Love For Local Leafy Ones

by Ms Emerald Earthling

(This article is reposted with permission from Emerald’s blog. See the original article here.)

You have perhaps sat around plastic or tortured trees recently, cheering with awkward reunion smiles, telling yourselves that it’s fine to kindle familial spirit with too many spirits and beers and bad jokes even though you don’t really believe in Jesus. Or maybe you’ll have sparked a new, usual, annual softness for the deified guy and sent a few prayers to the sky before too much food. Whatever. The ritual is almost always an abstracted party or an uncomfortable reconnection with relatives or both, with the blurry focus of a royal birth and a peaked season. I hope you all got what you needed from the often-greedy gathering you had and found some sort of meaning in the moments you remember.

Despite the multitudinous distinctions between the incarnations of this yearly celebration amongst atheists and committed Christians, lax Lord-lovers and materialistic tacky-gifters, the tree seems a pretty permanent token ritual presence. Loved and lit, ringed with tinsel, topped with some plastic tilted ornament, it sits in some corner to stoke a month of sentimentality. Perhaps overshadowed by staggered, wrapped shapes, it still features frequently…even if its species doesn’t match the Aussie summer and no-one quite gets the irony of felling a tree for the purpose of celebrating its presence and then flinging it out to be collected by the council clear-up around the point of the nearing new year.

I decorated a tree this year, but this one was lovingly strung with bunting many months before little Christ’s supposed birthing. This tree isn’t an import or formed from petrochemicals; it’s a red gum. It’s old. It’s also settled with wide roots and a sky-stroking canopy on land that a band of mewling fiscally-fixated fuckwits have decided would better serve as a carpark. (Yes, yes, we’ve all raised eyebrows already and hummed the tune of Joni’s Big Yellow Taxi.) The land lies below a mother mountain, a geographical form fecund with majesty and magic: Gulaga. Despite a twisted past (as all small towns are tormented spaces with unsheddable histories and Tilba is no exception) the folk who live at her feet claim they value her and her deep-rooted, bark-bound babies who grow sprawling from her granite-cored form. They say that they like the living world despite their past penchants for felling her leafy loved-ones when they felt like it. They say that they now know the land is just as grand as the profits they pray to make through the sanity-sapping summer months.

There are residents here among the rows of shops. There are quiet, curtain-twitching gardeners who wince when the tourists trash the place with wrappers shed from sugared treats purchased at Tilba’s Sweet Spot (the bitter home of one of the most firm proponents of concrete instead of a life-crawling, leafy-limbed soul). There are committed capitalists, those who feel that their hard work negates the fact that their toils alter the soils of this land and leave the air littered with more carbon dioxide than ignorance or small business diligence can ever excuse. Others who fit among that broader bunch buy pieces of slave-made garb or blood-bathed gems to sling to slack-jawed tourists who’ll buy anything on a quaint-town holiday. The garden-dwellers and the holiday housers stay out of the arguments for fear of the fusses they’ll cause with the above; those who claim to keep the town a functioning one with a steadily-increasing stream of cash, despite the fact that that cash does nothing but buoy the individual experiences of those who happen to own the few shops. Those tree-demeaning folk do not prosper to boost the community in any way but pageantry.

There are a few souls here, though, who came because the mountain called. The sea sang to us. The aged bark and sturdy branches beckoned for us to nest beneath them, stay for a while to hear the wind trace through the eucalypt tips. We came because we hoped that the voices of this vital land had been heeded by the other people who settled in this space. There is power here. Wildness that has had its autonomy wrested back from colonial hands. Wildness returned to those who know how to heed the power present in sand, in soil, in stands of spotted-, red- and peppermint gums.

We, the ones who felt compelled to curl ourselves against the curvature of this landscape, have a lot of love for the growth distinct from dollars. We watch our little garden crops enjoy the fertile volcanic soil and eat thankfully the sweetness given by this savoured space. We see the regenerative patterns of native plants as they reclaim the far-reaching paddocks and share shade to hold space for more forested company. The village, Tilba, a national trust-protected perch on the foothills of the risen Mother, bears no historical noting when weighed against the millennia of unmarred forests which used to blanket this part of the planet. These quaint, painted houses are recent additions, clinging to a hillside which will one day in distant time let its dormant seeds weave roots among these dwellings and slowly re-green the whole tidy scene. That is what we most need from it, too: an Earth which exercises its power and reclaims the spaces we’ve maimed.

As we aid our ailing planet to protect herself and sustain our existence simultaneously – for the two are an inseparable pairing – we must appreciate that all our efforts will be both representative and real; consist of substance and symbol.

There will always be larger things than our specific passions. The things which wring our hearts and claw at our consciousness can easily be overshadowed when perceived only in their material state; this is why, for example, western feminist activists are told to hush because women in distant cities have tribulations which put the free the nipple movement to shame. Shed of its deeper symbolic meaning, the baring of breasts seems so trivial in comparison to the systemically-accepted beating of women or the denial of education to girls, but the act is one which expresses an entitlement to autonomy. That core value – that women should be able to determine entirely how to experience their beingness (body, mind, social presence, spiritual alignments) without fear of far-reaching consequence – matters more than the manifested act of a topless swim… We represent our deepest beliefs in the ways we wander this world – everything we choose, every act we indulge, every word we share shows what we know and what we’ve chosen to integrate. We silently align ourselves with corporations or communities, depending on what we buy and the practices we pursue. We pledge undying connections to a living land or a languishing one; evolution, or stagnation and its ultimate end of degeneration; fairness or stratification; sustainability or selfishness; every choice is the expression of our practiced system of values. Consciously or not, each act is backed by what system – whether logical and lucid, or a jumbled lump of inherited bits – we have internalised. So when we weep for a single tree and treat it to all sorts of adoring phrases, it is an act that rises as much from our specific connection as from our recognition that it represents a stand for a threatened world. Our love for it is but one incarnation of a soul-deep, heart-fuelled relationship with the living, non-human Earth. Our respects for the tree are simply a small manifestation of our humbled awe in the face of untamed forests. Of course, this individual gum holds the soil, settles the rushed rain as it drains past its roots, filters the ever-heavier air, and homes the winged things or crawling ones. It is an adored community presence by the thoughtful folk here. We see how it holds the microclimate and moderates the racing wind. We appreciate its expressive aesthetics and are greatly grateful for its function. In amazement, we imagine it still offering all that it does when even the youngest among us have found our aged graves. It has more right to reign on this land than we: in exchange for the nutrients it receives from the soil, it does naught but offer active support for the symbiotic evolution of its valley home. In exchange for the resources we drag from the dirt to create our own often-detached experiences of existence, our species mostly just screams for more as we pour pollutants into air, water, and soil – the fundamental supports for our life to exist here at all. We offer our cohabiting species a depleted range of habitats and refuse any responsibility for softening the scars we’ve inflicted. There are a small collection of conscious folk who spend lifetimes lending their limbs to healing our planetary home, but too few to be considered anything but an exception to humanity’s rancid rule.

I decorated this rightfully-reigning tree, the Red Gum, with letters sent from near and far. My celebratory cause was not for an annual holiday torn from its pagan roots, but for an old entity’s many-limbed presence on this Earth. Countless young children and discontented elderly citizens, passing tourists and settled residents all sent artful expressions or visited personally to string their scrap fabric or reappropriated paper thoughts to the trunk and branches. I sewed strands of their creations into loopy groups and let them sit fiercely against the woody cells through rain and relentless wind. We did this with the force of love – the presumable motivation for any sort of genuine activism. (Incensed by the broad disinterest in whatever symbolic, substantial reality which sits so close to our hearts, the activists among us apply the power of our love of it to alter the attitudes of others. Some campaigns become a little more about anger than love, but it is so often that sweeter force which ignites the initial progressive actions.) We confronted the callousness of Tilba town’s commercial component (which, if you’re intending to visit, you should probably boycott; spend some time with the land instead) with voiced compassion, expressive care, and we united without any ingrained expectations to give the gift of our words to a being whose kind is so often unheard.

In return, we were met with anger. The tree, to us a symbol of our connection to our ineffably complex Earth, became to the aforementioned fiscally-fixated fuckwits a symbol and source of fury. They see it as an impediment to their poorly-defined progress. They see it as the hippies winning. They see it as an ode to a compromise they’re galled to have even been forced to consider. They do not see anything but intruding wood, a perilous potential branch-dropper. To them it is not a home, a whole being, a thing worth preserving for the future they have but a few decades left to see. For them, it is not an essential component of a collaborative community of carbon-sequestering entities; it is to them a monument to potentially-lessened profits. In a pathetic effort to ‘prove’ their power in this game that we never aimed to play, they have torn every letter from the tree so it is left bare and traceless of the communal care. It’s childish and petty, but the purpose serves as a symbol of their misguided righteousness and rigid rejection of their responsibility to protect the planet. It makes my heart ache not only that those poetic words are no longer serving their purpose, but that love was so galling to those people that they felt it needed crushing.

With their sentiment in mind, we rise again in our kindness. We write, we decline the bright offers of their shops. We create more art from the beating heart at our source and share it as a symbol and a very real insight into how we want our world to grow. Our value system shifts to reject the village’s values (which mirror the greater corporate, capitalist, greed-driven system’s), and we give our allegiance instead to the land. The time has come for us to know, wholly, that our world is forever changed. No longer can our past patterns be excused, regardless of how comfortable we find them. We must react to the reality that confronts us and start to actively care. Our value systems must be assessed and we must practice the highest good we can perceive in all passing moments. We have nothing but proof of our power to inflict grievous harm on this Earth, and yet we plead powerlessness when it comes to mending it. We must see our capacity for co-creation and make it manifest, even if the process is confronting. It will mean compromise. It will mean sacrifice. It will mean walking untrodden paths as we evolve beyond our presently-steady systems, and it will mean seeing and taking radical responsibility for the damage we have individually and collectively wrought. As this new year dawns and you re-fell the tree in your home, it is imperative you question the worth of the rituals you rekindle each year: the ritual of consumption on any day of gifting, the ritual of anthropocentric growth at any given opportunity, the ritual of glazed-eyed staring at moving screens to avoid engaging with the unfolding universe beyond your room. You will need to reassess the rituals of eating – the type and amount and source of what you consume each night. You will need to reconsider the ritual of daily drives, the ritual of celebrating endless births in our already-excessively concentrated species, the ritual of passing on rather than taking responsibility in any matters you perceive as significant. Create new rituals, new routines which honour your growing awareness of the intricacies of our intimately connected existence…like plant a tree that is native to your space, or decorate one with letters of your love.

(If anyone wishes to contribute to the campaign, now that it is running again, please send your adoring words – written on scrap fabric with permanent marker, preferably – to ‘Radiant Red Gum’, PO Box 2058, Central Tilba 2546, NSW Australia.)

Also, for those interested, here is a link to the original facebook event:

Thank you Emerald for your article! See more of Emerald on her blog here.