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An ash tree in London's Old Burial Ground

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An ash tree in London's Old Burial Ground |

You can see a place through the eyes of a tourist, a real estate developer or an immigrant. From that perspective, you wonder what this place needs. More recreation, more infrastructure, more this. Once, I shapeshifted into an ash tree and asked myself which stories this place needs to really thrive.

I was in St Pancras Garden in the summer of 2018. London was a stop for some days between Japan and Belgium. A number of the tombstones were piled together and an ash tree was planted at their centre. They call her “The Hardy Tree”. I had found her on a list of fifty special trees in London and the goal of this city trip was to explore the city through some of its trees. I would walk from one to the other.

I was fascinated by the dead people who are buried here. Which stories got lost? But memories were not only to be found in the bones under my feet. I looked up at the green canopies. It is a deathscape and there is so much life here.Not many people were there, but I was aware that the crowded famous Harry Potter train station was some minutes'walk away.

I imagined I was an ash tree. Later I realized I wanted to be a tree for a while, to just unplug from this fast world. As a sustainability expert, I hear ideas like scaling up, speeding up. Everything is so urgent. It has an effect on my personal life: this idea that everything changes so fast, perhaps in a bad direction. I am addicted to instant gratification. I do get my shots of dopamine when I get a like on Instagram or get kissed by a stranger. But it hurts when you realize it is not love.

I was an ash tree and learned that love grows over you, into you. It enters you via the roots of your becoming. When you are busy, there is no time to rest, and only when you rest can you root and receive love. Yes, parts of you will die when you go for slowness and rooting.

Like each tree, you have different ages. Some elements or processes in you are a hundred years old, some are 30 years old, and others only one day old. And what is age anyway? Is it a mark on how your body is supposed to look? Or the signal announcing the rules you should start to apply? Marry before 30, start savings plans at 35.

A tree knows the processes of decay within you. When something happens to you or to the rest of nature you are connected with, like an animal or tree dear to you, and decay and loss seem to be central, it’s difficult … at the moment. How to cope with grief because of losses you witness and sense?

Happily you learn, when your roots start to touch the fungi underground, and when you feel the insects tickling your bark, that you can find solace in the living parts of you. You remember who you all are.

And then you shapeshift back into a human. I remember. I am a tree, a forest, an ecosystem and I trust I will adapt to the new, always changing world around me. This place does not need more stories, at least not stories about how humans can help this place, using words like speeding up, scaling up, sustainability. We need this place to tell us other stories.

© Wendy Wuyts 2021-11-25


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