We were in the midst of the same season when I walked through the vacant house. Noting the spaciousness from high ceilings, I headed toward the expansive windows opening out to the yard. I distinctly remember because as I gazed out, there was a golden blanket of autumn leaves covering the grass. My widening eyes caught the vibrant orangey, yellow and brown glow surrounding the base of the majestic old oak tree with his thick trunk and branches stretching out to the sky as if to be a hand reaching down from the heavens and holding everything under it in it's presence.
This Oak tree and me, we're made of the same stuff ~ Carl Sagan.
After we settled into the house and made it our home we affectionately named him Oakey. Our favourite shelter we'd retreat to for time alone, reading a book, sunbathing, yoga or meditating or simply just laying with the dog Lewis on the sweet grass in Summer. Starring up the network of branches stretching over the whole backyard and into the neighbours I was always so delighted at how well established, strong, grounded and generous he was. I personally spent many hours starring at the sky through the shadow of each branch, like veins of goodness providing us with unmatched beauty, protection and stillness. The trunks striations spoke of an ancestry of resilience, change and growth; filled with an abundance of fearlessness, weathering and natural goodness that filled up your soul and soothed the animal within.
Our first Christmas here we were invited over to the neighbours for champagne and nibbles and I'll never forget the first words that came out of her mouth. "Do you like that old tree in your backyard?" I was at first speechless because I adored Oakey and was quite passionate. I felt my heart sink into my stomach as I recognised a tone that moved far too quickly for the things I treasure. She knew we were renting and continued with an ever so slightly aggressive tone she tried to hide in the neat justification of her modern lifestyle- even though her husband was trying to change the subject. "Since we built our house and moved in we've had possum poo and a ridiculous amount of leaves in our pool every year and we think we'd like to get it cut down. Can you give us your landlords number so we can ask him if he'd go halves in the cost?" I replied politely although admittedly I had a full fight/flight reaction going on on inside. With a shaky voice I blurted "I love that tree, it's the whole reason I agreed to move in. It's 90 years old." I didn't say much else to be honest and we moved to the outdoor table onto their fake grass to sit down and eat by their strip pool they claim they never use that runs along the side fence. All a bit awkward I no longer felt like being there and the convo soon moved on to small talk while I drank up and didn't say much more. A good example how humans are more complicated than trees.
Needless to say I think we discovered that our neighbours were not our kind of people and we were never invited back, which is a shame since we love our neighbourhood community. Despite this we've remained neighbourly and my partners even kicked the footy a couple of times with him and the dogs in the park. We've convinced ourselves to feel compassion for their lack of vision and appreciation of nature and cashed up bogans are an unfortunate part of Aussie culture. But still I felt a pang of fear when walking past their place wondering if they were going to try and get our landlord to cut it down. It was a few months later I saw a promotion by Boroondarra council to have unusual or big old trees protected for the sustainability of our region. I decided to put in an application and within 3 months a botanist came out to visit our home. He told us the Oak was a Spanish variety and the smaller second Oak tree in our backyard was an off-shoot that might have grew 5 years later and the original one was planted probably by the owners of the original house that was on this block. I'd mentioned the neighbour wanted to cut it down and it would be good to have it protected. He told me the old peoples housing complex over the back fence and our neighbours pool all have been build far too close to the tree and were not in keeping with boundary laws involving large mature trees. Protection would ensure this couldn't happen again.
Tall oaks branch charmed by the earnest stars dream all night without a stir ~ John Keats.
Our landlord later told us the tree had been protected and the neighbour never again mentioned wanting to cut it down although I did hear him cussing to himself in the backyard one day when he was raking leaves. I had a quiet chuckle when I heard him getting so worked up. The raking of the golden leaves was a past time I relished in, often contemplating the impermanence of seasons, appearances and life itself. How could he find this to be such a cause of anger? I remember my late grandfather and I walking home from the local park in Riddles Creek, a country town in Victoria when I was about 6 years old. I had been collecting acorns and my pockets were bulging and my gumboots muddied from hours of imaginative play outside. When we returned home we planted an acorn and eventually my grand parents put it pride of place in the middle of their backyard. Whilst they were alive they trimmed it back every year in a lovely round shape reminiscent of a bonsai and by the time I was 20 it was quite a large tree and probably far too close to the house to have been let go wild. I remember returning from Japan in my 30s right before we had to sell their house and standing before it in the backyard and reflecting on time and how it goes so quickly and how when your little things look so big but as you grow older it's as if things get smaller including life itself. Is this what maturity is? When we can reflect far and wide enough to appreciate the little things we have right now before us.
In three weeks time we move on from this house we've called home in Camberwell and say goodbye to another beloved old oak. Oakey's presence will live in my heart but already I am feeling like something will be lost and there's a deeper knowing that it's part of life to lose things you love and I'm letting it go and letting the tears flow tenderly. In my travels I've come to know plenty of relationships that come and go and how they change you and as you age these spirits live on in your heart and you live into them. Over these years Oakey has inspired me to re-connect to the nature I was born into, more courageously than the little veggie patches I have been tending to and potted plants I have cared for although they too have given me so much to be grateful for. I worry if someone will appreciate Oakey the way I have come to and can only hope his new family does. Oakey had some kind of mystery to share with me, drawing me closer to nature and a way of showing me my roots and all kinds of other lessons I listened quietly to in the silence the natives once spoke of. I felt sacred community along with the possums, birds, dragon flies, bees, spiders and bugs in the little sanctuary we isolated ourselves in more recently. I even did an eco-therapy training under Oakey and made a threshold for self-inquiry into the big questions on life and death right next to the large solid trunk. The spirits of my ancestors visited through this gateway into the mystery, one of Oakey's leaves caught by a gust of wind inviting my eyes to the sky above where they would catch an unfamiliar bird soaring high above in a circle formation. Leaning into support from the sturdy old trunk my heart flooding with an overwhelming knowledge of boundless unconditional love and my families place among the nature of things.
Oak trees come out of acorns, no matter how unlikely that seems. An acorn is just a trees way back to the ground. For another try. Another trip through. One life for another. ~ Shirley Ann Grau
I've always felt like this sacred old tree knew things I didn't and whenever I sat beside him I was in awe and felt so small like a child. I can't explain it more than that other than to say next time you find an old tree sit quietly under it and listen for awhile and maybe even make it something you do regularly. I am taking one of his acorn seeds my daughter started sprouting a few weeks back. It's little growing shoot is a reminder of how we can appreciate and value each other while staying connected to things bigger and older than us, our time our lives. By doing this may we appreciate how much larger our universe is and how by cherishing what we have now we might find peace and beauty that nourishes us and makes sense of our lives. We are but a tiny speck in a vast ever expanding cosmos and to remember our place in the world we can find contentment.