I wrote this story for the About Trees exhibition at the Paul Klee Zentrum in Bern.
22 November 2015
Tree Story: Wassailing
“I have a surprise for you. Are you up for that?” I ask her.
Yes, she says, without hesitation. She loves surprises.
We’ve been seeing each other for five weeks.
We’re at her place and I have a plan.
I tell her we need to head outside and that she should choose where we go. She asks how she can choose where we’re going when she doesn’t know what the surprise is. I tell her I trust she’ll pick somewhere good. She plays along and we head out into a misty, autumn night, walking through the side streets of her north London neighbourhood. We arrive at a line of old, beautiful trees along the north side of Hampstead Heath. Frost hangs in the air. Street lamps glowing between the trees.
“We’re here,” she says. I tell her it’s perfect.
I ask her to choose a tree. We head to a huge oak about halfway along the avenue. We stand facing this giant and I take from my bag some string, some bread and a glass bottle of cider.
This is wassailing, I tell her. An old English tradition of tree worship.
She’s from Italy and has never heard of it. I really only know her as passionate, argumentative and endlessly stubborn in holding rational positions. But now her eyes are shining.
We tie the bread to the tree with the string.
We pour the cider around the roots.
Then we sing to the tree.
‘You got the love’ by Florence and the Machine.
The bread hanging in the tree will attract birds.
The cider round the roots smaller creatures.
Fertilising and aerating the soil.
And while the bread and cider make sure the animals take care of the tree, the singing does the same for the humans.
Give a tree a little appreciation and it can be the start of a beautiful relationship.
We walk down the line, ‘watering’, tying and singing.
It’s soft. It’s magical.
We walk back to her flat, wassailing all the way.
We sing to the tree that she can see outside the window of her flat.
And she stands in the moonlight.
She looks five years old.