Old Tree Stumps and Imaginations

When I was a child, my favourite moments were those spent at my grandmother’s cabin. It was an ugly pea-soup green, the kind of colour that must have been purchased on sale. The roof was thin, the nail-tips visible from below. Not surprisingly, this cabin had poor insulation: enough so to justify sleeping an extra hour until the temperature warmed, even in the summer. When my cousins and I woke, there was a fire in the fireplace, and my grandmother ready for a card game, in which we waged bets with broken bits of liquorice. In a similar pattern of mismatched extremes, the carpet was bright fire-red and not large enough to protect the creaky floor below. It didn’t matter. Such things didn’t detract, or perhaps added to, its charm.

My grandmother, Mormor, was the essence of this place and remains one of the most important persons who touched my life. She was soft and kind and spoke with a gentle accent; as much a part of her as anything else. And while she was benevolent to all, she lived for her grandchildren. Maybe that was what made the ugly green cabin, on the edge of the forest, so special.

The woods behind the cabin was a magical place for any child. When I was 8, we were allowed to venture there, alone. I was the oldest and self-appointed authority, taking advantage to organize all rules by which any fantasy was properly conducted. My sister and cousins usually tired of my bossy leadership and I was soon left alone: to set up, or take down, what was left of our humble forest home.

For a few summers we used the same place. The soft moss carpet below our naked feet grew warn; as we accustomed our home to the way the towering trees had fallen. Peaking through, the sun hit our patch and cast the warmest glow on any and all of our random activities. There were no electronics to curb our thoughts. My cousins painted videogames on rocks, although they couldn’t advance past level 1, and soon tired of this.

For hours we sat, doing everything and nothing. Old tree stumps became tables for dinner parties and were clothed in the most ragged table-clothes granted to us. We were free, happy and covered in mosquito bites. But that didn’t matter, because everything in those moments belonged to us.

Years later, I remember the old tablecloth we placed on the tree stumps in the forest. It was given to us because it was too ugly to be displayed inside, but even now I remember its beauty. I miss its touch, its outdated pattern and the hole I used to run my fingers through. I miss that place; it was as much a part of me as anything; even though it may be difficult to put a price on rotten wood, trampled moss or mosquito bites.

Such lessons taught us to appreciate the bigger things by first bestowing respect for the less significant ones: to appreciate creaky floors because a home was full; to earn a fractured piece of liquorice; to value siblings, cousins and spaces for imagination. It was in those moments, in which I gained a respect and reverence for the mystery and awe of life: the natural world and human relations.

Many seasons have since passed: the moss carpet probably re-grown; new trees reach to the skies and the path re-routed. My beloved grandmother has passed away and while we continue to miss her, she lives on: in the lazy days of childhood; a part of the scents, sounds, and places of our imaginations and our laughter.

I touch fondly my Grandmother’s old necklace – and feel her. I remember the old tree stumps, probably rotted away, where my sister and I entertained the most prestigious imaginary guests and the chipped porcelain we used to serve them. And to such broken things, mismatched extremes and childhood memories, I now reflect:

• to carpets worn thin by too many children’s feet trampling their central tracks;
• to old shoes worn by our parents when they were young;
• to forest paths we cut ourselves;
• to backyard compost piles which smell foul, but teach the natural cycle;
• to hard work and sweat that teach you to earn your respect and rank;
• to humility which teaches you that you can’t hold on to it for too long;
• to dusty corners hiding memories we will not know we appreciate, until we realize someone else can;
• to uncompromised and unrestrained imaginations;
• to broken and mismatched plates that remain from meals and persons past;
• to those who build our foundations, depicting their lives as models of patience, persistence, convictions, simple pleasures and sacrifice;
• to all things and all dusty corners, that have no (economic) value but the value they have in themselves, for ourselves …

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An intricate balence

 

The river kisses the shore and the roots of the tree lick its waters; it is a simple relationship, maintaining the intricate balance of nature. It is hard to find a fable, a culture or a religion without a positive reflection of trees, or of rivers.

Trees stand still, digging their roots into the surrounding earth and stretching their limbs to touch the sun. They provide shelter, nourishment and reverence, even consistency. On the contrary, a river is in constant motion, at times flowing smoothly and elsewhere its waters bounce and colloid over turbulent rapids; it creates havoc by flooding and at times it runs dry. We are dependent upon the river to quench our thirst, and it has long provided a corridor for transportation, adventure and inspiration.

As in nature, people generally fall into two categories: we are either trees, or rivers. Certainly, at periods in our life we dabble with new encounters, but mainly we are one or the other. In a culture of change, we need both trees and rivers: physically, as well as symbolically, in what they reveal in people. We live in a time that emulates progress and innovation over tradition and consistency. And while this is perhaps the greatest period of human creativity, opportunity and mobility the world has seen, let us not forget that intimate relationship between the two: the tree and the river; the voyager and the villager. This relationship, which stabilises the shoreline intact, is based on a relationship of mutual respect.

Despite my reverence for trees, I know I am a river. In my less than 30 years I have had 20 some addresses, lived in 8 countries on 4 continents, travelled to many more, have family in 3, and my closest friends do not share the same passport. Inherently, I have learned to contemplate how our earth interacts: a beautiful, messy and dynamic puzzle made of relationships between people, infrastructure, and natural systems.

I am a hopeless romantic, but practical in my approach; not so much career-orientated, but dedicated to my passions, primarily in the field of environmental justice and sustainable development. I aim to live my life in the place where these words become actions, or at least attempt to. My conviction is my strength and also my weakness. Perhaps then, like the tree, I am ready to be vulnerable to one cause, one issue, and dig my roots deep – not so much in one location, but dedicated to pursuing my passion at all costs. I aim to build experiences and competencies in fertile soil and lift my branches to the sun: staying strong, despite weakness and finding pleasure in the little things I loved as a child: autumn leaves, jumping in puddles and the first swim of the spring. And the things I now enjoy: red wine, slow music, candles and contemplation.

In discovering my own journey, I reflect on the lessons I encounter, particularly in my ‘failures’, which grant the greatest lessons and foundation for the wisdom I seek and revere. Somewhere, in the midst of it, I am growing not old, but growing up. Life is what we make of it, and so far, it has been a great ride.

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