20150404-172739.jpgNearly eighteen years ago me and my family dug up the roots we had so carefully planted in the countryside of England and moved to Norway.

It was so fun! We moved into an artists collective with a panoramic view of the Oslo fjord. The kids played up in the attic with the other artist kids, the adults hanging out with the other arty people. To start with I didn’t miss England in the least. I didn’t miss the language or the people. I didn’t miss all my friends or even my mum and dad.

But after some months there was something that I did miss. I swear to you the first thing I missed when I moved to Norway were the English trees. The giant beech tree, with its grey bark like elephant hide. The spreading oak with its tens of thousands of shiny acorns each sitting in its own dainty cup. In the winter I missed the spiky holly and in the spring I missed the hawthorn. Its blossom lining the hedges like scented snow. I really missed the English trees.
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Its not like there are no trees in Norway. Check it out – the whole place is one gigantic forest. BUT they were totally the wrong kind of trees. When I was a girl they started planting fir trees in long long endless lines across my country. If you’ve trod in one of those arid spots you’ll know its less a forest than a sad prison.

My Dad told me – ‘You see those trees, they’re foreigners! They have shallow roots, they make the earth acid. They don’t belong here. They should go back where they bloody well came from!’ Well Ok he didn’t actually say that last thing but the fact is, like it or not, I was, and I’m not proud of it… But I was a Tree Racist. I despised needle trees one and all.

Until one day. I was sitting outside. We had moved out into a log cabin. The garden was a little forest, emerald moss studded with white wood anenomies and flowing beside us the black Sørkedals river. It was then I saw her. In all her grandeur and poise. Her branches, each one just a tiny bit wider than the one above, she held them curving upwards, like a graceful ballerina. For the first time I had fallen in love with a Norwegian tree. And its just gone on from there really. (See Trees)

It took a long time for me to see the Rowan. Crazily I thought it was some kind of weed. There is one in my garden and I was going to cut it down! Then, mainly due to my Finnish friend, the Finns have a deep history with trees, (we all do, but they sometimes remember it). She told me that the Rowan is a holy tree. A feminine tree, women used to give their girls a coming of age ceremony with Rowan in the forest.

In Norway its been a protector. They would put a sprig over their doors or the barn door to protect the brown eyed cows. The 90 year old man we walked with on the Pilgrims way would crunch a berry and offer it to the kids. ‘These kept us healthy during the war.’ He said.’So many vitamins.’ Since then its beauty has revealed itself to me, and when I tried to steep the leaves as a tea, I couldn’t believe the taste. Its like Almonds. Why don’t we all know this?

Its looking very much like I’m going to die here now. I mean hopefully not right now. But my roots are growing year by year. And when I do, I hope my children will take a little sapling. Perhaps a tiny rowan or a birch. And plant it over my body. A body I’ve spent years feeding, full of nutrition. And then that little tree will start to grow its roots down into me.

I will turn into a tree. My feet will turn into roots, exploring down into the earth. My red blood will become translucent sap. My soft, pale skin will turn into hard, shiny bark. My trunk will become the trunk of the tree. My arms will spread out into many many branches and twigs. My crown will become the much larger crown of the tree. As I reach up, my leaves will turn sunlight into sugar. I will become a tree, a meeting of Heaven and Earth.

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Birch Mari Jerstad in Karasjok.



Stories told in trees

Last weekend ‘Omstilling Sagene’, which may be the first Transition group in Norway arranged a course. The theme was storytelling and trees. After we had sung we sat down and they all said why they were there. One woman said when she was little she used to cry if a tree got hurt. She went out and tied wool round trees due to be cut down, hoping to save them. Someone else had been to a performance in a tree house. They thought the tree would be damaged so they put a wire round the branches to support it. But instead of being pulled down the tree lifted up its branches even higher. It turns out that trees get stronger roots when they’re blown by the wind and someone said the same is true for us. Someone said he had heard of a man who had threatened to burn a tree and then measured that the tree sent out water to protect its leaves. Someone else had played in a forest which had then been cut to the ground. Since that time they felt betrayed by trees and scared of forests. Another was an artist but found trees almost impossible to paint, she was also allergic. Everyone, it seemed, had some kind of attitude including the woman who had been born in the far North where trees don’t grow and said she couldn’t care less about them but had just come for the storytelling.
Everyone got a written story about a tree and without going into all the details we worked with those stories pretty much the whole weekend.

tree story collage tree story collage OJ Tree telling

We told stories to trees (in pairs so as not to look mad to passers by).

We ate trees, everyone brought food which came from trees.

We became trees at least we imagined becoming trees.

We sensed our roots and we listened to stories of people appearing out of trees or being helped by trees. Everyone told beautifully. The woman who said she didn’t care about trees said she realised she did care about trees and she would never deny this again.

The story of Evolution..

The world was covered in slime for about 2.6 billion years, and out of that slime tiny one-celled organisms were created. Then it only took one billion years for those one celled organisms to join together to develop into bacteria, then fish, trees and dogs, us.  This shows that  fundamentally the trees are our great grandfathers and grandmothers, we are distant relatives of trees with common ancestors of bacteria and small one celled beings.

And it makes sense, why else would we be so very like trees?

We all come from seeds. We humans are covered in a layer of skin. The tree is covered in a skin of bark. We have blood and the tree has blood called sap. We have a trunk the tree has a trunk. On the top of our head is a crown, the crown of the tree is high up in the air. Beside our heart are two lungs, they look like small trees. When we breathe out the tree breathes in and when the tree breathes out we breathe in. 

By the way there is a week this summer telling stories and singing in Transylvania, Roumania  – see Forestgarden

tree telling tiril CU(2)