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Trees and stuff

One week to go to and it’s time to talk trees.

One of the first things the community gardening group gave me was a plan of the trees in the garden. It gave both the latin and common names for each tree. This led me in several directions.

The first stop was Wikipedia. It’s not a source should be relied on for academic truth, but it is certainly a good first stop for poets. For example, there is a beautiful specimen Himalayan birch in the garden. It turns out that this species was the source of bark for early sanskrit texts and today birch bark is still used to inscribe mantras with powers of protection and blessing. This idea is so poetic that I’ve found it impossible to write about….but here’s a picture of the tree! (The compost bags in the foreground show you that the gardeners were around. I even did an hour of weeding to help – don’t say poetry makes nothing happen.)


The Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis)

Another (sillier) direction was the enjoyment of the latin names themselves. I love the fact that the lowly monosyllabic ash becomes Fraxinus excelsior or the Anglo-Saxon oak turns Quercus robur. That led me to the idea of a sound-based piece using the rhythms I could find in the selection of tree names. I am hoping to recruit a small group of hardy volunteers to join me in a choral rendition of the result in the garden.

The third thought was to do with the process of naming itself. I wondered what visitors would call the trees – perhaps in different languages – perhaps with names that have personal associations – perhaps with something they make up on the spot. I want to encourage movement through the garden and close attention to some of the plants. My plan is to ask visitors to give names to a selection of the trees in the garden that I can (I hope) turn into a poem. I think there will be value in the activity even if the literary merit of the result is limited.

I’m expecting visitors to do this without benefit of Wikipedia – although in the age of the smartphone quite possibly some will take a peek.