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The Memorial Tree

 by

Cat Lumb

Secondary & Post-16 Humanities Co-ordinator

at

Manchester Museum

Every year I visit the tree. I don’t have a particular date to go; sometimes there can be as few as three months between visits, but there is never more than a year. I like to see the way it changes, how it grows, the colours it shares, and the reassuring steadfastness of its ever expanding bulk.

The tree is a part of who I am. While I can recall life before it – fondly now – I could not imagine life without it. I remember the day I planted it. The tree was a sapling then, bending in the fierce winter winds, the ground half frozen and me, fuelled by anger and sadness and grief, digging that shallow hole for it. Not a grave, as I thought then, but a womb in which it could thrive.

That was so many years ago. Over time the tree has anchored itself to me. Now I gaze at the uppermost branches and smile even though my neck creaks. I admire the tree for surpassing me. It has done what it is supposed to do. Perhaps one day soon there shall be another tree growing next to this, but it shall not be I who plants it.

In the summer the tree is resplendent. A multitude of greens and emeralds, jades and peridot; a bejewelled piece of nature that I feel responsible for. But, in truth, all I did was plant it. I neglected the tree for so long afterwards yet it still surprises me with its ability to thrive. I stand before it and listen to its gentle breath as the leaves quiver in the breeze. I close my eyes, shocked by the flash of light on my eyelids when sunbeams penetrate the gaps. The cool shade cast by the tree revives me in the heat.

When I visit in the spring I breathe in the freshness of evaporating dew filled with the scent of grass. I marvel in the blossoms awakening from their promised buds, a symphony of buzzing bees and songbirds. I am pleased by the contributions it allows me. I collect the flowers as gifts for loved ones but I never say they’re from me. They are always from that tree.

I like it least in winter; the twisted limbs exposed. It is a single silhouette against the grey sky where dark lines are lengthened by dusky shadows. The tree is stripped bare while I pull my layers around me, breath billowing in front of my face and the sharp sting of cold air in my nose. When it snows the tree looks older. Perhaps this is because, in the silence, the tree reminds me so much of myself. It is stripped back and plain. I relate to it so much more then. I feel just the same.

Autumn is my favourite time; a palette of colour – red, yellow, orange and brown – natural tones shining so deeply in the fading light that they burn my eyes. Through the damp air I can sense the earth at my feet and smell the fading aroma of dried grass. Leaves crackle underfoot. This is my season, when I’m able to camouflage myself against the tree. We become one and I feel whole again.

I cry sometimes: more often in the beginning, less so now. I would come and fling myself below the spindly twigs developing into branches and sob with outrage and loathing. Yet, with every set of tears that watered the tree, it would grow. Eventually it takes my grief and transforms it into strength. It reaches out with sturdy limbs to comfort and protect me. In this way it returns my sadness to me. Except it is larger than the sorrow I had. With each passing year the tree grows to fill the hole in my heart where you should have been. So I am grateful to the tree; for reminding me of you; for making me believe I could be strong when I was weak; for keeping you close to me. This tree is who you are – who you would have been – and I am consoled by the simple truth that it shall outlive me. Like any child should their parent.