There’s a tree in the far far distance, right on the horizon, and it’s loud. Much darker than all the rest, a pushy sort of tree, with a ‘here-I-am, move-over’ sort of attitude, it’s branches spread wide. It catches my attention every time I check the skyline. I know it must be a big tree because to cross the space between it and I would take some hours in a buckie. If I were to stand beneath this tree, I would be dwarfed. I’d also be an idiot. Such a tree could easily shade an elephant party, a couple of postprandial lions or even a leopard (plus dead impala) reclining among the branches, not to mention boomslangs, which I would always rather not mention at all, even if they are very fetching green.
Back here, the rains have made the gardens sing, especially the trees. Jacaranda blooms are quite soaked, hanging down in necklaces of soft violet. The Flamboyant Tree is full of monkeys, all ages of monkeyhood, leaping through the branches and sending down a flutter of blood red petals to pretty the ground. Fig trees host a multicolour of birds and songs, calls and warnings and the flash of rainbow feathers caught in sunshine. They swoop and scoot and flap fast or glide according to their type, from the slow flight of a lone crane to the dash of a tiny bird with a bright blue tumtum. Termites fly in great numbers after the rains, their wings so delicate and fine and so short lived. They only use these four perfect wings to get from one place to somewhere else, and then they just shrug them off leaving the ground covered the next morning. You’d be forgiven for thinking mass murder. Many, however, will become a meal for the swifts. A wall of flying termites is a real come hither, after all.
I think about trees, about their different songs, shapes, strength and colours, how we need them, take them for granted, chop them down, drive nails into their flanks, turn them into paper. Their shade is precious to us, protection from a sudden downfall, shelter from a cold wind. When you sit with your back against a tree, it’s like being close to a really good friend, no need to talk, only sit. If you look up at the sky through the spread of branches, it’s like sitting in the safety of a mother’s arms. Wandering among trees is a good thing to do; to notice the way one leans, if it leans at all; to finger the bark, the scars, the place where a new limb begins, to trace the length as far as you can. Touch the leaves and feel their texture, shiny perhaps, or emerald flat or curved and sinewy or delicate as air itself. Walk around the tree, all the way round it. Was it planted here or did it seed itself? think of the years it took to get this strong, this tall, this wide. See the roots gnarl through the ground below it, rising like old crooked fingers to disappear into the bottom of the world. Consider the bugs living in the scarred bark, of the water rising beneath it to keep this huge creature alive, this home and host to many, this shelter from the elements, these arms that hold and protect and produce breathtaking beauty for our looking, nectar for the insects, pollen for posterity.
Or you could think about that bargain in the January Sales.
Meanwhile, in Africa, there is a sunset over the Loud Tree and me, just looking.