the water molecules sucked in by the tree’s roots – splitting them into their component hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide to create sugar, which is in turn transported to other areas of the tree, while the remaining oxygen is released into the air.’

There is something that flows through you that for most of your life goes unnoticed.  When it does make its presence felt you called it good luck, or serendipity, but there is no logic to this unexplainable phenomenon, so always you let it pass, let it move on with the transience of an autumn leaf.  But recently you have learned that if you sit in your solitude and let your intellect and your body and your emotions rest, let them dissolve into the presence of the moment you inhabit, you feel this other thing rise up, and its ability to feed every part of you fills you with unexpected joy, and a vast sense of awe.

* * *

Next week — Part 5: Growth of the Whole

(Tree quote sources from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the tree: in five parts (3)

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Part 3

Crown of emotions

The ‘crown’ of the tree is made up of the branches and leaves. In deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves), there can be hundreds of thousands of leaves. The Royal Forestry Society estimates that a mature oak tree will produce and shed around 250,000 leaves each year.’

Branches of enquiry reach up to gauge the world, but emotions come and go as rhythmically as the leaves.  The truth of this means you have always been unafraid to love, and, of course, you also have your intellect to soothe the pain of loss.  In times of trouble, your mind will make you attentive, showing you the luminous sunset, the soft breeze of spring, the gentle words of a friend, gifts that console the present and nurture the future.  You wonder then, if an oak tree conjures 250,000 leaves a year, how prolific are your emotions?

* * *

Next week — Part 4: Sugar Spirit

(Tree quote sources from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the tree: in five parts (2)

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Part 2

Roots of the mind

‘…trees utilise roots to extract water and nutrients from the surrounding area, as well as to anchor themselves in the ground. While most water is absorbed by the roots nearest the surface, some trees extend a ‘taproot’ deep into the soil.  Roots can also play a part in reproduction, storing energy and defence, and some types of tree have developed aerial roots or buttress roots that extend from the trunk in order to stabilise themselves.’

The roots of your mind dig deep with tenacity.  Your intellect believes it can solve any problem: philosophical, logical, physical, emotional; the problems of others and of yourself.  Your mind employs Bloom’s Taxonomy:  Knowledge — Application — Analysis — Evaluation — Creation. This is your anchor, your reason and defence.  This is solitude, where the knotty or jagged becomes clear and certain.  Once the truth is found, the solution will evolve.  But, you have discovered, if your truth and the truth of others is different, the solution will remain elusive.

* * *

Next week: Part 3: Crown of Emotions

(Tree quote sourced from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the tree: in five parts (1)

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1. Bark of the body

‘One of the key characteristics of a tree is the woody bark surrounding the trunk and branches. However, only the outer layers of this are alive, with a vascular system of cells called the cambium being responsible for the production of new bark.  The inner layer of bark, known as the phloem, is briefly tasked with delivering nutrients throughout the tree, before rapidly turning into cork.’

You always believed the workings of the body to be an exacting science.  If you take the prescribed tablets, follow the physiotherapy, modify your behaviour, your body will respond with recovery.  And so you work your body hard with daily exercises, you avoid lifting, you avoid standing still, you avoid long walks, you take the small blue pills and the large white ones, you always sit with cushions, you never arch your back.  Your mind is determined on the logic that treatment = health.  So of course your mind is outraged when the logical doesn’t materialise, and it begins to tell you every day that you are broken.

* * *

Next week: Part 2: Roots of the mind

(Tree quote sources from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the herb garden

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After he is gone the loss empties you of feeling, so you stand in the herb garden every night to smoke one cigarette. He was taken away before anything began so you aren’t mourning the loss of what you had, you are mourning what can never be.

Except, of course, that’s not entirely true.

He was never taken away. He took himself away, and when you stand in the garden every night you wonder if any thoughts of you passed through or alongside that decision.

You exhale, trying not to dwell on the question. You cannot bear the answer. Although it is easier to think of your own suffering than it is to think of his, which came as it did with no sense of choice.

Over the weeks, standing in the herb garden, you watch the mint retreat to woody stalks. The thyme becomes a tangled knot. The purple-headed chives fade to white. The garden sinks into cold and dark with just a rectangle of yellow light from the kitchen, a low glow from the windows above where your children sleep or read beneath their sheets. Sometimes there are stars, pin holes in the black.

The nicotine tingles in your blood. Clouds shift. The earth tilts as you inhale your meditation.

The weeks turn into months and still he is gone.

Still you wonder where you were in his decision.

Still you evade the answer, and you evade the real question.

Over winter you stop smoking, and when spring arrives you stand in the herb garden in the pale and tender sun, and you see that amongst the dirt and weeds the mint is sprouting plump rippled leaves from its sturdy stems. Not dead at all.

You feel a flood of relief, and wait for him to return also.

…wild silence

The wild silence comes with the roaring noise of thought, with words that run and run and run and revel in their cycle, their impatience to go nowhere, their insistence to be heard. The wild silence is neither patient nor restless, loud or hushed, careless or yearning. She knows but will not speak, her emerald gaze enough for the roaring noise of thought to see itself in its own mirrorball, spinning and fractured, glossy with illusory promise. The wild silence shivers her leaves, a branch dipping to touch the mirrorball, slow, slow, slow

to stillness

to space

to listen

to here

where the sky sounds are; feather flight and billow drift


cool grass against skin, the brush of breath


bird calls travelling leaf-light or breast-felt


with the flow of blood and sap and river rain


in the quiet cradle

the wild silence

of being

…new shoots

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rhizome [rahy-zohm] noun • botany
A rootlike subterranean stem, growing horizontally along or under the ground and producing roots and leaves

— Such as bamboo, water lilies, lotus, ginger, turmeric.

— Turmeric is a member of the ginger family and both have medicinal qualities, turmeric soothing inflammation and anxiety, ginger a balm for the stomach. When did we turn away from the provision of the world and believe we could do better? Surely, to look at a tree is to see and to hear and to feel everything that will ever heal us.

A felled tree which is shooting again. I am hopeful. Leonardo Da Vinci.

— Da Vinci’s earliest memory is of lying in his crib and seeing a kite flying above him, feeling the drape of its tail between his lips.

— Your earliest memory is of running around the outside of your home during an eclipse, the light an eerie sepia tone, the feeling of excitement, of exploring something new and dangerous.

— A ‘counterfeit twilight’ is created by annular eclipse, the sun still shining beyond the edges of the moon to create the annulus, the ‘ring of fire’.

— June Carter Cash wrote Ring of Fire when she was falling in love with Johnny — I fell into a burning ring of fire/ I went down down down and the flames went higher/ And it burns burns burns

— Your own burn is an abundant well in your sternum, a sensation that in the past you’ve mistaken for anxiety, its uncontrolled and expansive nature too big to be contained in your body. Still the sensation is there, uncomfortable, a tipping into the void. You feel glad the earth provides a remedy in the things that grow.

— You make ginger and turmeric tea, sipping while standing at the window looking out at the trees. Now the sensation can flow and the burning pressure is released. Love should never be contained. Love should travel. Love is a balm to the unknown.

…the dive

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— Your father taught you to dive at an early age, first sitting you at the edge of the pool, arms pointing like a giant beak, encouraging you to tip gently into the water. You don’t remember the transition from sitting to standing but at some point, when the fear had gone, you would have felt joy at the effusion of bubbles fizzing across your body, the long strides as your arms swept through the underwater haze, muffled, suspended in time for the briefest moment.

— In 2011, the French choreographer, Philippe Decouflé, created a ballet performed in a swimming baths, titled Un tragique ballet nautique par des plongeurs inexpérimentés, or, A tragic nautical ballet by inexperienced divers.
The dancers defy the signs no diving, jumping, pushing or throwing another person in. A suited man dives from a high platform, the underwater camera capturing him as a plunging penguin. There is a male mermaid; a woman in a red dress, her face obscured by the mask of a duck; a man wearing the skirt of a wedding dress. There is heavy petting. A lifeguard sits in a chair watching, helpless against the rule-breaking rabble.

— You sometimes defy the No Diving signs. Sometimes you are reprimanded, sometimes not. Sometimes there is no sign but no-one is diving, and so you begin. Dive, swim, climb out. Dive, swim, climb out. You are a bird diving for morsels of weed. Over and over. And slowly others join you, tentatively at first, but when they realise there is no-one to stop them they smile, they dive again, they remember this is something they can do. This makes the heart hammer, the blood rush. For the first time in a long time, their bodies are awake.

— You have dived into a Tuscan river pool, disregarding the skin scraped from your legs each time you hauled yourself out over the rocks; you have dived into a lake at summer camp in Upper New York State, where the fish nibbled your toes; you have dived into a rocky pool in Corsica, its black unseeable depths giving you the fear of hidden rocks and ledges. Each time you try not to think about your head hitting a rock and splitting like a melon.

— You only enjoy swimming if you can dive, the glittering jewel amongst the mundane. The only exception to this is the sea where you feel the current shifting around your body and the undulation of waves. You float, the calls of children and seagulls muffled green, your muscles softening to the push and pull. The moon as master puppeteer.

— To prevent pain in your lower spine, you swim blindly on your back. Your mild fear of the unseen is only tempered by your view of the route you’ve already travelled, the vast sky above you, the clouds, the birds, the riverside trees or ragged cliff tops. You embrace this movement into the unknown. It has taken you to many joyful places.

…a field guide to birds in other forms


Common Symbolic Communis Symbolic
This mercurial bird can take many forms and flourishes across the world, with peace appearing as a dove, death as a raven, love as a swan, and power as a falcon. This is by no means an exhaustive list, with representations as wide and meaningful as the human imagination allows.

Its preferred habitat is the gap between language and meaning, but will also tolerate flags, family crests, greeting cards and casually used clichés.

It is identifiable by its physical reflection in an aspect of human experience, such as the wide eyes of the owl denoting intelligence, or the necks of swan lovers creating the shape of a heart. The swan also mates for life, which makes us believe they feel love and devotion, which somehow strengthens our own love and devotion.

The common symbolic builds its nest in the heart and the mind, the subsequent clutch of pale blue eggs hatching as early wisdom and developing as universal meaning.

Body Warbler Corpus warbler
Commonly known as the ink warbler, this colourful bird can be found on any area of the human body with space enough for the desired image; a goldfinch on the arm, a flight of blackbirds circling the ankle, an eagle in flight across the back.

The warbler has several breeding seasons throughout the year, with new broods appearing when funding and inspiration allow, always accompanied by a distinctive buzz buzz buzz song and the occasional call of pain.

Aftercare is essential for fledgelings to grown into healthy adults, with a clean environment and nourishing cocoa butter ensuring shimmering plumage and a sharply distinctive beak. Once healing has occurred, a range of calls can be heard from others within their territory, including hmmm, oh!, aah, and huh?, followed by variations on Who did it…? I don’t normally… How does it…? Why did you…?

Some mature adults can perish with too much sun or poor habitat care, so these birds can often be found returning to their original nesting ground for touch-up or cover-up work. This has a rejuvinating effect that often leads to long life and further breeding.

The flight and call of the warbler can be sensed across the skin by the host body and others of the same species, with a well-placed spot of white in the eye ensuring good visibility of the world beyond its own nest or roosting place.

Hooded Metaphor Metaphora sacris initiatorum
The hooded metaphor is related to the common symbolic, but the metaphor can be distinguished by its sideways comparison which displays a distinctive slide from observation to emotion to meaning. An example of this is Max Porter’s crow in Grief is the Thing With Feathers, who invades a house of loss and describes it as heavy [with] mourning, every surface dead Mum, every crayon, tractor, coat, welly, covered in a film of grief. The flight of this bird can be graceful and elegant, but in this case is spiky and harsh, with a tendency towards brutality, invading the widower’s bedroom to put a claw on his eyeball and [weigh] up gouging it out for fun or mercy. The metaphor’s relationship with the symbolic is evident when crow pluck[s] one jet feather from [his] hood and [leaves] it on [the man’s] forehead, for, his, head.

The hooded metaphor can most commonly be found across a variety of art forms, including novels, film and dance. Ballet is particularly favoured.

The metaphor prefers feeding wherever deep emotion resides, with nests of creativity holding one or more large white eggs that may take anything from several weeks to several years to hatch. The fledglings are particularly vulnerable to attack by predators or casual remarks, so nesting sites are often well hidden away from others of the same species.

The Mimic ad undam libabat cineri
This invasive species was first discovered in the eyes of desire of the earth-bound. Their skyward observations resulted in all manner of nests and fledgelings, and finally to the desired flight of creations such as kites, aeroplanes, drones, microlights, hang gliders and hot-air balloons.

Its song varies depending on its sub-species, flying for anything from a few minutes to many hours. Each sub-species also exhibits different behaviours, with kites displaying playful enjoyment, planes a determined hunger for their destination, and hot-air balloons an almost meditative communion with the sky. It is this location that is the playground for the mimic, a place where clouds shift with the wind, where light lingers to arch a rainbow, where freedom can be tasted on the tongue.

These are restless creatures, but when they are still (when suspended as a balloon, for example) they begin to feel their connection to the ever changing earth below, the heavenly mystery of space above, and the sky they temporarily inhabit.

This is one time the mimic feels something akin to peace.

…soul in the sky

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I have found the headless bodies of rabbits and blue jays, and known it was the great horned owl that did them in, taking the heads only, for the owl has an insatiable craving for the taste of brains.
Mary Oliver

The Owl

When you are ten or twelve, you go birdwatching in the early-dawn light. Once, you see a barn owl in flight, swift and silent above your head, a hunting ghost. You collect owl pellets from the pine-cushioned floor, tight bundles of fur and feathers and skeletal remains that you take home to soak in water until the bundle loosens and releases its treasure, a collection of sliverous bones and the ultimate prize, a tiny bird skull. You use pins to clean the muck from the eye sockets and beak, you bleach it white and store it in a matchbox which you peer into often.

The Sparrow

You find an injured sparrow in the garden, one leg reduced to a swollen stump. You cannot imagine what could have caused such an injury, but it was likely a predator of some kind, perhaps a cat too slow-witted to gather the whole bird. Your father holds him in his wide palm and explains that he can’t be saved and we have a duty to end his suffering. You know this already. You have grown up in a village in the countryside where learning how to care for animals is as important as learning how to kill them. But this particular lesson your father chooses to carry out away from you, performing the task quietly and, you imagine, swiftly.

The Jackdaw

Your father brings home a box from his work at the quarry. When he places it gently on the floor it shifts and shuffles. A snake! you think, but no, when he opens the lid there is a fledgeling jackdaw who was abandoned by her mother, or so your father believes. You keep her in the garage, construct a perch from whatever you can find, feed her seeds and worms. Your father teaches you to shake a tin of seeds every time you feed her. This is how you learn about associative behaviour, the Pavlov effect. When the bird is strong enough you take her outside and let her fly to the giant tree behind your house to join the rooks and crows and her brothers and sisters, the grey-headed jackdaws. When it is feeding time you shake the tin and she returns… and returns… and returns…. until one day she doesn’t. You are simultaneously sad and glad about this. You have lost your connection with this wild animal, your temporary pet, but you nurtured her out of fledglinghood, watched her joy at being alive grow stronger, her eyes eager to see more than the cool dark room of incarceration.

So now she sees the leaves and bark of the trees, feels the wind ruffle through her feathers, digs deep into the earth to draw out a worm, hears the song and the movement of her fellow flighted world.

Can any creature be living her life more fully than the jackdaw?

(Mary Oliver quote from Owls in her essay collection Upstream)