trees and old women

Trees give us their shade. Some of them give us their fruit and leaves, their medicine, often their very own existence – when they keep us warm or offer us the raw materials for furniture and construction.

Just this?

Trees transport water from here to there with their roots, invite the rain itself to come visit. Shortly said: there is no life without trees.

“Just” this?

Trees dominate narratives and myths, often monopolise childhood memories (as well as those of our adult lives), live in our dreams and allow both heart and mind to find rest. They say, trees are inhabited by dryads. Many imagine them as youthful nymphs, covered with dew, enveloped in grace. I, on the other hand, imagine them as old women, filled with wisdom and determination, like the old women of the recent photos from Turkey and Palestine. They can be fat or thin, short or tall, almost always wrinkled like raisins. Many – often their own people – will ignore them as if they were fools, unworthy, remnants of an irrelevant past. Still, these old women know very well how to embrace a tree: as one should embrace life itself – despite the violence intrinsic to our times (you may think of war or “development”; you will end up to the same conclusion).

Old women understand very well that whatever threatens trees also threatens human or non-human existence. They perceive clearly the interconnection between trees and communities of any form of life (either “worthless” or not).

Trees often demarcate tame and un-tame, self-seeding gardens. They demarcate the geographical relief of different areas and hence provide a sense of identity among the people who live there. We are the pines, the oaks, the maple trees, the tufted apple trees and the citrus varieties, the hawthorns and the cornels.

Trees teach us heterotrophy (Bousquet, 2022), how death gives birth to life, how deconstruction is the basic ingredient of the creative force allowing us to flourish.

Trees, as with anything living, awaken the senses. They invite us to develop a deeper awareness of our embodied realities. Of our bodies, yes our own bodies, that do not just belong to us, but also exist as parallel appearances and expression of planet Earth itself. We belong both to our selves and the world. We are the world (Mazis, 2002).

Trees teach us how to care long-term, but also the skills for co-existence (Hammarsten et al, 2018). Trees teach us solidarity and caring for the generations to come (Clayton & Opotow, 2003). Rarely will a person plant trees thinking exclusively of one’s own existence in time. Trees give birth to movements, like the Chipko movement in India during the 70s, where women were embracing trees in order to protect them (Shiva, 1988).

Psychoanalysis understands trees as metaphors of the human existence or archetypes, while phenomenogical approaches see them as reflections of the underground, earthly or celestial spheres, and ecopsychology as one expression among many of an ecological unconscious, but also as possible fields of action – in this latter case, the protection of trees is being understood as a parallel process of therapy (Clayton & Opotow, 2003). Besides, as very well Julia Butterfly Hill expresses – a woman who lived upon the tree canopy of Luna, a sequioa over 1000 years old for a 738 days in order to protect it from being cut down – clearcuts only exist on the planet because they exist within people first.

Finally, trees incarnate politics. Not just in the form of an interconnection between social and environmental justice, but also vegetal politics, whereas important issues within human lives, such as the different practices of belonging in time and space, extend themselves beyond human measure and give prominence to collaborative and conflicting relationships between humans and plants, but also the communities created in between them (Head et al, 2014).

Old women are deeply political and profound in their “folly”. Vulnerable and for this reason mighty. Besides, how could they be anything other than that? On their shoulders they carry all the wisdom and kindness of the trees.

Sources:

  • Bousquet, A. (2022). The Tree of Life Within Us: Origin & Evolution of Life, Philosophy of Nature & Mindfulness of the Human Body. Εκδόσεις Koadig – https://koadig.wordpress.com/
  • Clayton, S. & Opotow, S. (2003). Identity and the Natural Environment: The Psychological Significance of Nature. The MIT Press, Cambridge: MA.
  • Hammarsten, M., Askerlund, P., Almers, E., Avery, H. & Samuelsson, T. (2018). Developing Ecological Literacy in a Forest Garden: Children’s Perspectives. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 19(3), 227-241.
  • Head, L., Atchison, J., Phillips, C. & Buckingham, K. (2014). Vegetal Politics: Belonging, Practices & Places. Social & Cultural Geography, 15(8), 861-870.
  • Mazis, G.A. (2002). Earthbodies: Rediscovering Our Planetary Senses. State University of New York Press, New York:NY.
  • Shiva, V. (1988). Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. Zed Books, London, UK.