T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” had measured out his life in “coffee spoons”. It is a sad image of an idle, indolent, wasted life. Most of us would like to think that we could measure out our lives with far more significant markers. Some of these markers might give meaning to our lives, point to key associations of geography, indicate symbolic preferences, something about ourselves and our value systems. As I looked out from my back porch last night at the array of deciduous trees, Manitoba Maple, Poplar, Elm, Peach, Apple, Walnut, Catalpa, Hawthorne just anxious to burst forth their leafy show this spring, I thought of how my life has had many types of markers, perhaps the most vital being trees.
As I child it wasn’t any type of tree in particular, but more the awareness of an abundance of trees when, at the age of seven, we moved from the city to the country. My father loved nature and would take me and my sisters on annual spring excursions into the woods to see the first blooms of white and purple trilliums growing under the maple and poplar bows. In March we would go to a nearby sugar bush and watch the syrup dripping from the taps in the forest of maple trees. We would take our fingers and run them under the sap, licking the sticky syrup, sweet enough even before the boiling process.
As a young bride I moved to Northern Ontario where the triumvirate of Cambrian rocks, spring fed lakes, and large, verdant woodlands, imprinted themselves on my core self. Our home was built on the edge of a Lake and the land was populated by majestic white birch. Even in winter, devoid of leaves, the tall, graceful white columns added a majesty to our surroundings. Their smooth skin was a delight to touch. My children would dare to strip some bark from a tree to make various crafts, miniature canoes, or scribble secret messages on the interior side, to be hidden under rock crevices. Birches are not a hardy tree, and every few years the spring would reveal that yet another had succumbed to old age and the ravages of northern winters. And yet as they thinned themselves, the remaining ones appeared straighter, taller, and more magnificent than ever. I think of them now as anthropomorphised guardians of our lake home for so many years.
Now, in the trimester of my life, the trees that dominate are hawthorne. They thrive both at my home and at the cottage. Their prickly branches intertwine in gnarly, arthritic kinks. A strong wind will clip them of their weaker limbs. But spring encourages bright, white blossoms that camouflage the twisted limbs. Summer is all green and verdant, offering shade and colour. Bright red balls of inedible fruit tease us into fall. And then they drop, and the bare, intertwined limbs seem to clump closer to each other, as if to give reassurance as another winter approaches. They are an ironic tree, appearing vulnerable and yet asserting independence with their needle spines.
By turns, my trees have provided beauty, detachment, meditation, protection, and comfort. And, as I reflect, it seems that each one, that has presided over a period of my life, did so for a reason, and perhaps, in part, as an avatar of myself.
'The Language Animal' by Charles Taylor
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