A tree is a fantasy world. Climbing up is escaping reality; head is a cloud of needles and leaves? From here in the branches, we observe the other fantasies; the numbers and heartaches and wonders. We acknowledge our complicity and throw sticks at the problems, while the trees hold it all together with their roots and breathe it in. I’m not the only dreamer, but I am a very lucky boy – afforded time to follow a kooky whim: To get up a tree every day for 365 days.
Climbing trees is big fun and challenging and exhilarating and I recommend it, but Art of Climbing Trees isn’t really all about climbing trees. The trees and climbing them gave me a journey and without them there would be none of this; playing and thinking and experiencing trees gave me a reason to learn and pay closer attention. This book is based on my walk-about-diary, and the additional research and reflection is my offering; my gentle activism. That is to say, a jumble of ‘positioning statements’, you’ll have to unravel yourself as you delve.
It began with the seed of an idea to climb something I once poked into the soil; to climb a seed when it eventually bloomed to its potential: to climb a tree that I once planted would be my metaphor-action for hope; that we’ll both survive the future; we’ll both weather the pestilences and changes in climate and unravelling of society, if…
The pace of change seems so fast now, and my adventure in trees already feels as if it is from a more innocent time. We’ve since graduated to the sixth mass extinction and likely collapse of civilization from the simple threat of climate change; a rocky few centuries seems inevitable. I feel the fear sometimes, and resignation, but my hope is also given breath.
Blood laced with adrenaline and attention primed for ascent. Encircle the trunk and find your entrance up. Imagine and decode your route into the puzzle. Approach, clasp, place your foot, tense your muscles, load your tendons, wrap those opposable thumbs, angle and hook limbs, dig your fingernails in. Test your wits and tenacity, give everything you’ve got, or with just a step and little effort, rise up leaving the earth for this other realm, balanced on its own grown pedestal and self buried roots. Up into the chaotic fractal network, splayed out to chase the light. An exploding bubble, the channels and capillaries of an inverted lung – living, springy, brittle, dead. The bark – smooth, folded over like ripples of melting rock, gnarled and cracked apart, ancient, weather beaten, slimy, dry, spongy, peeling, patterned with lichens and mosses, trailed with bugs. A nest of quivering leaves envelop us, each one a fingerprint against the sun, a brief and extravagant display of ingenuity. Then yellow, orange, brown and gone with the winds, leaving a winter skeleton – a brilliant cage of exponentially numerous woven frosty twigs that grasp at the air. It’s pissing with rain and windy so the whole structure sways like seaweed in a current. It’s snowing, minus 23, there’s a crystal blue sky and the sunlight scatters into the prism as we climb, perch, think, with the voices of nervous birds who wait for us to go. There’s danger up here. We feel safe above the ground when we forget ourselves in conversation, when we’ve found a mutual embrace with the arms of the tree. These are primal activities with the future in mind.
Finishing the book…
In 2013 I launched a crowd fund to enable time for weaving together the various texts and photographs into a book worthy of the trees it would be printed on. This would mean condensing 1400 pages of my diaries and transcribed conversations with 80 co-climbers, while adding my reflections and additional research and making selections from thousands of photographs I took in of ‘my’ trees. By drawing these layers together I would present you with one version of a strange and exciting year in my life, while hoping the piece could be a part of ‘the solution’. I was naive enough to believe this could all be done in a few months.
One hundred and forty pre-ordered books are a special kind of weight to carry. I gain joy and meaning from making and writing and have a personal dedication to holding this piece of work completed, and yet the weight of my promise to crowd funders has also served to goad me on. I thank you all.
In 2018 I was privileged to work on the fourth draft of Art of Climbing Trees alongside editor and author, Charlotte Du Cann. Now I am parked up in my bus, in a field in Portugal, where I continue with draft number five – the final draft. I grow more confident and excited, as the book begins to take its final shape in both text and design.
It was and remains a surreal and enriching adventure.
Worry about the future, while trying to hold it loosely to avoid going insane. Above all, I am saddened and angered by the sixth mass extinction and dominant theatre of economics. I hope we can realise our potential. Peaceful rebellion is becoming a major source of my hopes.
Sometimes I create two and Three-D visual art, direct theatre and film, build wooden things and of course, I stare at my screen too much, writing. I juggle a bank of projects, fiddle with ideas, tinker with scripts and poems. Stop to takes note/s. Occasionally, I struggle to get out of bed and do all the other good and bad things we do in our complex society. I’ve been pulling, drawing and imagining the cart with and without a horse since leaving school at 16. My dreams to take over the world is fading with my whithering hormones and shrinking ego. We’ll see.