For a time following the rupture in our young lives we lived in a thatched house named Yew Cottage, on account of the five yews stationed along its front, their foliage almost as tightly woven as the thatch. Yews have their association with church yards and therefore with death but these stood watch over a pair of divorces and – drawn together by those shared circumstances – an unusual family of two women and their children. When we went on fatherless holidays together, our mothers were taken – mistaken – for lesbians. Unwittingly for a time they pioneered a new family structure ten or twenty odd years before British society more or less condescended to acknowledge the viability of its existence.
On one such holiday, at a camp on the coast, we had our first explicit exposure to sex. Throughout the week, the raised-up swimming pool with see-thru sides had exerted a strong fascination; all the more so when one of us spotted the couple who had slipped off their costumes for a hasty underwater fuck.
My mother’s friend ran a nursery out of an outbuilding which had been converted to a white-painted playroom. The well in the garden was filled in, but still it drew us children to the thick wood which had been set in its mouth. A well is both a place of wishes and of fairy tale darkness – and we had each in our lives. The wild freedom of Suffolk’s landscape and its skies; against them, a fracture that often bled us of happiness.
From the gate between two of the yews I set out one afternoon for the fancy dress competition at the school fete – costumed as an apple tree, with my pseudo-step brother as Adam and my sister as Eve. Apples were hung from my umbrella canopy, a serpent belt coiled about my trunk, and fig leaves and skin-toned underwear were literally all that covered brave Adam and Eve’s modesty. That day, I really was a tree. We won first prize.
It seems that for every tree I settle upon, another stands in dialogue with it. Silver birch and magnolia; yew and apple. Bark and blossom; poisonous and forbidden fruit. Like Cosimo, the Baron in the trees, I leap from one tree to the other. Garden becomes copse becomes wood becomes forest becomes wood becomes orchard becomes garden. I scrump an apple, climb away and take a bite.
Photo by Simon Garbutt via Wikimedia Commons.