For many years my 30’s I was an ardent organic allotmenter, helping start Mount Pleasant Eco-Parks Organic Community Garden back in 2009 (digging a massillion miles of rabbit proof fencing in the process).
In time I chose to move to South East Cornwall and took many of the trees etc with me to my new home. In the allotment they had been arranged in rows, but at the new place I had decided to align my gardening along permaculture principles. (Basically allowing nature to do most of the work).
One tree stood out in all of this. A tree I had a real affinity for since I bought it for my step-son in 2006. So I kept it in a bucket while I decided where I wanted it to go…
Life happened and I didn’t decide, so after fighting through lack of water in June and July 2011 it died… or so me and Callum thought. I truly grieved for it when I realised it had only one leaf. Then in September it re-leafed, and kept its new (tiny) leaves until December. It showed me that life is powerful force and that this tree had power.
In permaculture gardens, and in nature some plants grow better than others, the plants that grow well are those who do not experience too much stress, have plenty of good food and water, don’t have to fight too much for space or light, but are grown in community with others. In my garden I noticed that the ones that are given a bit of love when they are weak are the ones that grow the best, have the strongest roots, the healthiest leaves and are the most disease resistant.
Callum’s tree spent years recovering from the bashing my carelessness gave it, sometimes it flowered in August, for three years its leaves would all fall off in July, black with mould or curling at the edges. It kept trying to give more fruit than it was capable of bearing. It caught illnesses easily and looked like shit. I (and Callum) loved that tree through every step of its healing journey. I gave it rotted dark shit-filled compost, I gave it water in when it was dry, I took away the fruit it was trying to bear so it could recover. I watched it grow weird limbs facing the wrong way and otherwise not have a clue what it was doing.
When I moved three years ago it was one of the only plants I could bring with me. It got planted immediately in a hole and fed and watered. It is near other plants and trees now, in fact there is a ‘nest’ of rowan and hazel trees across the way, they seem to watch Callum’s tree, guarding it from strong winds and offering support. This year, seven years after I subjected it to severe and enduring stress, it has finally healed. It hasn’t dropped its leaves yet (we’re in November in the Northern Hemisphere) and we have been unable to eat all its bounty on our own. Callum’s tree is alive, growing, and magnificent. It is a little bent and stumpy in some places, but it made it…..
In the years since I became too ill to garden, my love has grown for beings that are a bit broken and stumpy. Be it tree or human or child. So imagine my awe as Marc took us into a prehistoric Oakland this half term.
Full of broken, tiny, mould dripping, wizened trees Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor is beyond amazing! There, these broken and battered oak trees have fought hard for survival. The highest native Oakland in the UK, they have crouched together for at least 500 years, in community, protecting each other, supporting. Their roots have had to go down deep. They are holding each other through the hardest of times. As Treesisters, Red Tent, Hand in Hand Parenting has held me, as my friends and soul sisters have held me until I found my balance again.
Today I see the lesson from the trees has influenced me more than I realised. Whilst I have in the past not given myself the nourishment I have belatedly given to Callum’s tree. I am learning to. Sometimes I can now see beautiful humans who I love going ‘at life’ hammer and tongs. But in truth that full force living no longer makes sense to me. I wax and wane with the moon and the seasons. Sometimes I need to rest, and hide. Other times I need to shine and play and dance!
My ex and I put ourselves under constant stress, ripped me from my roots, put me in an isolated little box without space or light or community. We ate food that had toxins in it from pesticides or industrial meat farming, we didn’t eat seasonally. Asked to produce constantly, when I started failing and got stressed, I topped myself up with coffee to ‘keep going’. I didn’t do any of the things that might have mitigated these harms. Rested deeply, watered myself with love and connection from people who ‘see’ me. I had forgotten how to play and laugh and feel the joy of a sunset.
It scares me that the humans in my life are no longer disease resistant, we experience alarming rates of stress, auto-immune disease, depression, anxiety, cancer, heart disease. Before she was 40 I lost one of the best humans I ever knew to cancer. It’s a killer and I pray for a cure every day, but even without that vicious beast lurking in the shadows there is something in the way we ‘Westerners’ live our lives that makes us the most unhappy people EVER in time or locality!
So I garden me and my family now, rather than that big allotment. I grow us, with a sprinkling of love and laughter and an emphasis on kindness. On the days I can’t walk or experience the shittier bits of being human (grief, confusion, rage, and hurt etc) I try to them put to good use as dark shitty compost that we need for our souls growth.
My family needed the strong winds and the harsh times, for they have helped us root down deep into our authenticity. Callum’s tree took seven years to heal. I am only in year three of my healing journey from ME/CFS. If I try to give too much too soon my leaves might fall off. I’m a bit awkward and unsure at times. I deeply need my community around me to hold me and make sure I am safe from the wind. I am grateful they are there. I am not there yet, but I can feel health returning.
As I sit here and write this Callum’s tree stands out in the garden waving and jigging in the autumn gale. It could be laughing at me for reading too much into its survival. But I think not. For I know it is wise, indeed it has taught me how to be human.