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Hate trees! Love bumpy roads!

March 25, 2011

I was a contrary child. When my family went on long car trips, a few decades ago now, I would, in my sunny way, announce to my parents, “I hate trees, love bumpy roads”. Guess what my parents were talking about prior to this pronouncement from their co-operative first-born? This refrain, as you can imagine, has become one of those enduring family jokes, and particularly so now with my gums-inspired blog.

Anyhow, the thing is, while reading my current book, Andre Gide‘s The immoralist, I came across a description of trees:

Huge olive and carob trees, with cyclamen growing in their shadow; above, woods of chestnut trees, cool air, northern plants; below, lemon trees by the sea. The last are arranged in small terraces because of the slope, like a staircase of gardens, almost all the same, with a narrow path running through the middle from end to end. One enters them silently, like a thief. There one can dream, in the green shadows. The foliage is dense and heavy, no direct light can penetrate. The fragrant lemons hang like thick drops of wax; in the shade they look greenish-white; they are within reach, and taste sweet, sharp and refreshing.

And I realised that I have always loved trees. I did say I was a contrary child, didn’t I?

Pialligo gardenTrees are the stuff of childhood – they evoke adventure, magic, imagination. They are places to climb, to hide or rest in, to swing from or, of course, to read in. I had a climbing tree when I was young – a lovely old spreading custard apple tree. It’s an important part of my childhood memories. Naturally, this got me to thinking about my childhood reading and I realised that trees were always there too. I didn’t “know” many of them in my Australian environment but I loved the sound of them – large spreading oak trees, fragrant magnolias, lush weeping willows, elms, lindens, firs and so on. Trees, in fact, abound in children’s books, so I’m choosing just three that are particularly memorable to me. I’d love to know whether trees conjure up any special feelings from your childhood.

Like many young girls, I fancied myself Jo March (of Louisa May Alcott‘s Little women fame). What better role model could we find but this lively, adventurous young woman who also loved to read:

“No,” said Jo, “that dozy way wouldn’t suit me. I’ve laid in a heap of books, and I’m going to improve my shining hours reading on my perch in the old apple tree…”

Another favourite childhood novel was Johanna Spyri‘s Heidi (of which I was recently reminded by Iris). When Heidi is sent to Frankfurt to keep the sickly Clara company, she misses her home in the Alps:

It was still early, for Heidi was accustomed to get up early and run out at once to see how everything was looking, if the sky was blue and if the sun was already above the mountains, or if the fir trees were waving and the flowers had opened their eyes.

Heidi was one of those books which introduced me – an urban child – to the love of the countryside. (It also made me crave white bread rolls. Those rolls seemed so much better than anything I’d ever seen, and they introduced me to the vicarious enjoyment of food through literature, but that’s another story).

In Australian books, there were of course the gums, the most memorable being the one in Seven little Australians:

There was a tree falling, one of the great, gaunt, naked things that had been ringbarked long ago. All day it had swayed to and fro, rotten through and through; now there came up across the plain a puff of wind, and down it went before it. One wild ringing cry Judy gave, then she leaped across the ground, her arms outstretched to the little lad running with laughing eyes and lips straight to death.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that while Louisa May Alcott had the sweet, gentle Beth die, Ethel Turner did the reverse and chose that fate for the “cleverest” of the siblings, the one whose “brilliant inventive powers plunged them all into ceaseless scrapes”.  Interesting eh?

31 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2011 22:53

    Thank you for this smooth ride through a memory of trees . . . Yes, I loved Jo, too, and sometimes think I took a little too much of her feisty personality into my future.

    • March 25, 2011 23:45

      LOL Diane … and welcome. Glad you didn’t find the ride bumpy! And, I reckon a feisty personality never goes astray! (I didn’t know you had a blog, btw … mostly look at your photos through flickr, so will check your blog out now too).

  2. anita patel permalink
    March 25, 2011 22:55

    Some of my very favourite childhood writers. Add Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Katy from What Katy Did and the Abbey Girls and it would be the best girls party ever! I love those delicious white rolls in Heidi as well.

    • March 25, 2011 23:47

      Welcome Anita – you should have outed yourself as the poet of Tsunami! It’s a beautiful poem. Oh yes, the Abbey Girls. I enjoyed those too.

  3. jessiet1 permalink
    March 25, 2011 23:22

    Cheeky heading!!
    My tree memory involves climbing a very tall tree (or so it seemed at the time) in my grandparents’ front garden to sit and read in the space where three branches forked. Come to think of it it couldn’t have been too tall because it had a smooth, not very thick trunk – but I was only six or seven. Of such stuff are memories made.

    • March 25, 2011 23:48

      Thanks JT, I think! Do you remember what sort of tree it was?

      • jessiet1 permalink
        March 28, 2011 21:30

        I think it was a mango tree – but I can’t remember any mangos ever coming from it. I think it was probably only 6 0r 7 feet high .

  4. March 26, 2011 02:53

    I so dearly love trees and always have. When I was a kid I loved to read books where people lived in forests. My family went camping a lot in the nearby mountains for long weekends and every summer for 2-3 weeks. Some of my happiest memories are reading a book while swinging in a hammock beneath tall, whispering pine trees that always sounded like running water to me.

    • March 26, 2011 09:54

      Oh, I’ve always loved the IDEA of hammocks but somehow they never seemed as comfortable as they sounded. I’m so glad they worked for you. Funnily, while I live in “the bush capital” where we have lots of gums, we also have many exotic trees AND I live across the road from a pine forest. I love the sound of the wind through the trees there.

      Forests can be scary in stories too though can’t they. Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel … But, look, here’s a place for you to visit:

      • March 27, 2011 02:00

        If I ever plan a trip to the Netherlands I am so going to that park!

        Forests have never been scary, the trees are benign, it’s what lives in the forest that can be scary. But I was always so sure of myself when I was a kid that I would know what to do unlike those stupid people in the stories. I have read a few books where there was an evil tree. There was one in particular, the title I can’t remember, where there was a witch tree in the yard and it was so scary it gave me bad dreams for awhile. And I still remember it all these years later with a sort of deliciousness that comes with time and distance.

        • March 27, 2011 10:35

          Ha, Stefanie … when you said “trees are benign” I was about to say “but, but, but …” because I do recollect trees that are evil (or scary). Aren’t there bad trees in Narnia? Of course you are more likely to get scary trees in sci fi and fantasy aren’t you and I don’t read a lot of that. I can understand the “delicious” feeling with distance.

  5. March 26, 2011 04:11

    How funny. I was planning to write about the exact same Gide passage today, and just did.

    • March 26, 2011 09:56

      Oh, how nice that the same passage attracted us … will go check out your post. Thanks for making the connection and letting me know.

  6. March 26, 2011 17:51

    We had a huge old wattle tree at our place growing up, I’ve never seen one so large since. It was too old to flower any longer, but it was strong enough to climb day after day.
    An older memory would be of the jacarandas lining the streets at the University of QLD. My mother always told me, when they turn purple it’s time to start studying for final exams.

    • March 26, 2011 22:04

      Hi Delilah. My custard apple tree was in Queensland – Sandgate (north Brisbane). It was a wonderful garden with 2 mango trees, a macadamia tree, the custard apple tree and others I think. Jacarandas represent exam time in Sydney too. In Canberra it’s the fluff tree – White Poplar (Populus alba). When the fluff starts to fly, exams are near (so they say … I came to the city post exams in my life).

  7. March 26, 2011 19:23

    Read recently that we are adapted to living in trees and that part of the reason we started to walk on two feet was that it enabled us to climb trees. Certainly as a child, climbing trees was a favourite thing, and something at which I was very adept! Not so good now though

    • March 26, 2011 22:05

      Yes, my tree climbing is now confined to sitting on fallen logs. How the mighty fall (in more ways than one, eh?)

  8. Peter Freer permalink
    March 26, 2011 21:58

    My childhood fascination with trees ran more to “Wind in the Willows” (the contrast of an English riverside with my upbringing in the relatively arid Central NSW, with callitris pines, ironbark & kurrajong trees!); the “Far Away Tree” (loved the concept of sliding down inside the tree, as well as the constantly changing access to different lands at the top); an unknown story about Finnish Resistance who hid in an underground house under the snow until a Russian soldier sat on the hollow tree stump that served as their chimney; and my current guilt over never reading Murray Bail’s “Eucalyptus”. Loved the post – peter

    • March 26, 2011 22:07

      Thanks Peter … and thanks for sharing your “tree” memories – childhood stories and real trees. What is a callitris pine? (OK, I’m being lazy – I could Google it). How’s the croquet?

      • Peter Freer permalink
        March 27, 2011 00:52

        Callitris pines are white cypress (not really pines) – the wood is light, soft and aromatic; can be easily split and is also termite resistant so used to make furniture, indoor and outdoor panelling, and fence posts. Very flammable in bushfires. We used to use the seed pods as “sheep” in very complex farms built out of dirt & branches, complete with twig buildings etc.

        The other tree memory is an athol pine at our house in Dalby Qld – great to climb, and overlooked the copper Mum used to boil water and do the laundry!

        The croquet is very nice in Wagga Wagga – great lawns, but a handicap event, so lots of wily opponents with extra turns to make life difficult for me as top seed. Wagga still has a Food & Wine Frolic at the end of March (ie tonight), which has a great ambiance. peter

        • March 27, 2011 10:37

          Hmmm did pine needles fall into the copper? I suppose it would have been better than buying pine-scented laundry detergent.

          Wagga is a nice place … and, as I recollect the revamped main street has lovely trees in it doesn’t it. Good luck with the rest of the croquet.

  9. March 26, 2011 23:31

    Love this post! And there are some interesting coincidences, too! 1. I’m currently eating oatbran topped with carob molasses, and 2. We sopranos made the photographer take extra photos of us today because we decided we wanted ot stand in front of trees instead of icky stairs 😛

    P.S. I really doubt you were a contrary child in the grand scheme of things 🙂

    • March 27, 2011 00:13

      Can’t wait to see the photos. What sort of tree were you in front of? You’ll have to ask others about the contrariness …

  10. March 27, 2011 22:08

    Ha, guess what I’m reading at the moment? About to finish tonight? Heidi! I presume I read some version of Heidi as a youngster myself, but don’t know if I’ve ever read the original version before. I certainly understand your wanting white bread rolls because of Heidi squirreling them away for grandma. What a cruel irony that turned out to be…. I had goat milk on my cereal this morning so I could feel a little bit Heidi. And I now wonder how the winds does sound in the fir trees of the Swiss Alps. Oh, and I just love that theme park in Holland- there is a possibility I might get there next year- will have to go!

    • March 27, 2011 22:15

      More synchronicities. Such a sweet sweet book – perhaps especially so for we downunder kiddies. (To Holland next year? Nice.)

      • March 27, 2011 23:14

        Yes, love the odd coincidences of life that link us. Like Louise, I, too, am reading Heidi. I was terribly curious as to the exact sound of the fir trees and Louise so graciously posted a link to a couple of mp3 files and a link to your post. And now my husband is walking past me, shaking his head yet again at me, as I sit and listen to the sound of fir trees in winter while the air conditioner starts up in my house.

        • March 27, 2011 23:19

          Oh how nice of Louise … will go look at her blog again. I don’t get to it as often as I’d like. I wish more blogspot blogs offered email subscriptions – and would allow non google people to subscribe to comments – so people like me could keep up better.

        • April 11, 2011 12:47

          Hmmm, Lisa had trouble commenting on the weekend, now I see this. I just tried adjusting my settings again- I thought it was on the most open by how it’s worded, maybe it’s not, have changed it again, and will see how that works for all.

  11. March 28, 2011 17:04

    Hello Whispering Gums,

    I have tagged you over at my blog for a Versatile Blogger Award. Play along if you want to!

    • April 12, 2011 01:37

      Why thanks Fiona … that’s really nice of you to make me one of your choices. I may not get around to playing along – I find it challenging enough to just keep my posts up – but I appreciate the fact that you chose me.

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