I grew up in Vancouver – basically right in the rainforest. My mother, who came to Canada from England after World War II, grew up deep in the rainforest. Trees cover my world – everything from huge and ancient Douglas firs towering over everything, even apartment buildings, to every other kind of conifer. Vancouver is a green city all year round – the trees remain green, the grass remains green, and the people often look like they’ve turned green with moss by the end of the very rainy winter.
It’s funny though, because, although I grew up surrounded by conifers, I’m attracted to deciduous trees. I have a favorite tree in Vancouver, though this isn’t a picture of it. It’s a huge English oak tree just down the Seawall from here. I love the way its branches spread out close to the ground and then up. It’s the size of a house – a big house. This little tree reminds me of it – maybe it too will grow to the size of a house. Conifers grow straight and tall and mostly all look the same. This doesn’t mean they’re not amazing, they are. When you walk into a grove of Douglas firs or Western red cedars you are blown away by them, by their size (some of them in my neighborhood are bigger around than four or five people could reach), their majesty, their strength.
Most conifers can’t be climbed. Their bark bites you – a defence mechanism I’m sure. They even spit cones at you, some of them six inches long. And they’re sharp, too. They seem solitary even in a forest. Each conifer stands on its own little patch of ground. There may be another tree quite close, but because they have only one trunk, because the branches don’t start until way up that trunk, what mere humans see in a glade of conifers is a series of trunks. Oh, of course, their branches mingle at the top of the trees, but to me it seems as if they do it a bit reluctantly, as if they’re somehow forced into it.
And Vancouver has emulated the conifers in the way it has grown – tall, straight buildings. They’re beautiful. They’re majestic. But they’re just not comfortable.
So maybe it’s because I grew up here in Vancouver that I have a preference for these seldom seen, smaller and more personal trees. My giant English oak, the little tree in the photo, the rare and graceful arbutus which can only be found within a mile of the ocean.
Or maybe it’s because I know I could climb these trees, sit in the cradle of a branch, and watch the world go by. I know I could dream in these trees.
Or maybe, like writing for me, they’re less structured. Everyone who knows me knows that I call myself a fogwalker. A title or a single phrase comes to me and I start writing without knowing where I’m going or where I’m going to end up. These trees – my giant English oak is the perfect example of this – don’t grow straight and tall. They grow all higgledly-piggledly (an appropriately English word), one branch sprouting out here, one there, one over there. That’s how my writing works, one idea here, one there, one growing out of the one before.
So maybe the perfect word for my writing is that old-fashioned English word as well – I write all higgledy-piggledy – just like my trees.