The Hidden Life of Trees

A poem about trees


In September 2017 I supported Kath Burlinson, Paul Oertel and Nancy Spanier on a Discipline of Freedom workshop in France with members of the Authentic Artist Collective. I wrote this poem while I was there, in a beautiful studio in the heart of the wooded Dordogne region. My lovely non-fiction book group back in Edinburgh met during that week and the book of the month was The Hidden Life of Trees  by Peter Wolhleben; this is the poem about trees I had promised to send in my absence. The performance artist mentioned in the piece is the beautiful Lucia Lutonska. I am touched that when Lucia chose to share her stories and drawings at the recent 10th anniversary party of the Authentic Artist Collective in London, this poem was read by the fabulous spoken word artist Rachel Amey.


The Tree


The only metaphor you’ll ever need

In all your jumper cable days.*


In this room, on a French chestnut floor

Stands a woman who lets fall leaves,


Unique pictures which all tell the same

Story. Some fall, some she holds close


To her heart, shows us how this one tells

Of a magical plant which holds the seeds


Of every story, dust drifting across the

Land in search of story hearers, and the


Songs that float on the water since time

Immemorial, weathering everything.


‘Have I ever told you, my dear, how all

The worlds are born?’ Have you ever


Listened to the secrets sung in the

Branches or heard under your hand


The pull of invisible currents of rising sap

Or breathed in the news that the trunk


Transmits through each twig or bowed

Down after craning your neck towards


The crown of the tree to gaze below ground

At the cathedral of roots that reflect wood’s


Majesty in generous, foundational realms?

Have you stood the soles of your feet on the


Chestnut floor and taken in the vibrating

Pulse of others around you who in your


Forest surround you, your mystery connecting

To theirs, their root-riven history as much


Magnificently yours? Or tricked yourself into

Going down to the woods unsure of the big


Surprise of beech nut bounty or fungi fun or wild

Boar butt scratching or sapling school-yard


Hopscotch or a squirrel, owl or wood pigeon

Hoedown, a finger-painted butterfly ball of tree-


Speakers, leaf squeakers and long-pronged bug-

Chompers, mulching much into the recipe of light,


Dark till home-time dilemmas, bed time, let-go

tumble time, crumble down turn back to dust time?





* Mary Burmeister, Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner, would say ‘this is the only hold you’ll ever need in all your jumper cable days’ referring to the energetic capabilities of human touch. I’d never heard this phrase till today and have never experienced this kind of body work but like the idea that one thing/action/symbol/verse/thing can contain everything if you let it.


This Cocktail is Not Fiction

Since I have a more-or-less daily practice that involves writing non stop for precisely 10 minutes, I am doing that now with a notion that it is a draft blog post. Which means it can be as shitty as I like. Or as shitty as IT likes. (Shitty first drafts are Anne Lammott’s heartening term to help recovering perfectionists like me to approach the page.)

There’s a wonderful non-fiction book group that is not actually meeting this evening (because summertime) which affords me instead the time to do this. The current book – The Dance of Life: The other dimension of time by Edward T Hall – is about cross-cultural concepts of time, which is conceptually handy because this is me doing something vaguely transactional with my supposed chunk of time. Spend it on this instead of that. (This is not a particularly sophisticated way of viewing time but perhaps I am not a particularly sophisticated time dealer.)

The book on my desk, The Dance of Life by Edward T Hall

The previous blog post – which was waaaay long ago and I tell myself a story that it’s deeply uncool to refer in a blog about the gap between blog posts because probably no one really cares except the blogger ie me and I should just get over it – was about trees. And I thought that perhaps THIS post might – in a link-and-shift kind of way – have a little something to do with trees too. Does it? Might it?

Well, I suppose it could possibly be to do with the tree-related shows that are coming up in the Fringe – firstly in the Leaf by Niggle sense – Tolkien’s story where an unfinished painting of a tree represents the unfinished oeuvre The Lord of The Rings (three shows only! 1st-3rd August at 4pm, Scottish Storytelling Centre) and The Man Who Planted Trees sense (12th-26th August, 4pm, Scottish Storytelling Centre). And that’s on my mind because we (Puppet State Theatre Co in the form of my husband Richard and I) had an encouraging meeting today that is about handing over some of the social media stuff to people who are better at that kind of thing than I am. Crucially they are more WILLING to do that kind of thing than I am. And handing it over felt REALLY GOOD and I think made it much easier to think about OTHER THINGS. Like this 🙂 (I am aware of the irony of letting go of social media Fringe commitments while immediately posting links to the edfringe box office.)

This time of year typically comes with a strong sense that I’m MEANT to be doing something else ie pre-Fringe planning to get bums on seats. And we’re fortunate enough that it’s arguably a waste of energy in a weird way because people come anyway, even if/when our marketing is suboptimal. And it’s a lousy time to waste energy in freelance world because OTHER people (not EVERYONE although it can feel a bit like it) are off on their holidays having FUN – people who have children who are at school and who then are not at school who use the summertime to go on holiday. We are not those people. (Hope you’re having a great holiday if you are, though!)

My two grown-up stepsons are not at school nor were they at all in the time that I have known them. The younger, Joey – aged 21 when I met him in 2004 and now 36, older than I was when I married his dad – last night was in his element, hosting a party at East Side one of the bars that he is developing. And I was babysitting at Tigerlily for his old colleague London Cocktail Club guru JJ Goodman and JJ’s gorgeous opera singer wife Hannah. Or rather, more accurately, I was babysittER for their lovely, wee, silken-cheeked, 10-week-old daughter who was an absolute delight. For one glorious evening, I was a boutique hotel babysitter! A luxuriously easy-breezy, chubby-burpy evening, me sipping red wine while half watching trashy TV (matchmaker reality TV and something to do with plastic surgery) and her steadily chugging down the milk while gazing upon fancy light fittings. After lulling the dream girl to sleep with Kawaipunahele by Keali’i Reichel, I had a fragrant soak in a huge bath (listening to the latest Archers podcast) and went out for a delicious cocktail afterwards with JJ and Joey, a stash of hotel slippers and toiletries tucked under my arm.

Cheeky Babysitting Selfie
The Bramley Apple Smash comes with a Custard Cream :-0

This is still not about trees. Why did I think that there was more to say about trees? There is an almost-my-height oak tree in very verdant leaf among the rain-sodden ferns outside. We were given it as a tiny sapling at the 2011 Charleville Puppetry Festival in France. And it may yet harbour ambitions to put its potted roots down at Dreghorn along with the trees planted in 2014 for the WW1 centenary.

If fernly I had got round to planting this sooner

There will also be a calm, deep, rootsy tree theme to the creative writing thread of the primary schools winter singing project I am doing later this autumn for the Queen’s Hall concert On This A Winter’s Night. But that is later in the year and I don’t have too much to say about it yet. (Here’s something about the event last year.)

I have a notion that I am going to be posting something here every month. That may be a blithe and reckless notion. It may also be madly UNDER-ambitious. (Prognostications of blog post frequency also come under the things that I believe I shouldn’t be mentioning. Forget I ever did!)

I was thinking back about how long this book group has been going. And how we started out way back in early 2016 with the biography George MacKay Brown: The wound and the gift. And then The Moneyless Man and how that had an impact on me in terms of giving up shampoo. Mark Boyle wrote about the toiletries that were not that difficult – for him as a shaven-headed man – to give up and I decided – as a long haired woman – to give it a go. It’s now been over three years that I’ve been using bicarb to wash and vinegar to condition my hair. (That means quite a LOT of shampoo that I have NOT used. I calculate that I’ve nominally left about 10 big 400ml bottles on the theoretical shelf assuming I used to use about 10ml every 3 days.) I could write a whole separate post about hair another time. And about the burgeoning phenomenon of the Silver Sisters facebook group.

I may yet also explore any or many of these tangential topics: fear of wasting freelance time; step motherhood and not having had babies; puppetry festivals and primary school projects. I could collate a list of all the books that our lovely non-fiction book group has ever ‘done’ (Update: OMG I’ve gone and done that already! See below). Or something about how we’re going to change tack and take ourselves on a book group (writing) retreat in the autumn. And about the cottage and about how there is a nearby Quiet Garden Day that might become a part of that if people want it to. Or something.

Location of future book group weekend

Anyway. There’s that. And so on. So yeah. It’s like this.

It’s like this.

It often ends up like this. With this is how it is. Short lines.

Shorter paragraphs.

And then – when I realise my time is not up yet – there is the idea about what pictures there could be. And what will be the editing process? And how long does it actually take to write a blog post* and why do I do this anyway?

Because it seems like a decent way to tie together some of the threads of my life and get on with making a bit of meaning. Planting a small, imperfect sapling.

*Distinctly more than ten minutes what with the epic reading list and links and all 😉

All The Books That Our Amazing Non-Fiction Book Group Has Read So Far
    George Mackay Brown: The Wound and the Gift by Ron Fergusson Feb 2016
    The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle April 2016
    The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant, May (or was it June?) 2016
    This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (June 2016 and then also Sept 2016 – it was a big book and we had 2 sessions on it)
    The Green Boat by Mary Pipher Nov 2016
    The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu & Dalai Lama, Jan 2017
    Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Feb 2017
    Rising Strong by Brené Brown, April 2017
    The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel, how they communicate by Peter Wolhlleben, Sept 2017 (I was in France and sent a tree-inspired poem)
    The Tao of Pooh and/or The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff, Jan 2018
    Whatever book about money you fancy: The Soul of Money by Lynne twist, suggested by Nic; Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup or Worthy by Nancy Levine or Dave Ramsay’s Total Money Makeover. March 2018
    Women and Power by Mary Beard, April 2018
    The Tao Te Ching translated by Ursula Le Guin, July 2018
    Becoming by Michelle Obama, April 2019
    My Life So Far by Jane Fonda, June 2019
    The Dance of Life by Edward T Hall OR Pip Pip by Jay Griffiths (hasn’t happened yet)