Christmas Tree by Elizabeth Hayes

The Golden Seed Grove Of Lemuria

For Elizabeth Hayes Trees are Evocative

Itís a lazy Sunday morning. Iím lying on my bed with a thick wad of printed emails from the group, strewn across my doona. As I read each page Iím filled with remembrance and longing, touched by the images and memories trees have inspired in the group. I sense a root system spreading underground, across suburbs, oceans and continents and the artistry of your words carries me to marvelous places. Thank you so much. In the hazy heat of a summerís day I dream, each of your stories turning my leaves over and over like a gentle breeze. Iím going to follow Janís lead and do a writing sprint.

From my bedroom I can see my Christmas tree laden with quirky ornaments Iíve been making since July. Each ornament dangles like a jewel marking the unfurling memories of this year. I think of trees Iíve known and like a slow motion movie flickering from an old projector, image upon image floods my mind and flashes upon the bedroom walls. I sit and watch.

Itís the Edwards River in Southern New South Wales. Iím in my early teens. Our family tent is pitched beneath the sheltering boughs of a massive Eucalypt that creeks and groans in the prevailing northerly wind. Its leaves rustle like beating insect wings. My brothers and sisters plan a shaded walk down to the river where we swim in the brown waters for hours. In the early evening, cicadas begin their shrill chattering song reaching a crescendo as the sun dips behind the tents. At night I listen to the trees talk in shadows. In the bright moonlight, the tent roof becomes a movie screen. I see shapes like I do with clouds. Obscure, unknowable shapes and Iím lulled by whispers of eternity. Reverberations of ancient times, long before I know anything of myself, my family, my country.

Iím 20, inflated with the thrill of owning my first car. I zoom down to Williamstown Beach for a furtive cigarette, secretly smug that Iíve escaped our busy household unnoticed. The wide sweeping limbs of Cypress trees shelter my car from strong southerly winds. Itís an icy winterís day, approaching dusk. I watch ships bob up and down in the turbulent waves and seagulls diving expertly to net the eveningís catch. The trees along the shoreline have grown in the direction of the wind. Despite their precarious, sloping trunks, the trees are anchored to the sandy earth by strong root systems. Their askew limbs look strange and oddly haunting. I sit for hours under the cypresses until the lights at sea twinkle like stars on the inky ocean. Sometimes the moon peers beneath the clouds and a lone pelican passes overhead.

Not long after Iím in Williamstown again. Iím working at my first job and a work friend invites me over for dinner with her partner. She lives in the kind of house that makes my blood rush: a cluttered, rambling old Edwardian home with walls bedecked by huge paintings. The lighting is subdued in the dining room, low enough I hope to veil my cheeks flushed by a few too many after dinner ports. A large painting of trees in an ornate frame has captured my attention. I can make out the title of the painting: ĎBurnham Beechesí. I enter this enchanted wood of thick, knotted trunks dappled in moonlight, mesmerized. Suddenly my cheeks flush scarlet. I drab my boyfriendís hand and whisper Ď do you see what I see in that painting?í The enchanted wood of fairytales transforms into an erotic den of phallic symbols. We giggle like two novices and my friend begins to roar with laughter. ď We were wondering when youíd notice.Ē

Seven years later Iím gazing out the back window of my house to a sweeping lawn studded with trees. Itís a yard inviting contemplation. The evenly spaced trees are a variety of shapes and sizes but my favourite in the apple tree. Poorly pruned by the previous owners its knotted and gnarled branches appeal to me. They remind me of arthritic fingers: unusually beautiful. I ask my then husband to prune the tree, to give some of the straggly branches abutting the garage a tidy up. I leave specific instructions and go out to shop. When I return I find the treeís limbs severed within a few feet of the trunk. I feel as if I just sent a good friend to the executioner. ĎWhat have you done?í I screech. Our definitions of Ďtidy upí have no common ground. It took years before the branches grew back but the apple tree never regained its old look. It was a downsized, postmodern tree, the victim of a pruning takeover. Iíve never allowed pruning shears in a manís hand since.

We are driving through Nagambie in Central Victoria a few years later. The grey Nagambie Lake is dotted with ghost gums. Like disfigured skeletons, the leafless gums rise from their watery graveyard. A wave of loss and beauty washes over me. Birds nest in hollowed tree limbs and the lake is motionless without a inkling of a wave or ripple: a mirror of silvery calm. The scene suspends me in mute reflection and as we drive on I notice the hollowness of my body is like a ghost gum. I wonder if my husband feels the same. I know the answer.

Years later Iím weeping for joy as I travel down the southwestern Victorian coast on our honeymoon. My second. Our rickety old car zooming down the highway is loaded with books, food, wine and music. As the car snakes through hills, my eye line traces old stone fences that stretch for kilometers. Approaching Warrnambool, a double row of majestic Norfolk Pines lines the center plantation of the highway and fifteen minutes later we recognize the tall spires of the pines in the distant landscape. Ah, Port Fairy! In the wide town streets, the pines greet the bluest of summer skies. We settle into our cottage for the night and in the morning magpies vie for the privilege to sing the dayís first note. We sit in the rear yard under the trailing branches of the silver birch, sipping tea and scoffing brandy-laden fruitcake. Each year we return. The past few years weíve stayed at the Coach House where trees brush against the weatherboards, scratching and groaning like nocturnal animals. Evening stretches its long limbs out like a cat upon the edge of a fence. Silvery green leaves flicker against the glass of the upstairs bedroom window and at night when I bathe, shadowy tree branches create a pattern on the skylight like an oriental lampshade. In winter, the road to Port Fairy is lined with bare trees nursing empty nests. Iím impressed by the braveness of trees to be naked in winter, their courage to be exposed, dormant, without shame. I take an empty nest that has fallen out of a tree home with me and fill it with idea eggs that I hope with hatch when my writing ink defrosts.

Last year a tea tree uprooted itself in our front yard. Drenching rains marked the preceding days. We had to move house in the following weeks; uprooting our lives because of rainy circumstances we had no control over. Just like the tea tree.

This year, I made some Christmas tree ornaments. Remnants of trees found their way into my collages. Tiny twigs, bark, seeds, pods, cones, pressed flowers were married with feathers, stamps, buttons, beads and snatches of writing. I glued these fragments onto pieces of paper shaped like old price tags. These collages are my yearís currency in memories and experience. And my beautiful pine Christmas tree is covered in them. I thought Iíd had a fallow year. But the ornaments dangling from my tree tell another tale.

 

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