Trees As Photographs

Tomorrow is the last day of November, which means Christmas is nigh. I feel an almost overwhelming sense of poignancy at this time of year. There is an air of taking stock where all those mental notes I’ve made to myself throughout the year are checked off or added to next year’s list.

Or forgotten.

The years. The years just fly by. Looking back on the space of another year it is easy to be self-critical, to view time as wasted rather than appreciated. It is easy to berate yourself for not working hard enough or doing that thing you really wanted to do or not mending something that is still broken.

But the fact is that you lived fully through another year. The ups and downs didn’t conspire to defeat you. There was a remedy for doubts and fears. In spite of everything that happened, hope remained.

At this time of year I miss people more than anything. People who are gone. People who are older than they were. People who aren’t in the places they used to be.

I remember my grandmother making her Christmas fruit cake. How hot the kitchen was with the ovens blazing away all day. How the smell of dried fruit stewing made you swoon. How nice it was to escape outside, even if it was snowing, and stand underneath the trees looking for birds or squirrels, listening to the snow drop from branches like stones in a pool.

I have photographs of the trees in my grandmother’s garden, but they don’t evoke the memories of the old days the way they used to. I can’t hear them. I can’t touch them.

That distressed me at first until I discovered something. Some trees, even those found on the other side of the world, can remind you of the trees that used to be a part of your every day life somewhere else. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking they were the same trees.

They rustle the same. They feel the same. The light filters through them just the way it used to. The swallows swoop and dive all around them.

They look the same.

I don’t need to look at the old photos anymore, battling a wave of unstoppable sadness. I can sit in the park when the wind from the bay fills the air with a gentle freshness and remember. And smile.

Trees have secrets. They know things. Maybe they are all connected, evoking memories as strong as photographs. Maybe they are conduits to the past, raising healing branches to the sky.

Maybe they see all that happens and more. Visible through time.

31 thoughts on “Trees As Photographs

  1. They are most definitely connected. I really believe that. All of nature is.

    “People who are older than they were. People who aren’t in the places they used to be.” Isn’t that so true. You not only miss those who are physically gone, but those you still know and interract with, but who…are not as they once were. Which not a judgement, just… Let’s just say I get it. Completely.


  2. Wow. Love this. There aren’t a whole lot of hardwoods in this part of the state; not like my home region. I’ve been blessed to have lovely huge oak trees in both of the backyards I’ve called home here. I gravitate to them when missing my roots (oh, look what I just did there…)


  3. We have a very ancient oak just behind our garden wall. I am not sure how old it is but over 100 years old and whenever I feel a little overwhelmed I go and look at the tree (well, I talk to it – but don’t tell anyone!) because that tree must have seen so much. It kind of gives me a better sense of perspective.

    I think trees are good to look to for temporal things and the sky is good for talking to people who are far away or long gone or whatever. Well, that is what I find.

    But yes, the end of year is a time for taking stock. And like you, I try to do it in a positive way (but don’t always succeed!).


  4. Trees say:

    ‘I was here before you were. I’ll be here long after you’ve gone. I’ve seen things; I know stuff’

    Remember our fight to save our little tree in Amesbury? We won that one; we fought another battle to save our ‘Tree of Light’, which was in danger of being felled to make way for a multi-story car park.

    It makes me feel a bit of a hypocrite, because, when the weather dries up, I intend to take a chainsaw to the ugly conifer in my garden. But, I will replace it with something much more beautiful. A palm? a Japanese maple? a floering cherry? I haven’t decided yet.


  5. SUE:
    Glad you liked it. 🙂

    I guess I was thinking about those times with my cousins where we used to sit around and steal the dates from the fruit cake. We won’t have that time again. I miss those times and it is nice to think of them!

    Love the oaks. They’re not native to Australia but you do see a few of them around. Such majestic trees.

    I think we’re unnecessarily hard on ourselves when we take stock, aren’t we? I really like how you refer to trees as being good for temporal things and the sky for talking to people. That conjures up a beautiful image for me!

    There would be so many. So many. It is a tragedy when an old tree is chopped down.

    Sometimes you do need to get rid of a particular tree. We’ve had a few in the past where roots have been a terrible problem and have gotten into the drains and so on.

    I agree with you about what the trees say and I applaud you for saving those trees. How brilliant is that!


  6. There’s something about trees that really gets under your skin. When I lived in England as a young girl for a while the thing I missed most about Australia was the gum trees – I just had to get back home to see them. Mango trees remind me of my grandma and Christmas time and playing backyard cricket on a hot Boxing Day.


  7. Funny what evokes memories, things long ago past…

    I was reading this and remembered my grandmother’s house in Fredericton. It had a massive (to little me) weeping willow… we used to run underneath it… wonder if it’s still there.


  8. Very well said. This is a perfect post for the holidays– taking stock in the year and checking things off the list or carrying them over. I love that!

    Thank you.

    Have a great week.


  9. This made me think that I really do have trees that I remember probably more clearly and in more detail than the people I was with at the time I met those trees. Thinking of one in particular, in which I sat in a tree stand, watching for deer. One of the most magical, mystical times of my life. And I KNEW that tree. And she knew me. Because, of course she was a she.

    Love you!


  10. I have been feeding a neighbor’s dogs this last week. He bought the lot I used to own where I planted an Acacia melanoxylon(black wood Acacia) from seed 20 years ago. It is now 40 feet tall. I had a failed marriage there, mostly my fault. As I walk past the tree , I wonder what it thinks of me. I wonder if it forgave me. No one else did. I hope this and the other trees I planted harbor more compassion for the misdeeds of my past than the humans involved. It and the other trees I planted (200 plus) have all been conduits to the past as I walk by them. Great post. Oh , if these trees could talk…Kinda glad they can’t.


  11. Trees definitely tell stories and hold memories for all of us. I love to explore all the varieties of trees, here in BC, so many more than on the Prairies where I was born. What a heartfelt, poignant post Sel. I think you have a lot to be proud of in 2009. And may 2010 be a “rockin’ rollin’ ” year for all of us. I am pumped about the start of a new year. As far as age, what can we do about it? It happens to the best of us. LOL I’d rather dwell on feeling much younger than my years and still with so much I want to accomplish.

    Hugs Sel and have a wonderful week, G


  12. I am a tree lover- and I mean that literally. I kiss trees and even have been known to hug them. I will stop cars on their way so I can get out and get a better look.

    My husband is a big tree planter. We’ve lived in many houses because here teachers live at their schools so whenever you change jobs you change house. In the 1980’s, schools were being built like crazy in Botswana. We were forever moving to brand new houses. In everyone my husband planted trees- lots of them. When we finally built our own house my husband got to work again. In our back yard he planted three morula trees in a line. The middle one died almost straight away, attacked by insects. But the other two have thrived. What is so lovely about morula is one tree is male and another is female- you don’t know until they flower what you’ve got. Those two survivors are a short solid female and a tall thin male: just like me and my husband, they are my favourite trees in the garden!


  13. There are some very old trees near where my daughters used to dance. They flank a river and are massive. I often look up into their branches and wonder about all the things they have seen. The seem so wise and all knowing don’t they?


  14. Hmmm. Maybe this is why when we returned home to find many of the old trees around our family’s farm to be sickening. My brother had chopped a ton of them down, for good reasons, but still. It was hard.

    I love movies & literature that use Christmas as a point of reference – it reminds me that we do that in life. There is always Christmas in Harry Potter. Alcott used Christmas in Little Women to show the differences the years brought. I have a little book where you place a picture and write the menu and what happened that yr in the pages – it’s fascinating what just 5 yrs changes! I’m so happy you have positive thoughts – in my opinion, Christmas should be a happy time!


  15. I planted a white pine tree in front of our sunny house my first mother’s day and now my son is in college and our house is covered in shade and I’m only hoping it doesn’t get too big for our little plot of land and we’ll be forced to cut it down. I’d feel erased.


    I’ve never seen a mango tree. I feel like a deprived city dweller. The smell must be glorious. What a lovely memory that is for you!

    Certain things act as triggers, don’t they? Weeping willows really are quite magical. I just love them!

    Your critiques are always fabulous, just like you!!

    Oh. me too. You can really mark the change of seasons via the trees. I particularly love seeing the leaves on the ground at autumn.

    It is good to have some kind of checklist because sometimes it makes you realise you have achieved things you thought you couldn’t. It is actually quite motivating!


  17. MAMA ZEN:
    I think it’s probably just a natural thing to do at year’s end. It is good to do as long as we’re not too hard on ourselves!

    I love that story of you and the tree and the deer so much. It encapsulates everything that you are. I just love it !

    I’m sure the tree recognises the care you have for the natural world and is grateful you planted it in the first place. That is probably a greater thing than forgiveness.

    I agree about feeling younger than our years. That is really important. No matter what age we are we can still muster enthusiasm for life and continue to move forward. 2010 is definitely going to be a better year for us – the trees told me so!

    What an enchanting story. I am absolutely charmed by it. It is as if those trees were meant to be in your garden. How amazing!


    They do hold secrets. They can probably tell better stories than any storyteller on the planet!

    Oh, definitely. I have a thing for trees by rivers. There is just something so serene about them. If I could paint I would definitely paint a lot of trees by rivers!

    Your mention of Little women made me remember when I was a girl and I used to read Little Women every year at Christmas. I did it for about ten years. It always made me segue into the spirit of Christmas very nicely. Another book I used to read at the same time was End of Term by Antonia Forest which is set in an English boarding school. They put on a Christmas play and it really set the scene for Christmas. Thanks for reminding me!

    Oh, I hope you don’t have to cut it down. You will be bereft. Maybe a tree specialist could keep it under control for you.


  19. Wow Selma. WOW. I dont think I will ever look at a Tree the same way again. You’ve made me want to really NOTICE the trees in my life instead of just rushing past them as I often do.


    I want to live in a street full of mango trees. It would be like a fairytale!

    I’m sure you have some gorgeous trees in your part of the world. The American trees are among the most beautiful in the world!


  21. Selma if you want to live on a street of mango trees you should move to Maputo Mozambique. Huge mango trees, you just pick mangoes from the edge of the sidewalk. I thought it was magic.


  22. That’s a beautiful post Selma. I also take a great deal of comfort from trees – the way they seem to patiently look over the passage of time, and us and our hustle and bustle underneath.


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