The exercise was simple. Walk in the park and choose to spend time with a tree that speaks to you. Listen. Does it say anything? Watch it closely. Come back to the studio and embody the tree or bring alive a snatch of your conversation with it.
We entered the park. I heard the whisper soon enough. It was the second tree in my path.
I didn’t even know its name. I had never stopped and gazed upon it, a routine I keep up with favourite familiars. I had walked past this tree and turned to look at it again, couple of days ago. I had wanted to find out its name.
I stood by the trunk – a uniformly circular trunk, a tall and too shy to branch out all around or ripple and curve seductively trunk. The trunk shot out of the earth for a long stretch before a branch happened. The branch was starkly perpendicular to the main trunk and then turned and was starkly parallel to the main trunk.
It was a dramatic branching out, even if a bit stiff and formal; an off-beat move outward, not one of your panning all around the main trunk, whirling and swirling like a dancer kind of branching out. This was no rain tree, flowing around its centre and throwing patterns of light and shade in a wide circle. This was a linear model, rooted in the earth but going straight for the sky – this tree is not chatty or distracted. The way it branched out, complicated arrangements of smaller branches were created in nooks. They looked like clusters of green light.
The leaves were long and bright. There were clumps of dry, grass-like projections hanging off the tree. On closer viewing they seemed like dried roots. They didn’t seem to be flowers.
I touched the trunk of the tree and listened. I wanted to rule out any awkwardness – the tree already looked the shy sort – so I hugged it. Hugging a tree is one of the best ways to open a conversation, I’ve found. I walked all around it. I gazed up at it. I felt the leaves. I felt the bunches of dry, straw-like projections. Many just came off in my hand. They had fallen from higher branches. Some held on stubbornly. The tree bore itself with grace and elegance though its trunk was split open in small patches. It clearly saw itself as more whole than broken, more beautiful than scarred.
Like all trees this one too spoke of owning its body. It affirmed that trees don’t dwell on the parts of them that fade or change, even as they ride the continuum of change-shed-grow-change-shed-grow.
I ran my hands over the rough, broken open parts of the trunk, felt the hollows on its surface with my hands and feet. They seemed like doorways to other creatures, to other selves, to other ways of being beautiful.
I imagined the seed of this tree inside the soft darkness of the earth. How it must have yearned for light, while knowing that it must drink fully, all that the darkness offered! Did it know when it sprouted that its body would always be a dance between light and darkness? That it would suck more deeply of darkness in order to grow more fully into light?
I imagined light tapping gently on the surface of the soil and the green shoot leaping out into its arms like a baby coming home to its mother.
The tree followed its inner code map and spilled out of itself, split itself open, so it could journey towards wholly inhabiting its being, being its own purpose. Does the top of the tree that brushes the sky sing of the seed’s infinite presence in its body?
Was there pain to transcend in the natural move to transform and be? Or is that a human thing – feeling pain, feeling attachment to the broken, dwelling on the blemishes and marks of transformation, hankering after a misguided image of perfection and symmetry, resisting growth and wholeness with all your might?
When we went back into the studio, my body spoke differently as it carried the impressions of my interactions with an unknown tree, now not so unknown.
I am participating in a movement performance ‘How to be a fig?’ to be presented at a Science Conference in Bangalore, end September 2017. Read more about the project here: https://artecologyinitiative.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/how-to-be-a-fig/
‘How to be a fig?’ will be themed around Fig/Ficus trees. If you’d like to apply to participate (non-dancers are also welcome), please contact email@example.com (deadline August 10th, 2017).