The Oaktree is old, some of his branches end in stumps but others stretch out wide, forming a canopy under which walkers, dogs, cyclists, runners, pheasants and rabbits pass by. The Oakley Creek walkway brushes up against his truck, cutting between him and his companion who stands a few meters closer to the creek. I have cycled and walked beneath this tree for around six years; a small wedge of my 53 years, a tiny sliver of his 160 years. Long enough to become aware of one another’s presence. I have watched his green leaves emerge in spring and gulped is soft oxygenated shady air in summer. I thought long and hard about the shared habitation of old-world trees brought by my ancestors and the regenerated and replanted native trees tracing a shared history of relocation and negotiation of space. I can’t help thinking that maybe the trees have been more generous in the sharing and we have.
Today it is autumn, and the Oaktree’s leaves are golden brown and making their leisurely way from branch to earth. As I cycled, I was thinking about how I could transition my shed/studio into a heterotopic space for dreaming and imagining. A dwelling space sufficiently private and safe to invite people to join me in undertaking the vulnerable journeying that I had in mind, but that still located within otherness, a space of unknowing and hopeful waiting with those both significant and other. As my bike and I approached the old oak, it seems that he invited me to gather up his fallen leaves and take them to my dwelling place. I stopped and spent some time with the tree checking in with myself and with him that I had understood. Self-consciously committing to unknowing while holding the balance of my awareness of the suggestive hopefulness my perception (am I purely projecting this) and my scepticism (you think this is research – really?). It seemed that he also suggested to me that I should bring my camera and make a video looking up the length of his trunk to the sky and take this image with me too.
I cleaned and prepared my shed, making an open space for a bed of leaves. On the appointed day for leaf gathering, I set off with my phone camera and some large bags. I lay under the tree with my camera; I gathered leaves into awkward bundles to carry out. Back at the shed, it seems like the right thing to do was to turn the leaves each day until they were completely dry. Turning the leaves and waiting to see what happens next.
Lying under the Oaktree I place the camera on my diaphragm with the intention of recording my breathing, surprisingly it also recorded my heartbeat, the tree moving in a regular and surprisingly rapid pulse, the speed of my heart pumping blood around my body evidencing an experience of duration distict from that of the tree. For me, existence is divided into the tiny segments of my heartbeat and the longer segments of my breath in and out of my body. The Oak tree appears to breathe in a continuous uninterrupted flow through his permeable leaves. I imagine his inhale and exhale as an annual cycle, his duration marked by the seasons of leaf growing; a long inhale, then leaf dropping and resting in the cold of winter.
After turning leaves, making videos with the tree and extending my breath work practice both with the tree and in my leaf pile I feel ready for some further experimentation in the space.
I have been playing with projecting these videos in my shed with the leaves, though the space is not large enough to get the projector far enough back for them to fill the walls. The movement of the trees with my breath is mesmerising and the sounds of the walkway’ the birds’ the movement of leaves, sets up an in-between space, an amorphos zone between the ‘here’ of my shed and the ‘there’ of the Oaktree by the creek. I think this could work well in an exhibition/installation context, however it feels slightly at odds with the practice of breath work, partially because usually you close your eyes during a breath work journey, but there is also a sense of artifice in the translation of the tree through projection. It feels contrived, which is not usually how I feel about projection. I am waiting with this question at the moment, not rushing to resolve it.
I have been making a dwelling space, a leaf hut, so as to be surrounded above and below by the leaves.
In the first trial I used a pink lace fabric from my collection, but it was too visible, separating the leaves too much from the inside of the space. It looks better photographs than it did in the physical space.
I enjoyed the way the umbrella skeleton forms a low shelter, though again it is a bit large for the space. For the second iteration I used bird netting that I had left over from the garden. I very much dislike the plastic brutality of the netting, it is just a stand-in until I find something better. It does however hold the leaves reasonably well and is less visible. I would like to be a little lower and more fully covered with leaves (a lower pitch or more leaf catching net so the leaves don’t slide off)
It is a lovely space to share with friends as in this informal gathering. It is redolent of childhood huts, moments of altered reality and brief holidays from the normality of everyday urban life.
I have not felt ready to invite someone for an event yet. I would like to do some breath work sessions, though I have two concerns regarding going ahead with this – one is my reticence to lead another person into a breath work session with the level of experience I have myself. (Though I would start with a very introductory and short breathing session, possibly leading into reflective conversation). My other concern is that I’m not sure how good for your lungs it is to breathe in Oaktree leaf dust, or even how dusty it is when you’re not moving and stiring up the leaves. I don’t want to cause someone to have an Oaktree allergy.