What is that one?”
“I don’t know”
“And that one?”
“A jackalberry…?” “Ouch! That hurt. Was that not one a Jackalberry?
“They both were, pay attention”
“What is that one?”
“Oh, third one wrong. Off you go, hug and apologise to it”
“Hug the thorny tree?”
“Unless you want to walk home…”
“I’ll hug it!”
Self inflicted love for trees was something that I didn’t see coming from Allan’s unusual training methods. During our ranger training he truly believed that getting hurt while hugging spiny trees (mostly Acacias or sickle bush) was the best way to learn. It was effective – you can only get them wrong so many times before the shape of every thorn becomes an all too familiar feeling on your skin.
We would spend hours driving around trying to identify African trees correctly – get it wrong and you will hug thorns, apologise publicly to the tree or be driven into a branch while on the tracker seat. Can’t say it was a very nice part of training, but it made into an effective game.
As a kid me and my brothers were taught the tree anthem in preschool, along with all the basic kiddies songs.
“To tree we owe unrequited love,
we should never forget
they’re the work of God”
Growing up I loved trees mainly because I could climb up and build a treehouse that consisted mostly on a plank on a branch – but alas this was my kingdom. As life got in the way I always liked climbing them, but didn’t pay much more attention other than “oh! it’s in flower, pretty”.
A few years down the line I have come to realisation that if trees wished so, they could rule the world. Maybe even one day the world will end smothered by the roots of these ancient rulers. In my new life I keep becoming more respectful and mesmerised by them. Their deadliest weapon is being able to observe us, quietly, everyday, in every routine until the end of time. They can grow anywhere, survive for longer than turtles, speak to each other, help each other and have distinct personalities. Invisibility to human eyes is their super power.
If impala are ninjas, and frogs superstars, trees are definitely the Einstein of the world – not Africa’s, the world. Tamboti trees with their toxic latex (like the “innocent” Christmas trees we welcome to our houses), are able to prevent sapling from other trees to grow where they are (talk about tree racism right?). Leadwoods are able to stand for centuries after dying, Acacias and their fluffy flowers are able to alert other Acacias of the impending danger of hungry giraffes, Sausage trees in all their greatness have evolved to be pollinated by bigger bats instead of tiny insects.
After spending about 6 months trying to identify different trees, their medicinal uses, how they change every season, what are their characteristics, I learned to let myself marvel and be more humble before any trunk with leaves. You have to understand; from an impala poo sized seed, entire trees grow and stand for centuries. CENTURIES!. For so long they see us pass by, make mistakes and they won’t say a word, they will just give us the air we need to survive – talk about martyrs and hidden sacrifices.
I now travel and notice them all around me, in Africa, in the cities, anywhere in the world. I see them and wonder what they, what they do, what colour their leaves will be, what animals eat them, why they look so funny…
I’d like to have a prairie of a garden so that I could have a Leadwood, an Apple leaf with its beautiful tiny purple flowers, a Sausage tree to climb, an Impala Lily to fight with, a Baobab for symbolism, a Weeping Willow because they remind me of Neverland, and an Araguaney for home.
Oh the ecological damage I’d love as a garden! Kew, you could be proud.
Reality, you let me dream.