the tree of everything

School of Education Tree
This tree is in the courtyard of the School of Education at UC Davis. Trees are very useful as symbols for education, epitomising how we learn, with branches and bark and roots, and how they have leaves, then they don’t, and then they do again, and also birds and insects. Trees are also very useful for how we think about life in general, not knowing where the branches will come out, how many extra branches they will sprout, how they sometimes grow more on one side because of wind, plus the leaves fall and provide nutrients for the soil so that the tree can grow bigger, plus birds’ nests, that whole life metaphor. I like to think about trees when writing stories, how you can write and write, taking you off into branches unthought of, which don’t have to intertwine and reconnect, instead you step back and see the whole tree and realise that is the story, right there, with all the leaves falling and growing and the birds’s nests and the insects, and how the little creatures that live on the tree play the part of characters moving around from plot line to plot line. I also think trees make a good analogy for language, the way it evolves and branches off, yet each branch has a symbiotic relationship with nearby branches, especially with birds that make nests in there eating certain insects but leaving the insects on other branches alone, so they grow into different types of insects which in turn affect the branches themselves, and then you add squirrels into the mix and you have a perfect metaphor for both prescriptive and historical linguistics right there. Trees are awesome, we need them, not only for breathing (something about carbon dioxide) and furniture, but also as symbols of whatever it is we are trying to say. And the great thing is, there are so many types of trees – Oak, Palm, Acorn, there are loads of tree types – you can fit whatever it is you are trying to describe into any type of tree. Try it out, next time you are in a meeting, “So, can you explain to me how this new marketing plan will strengthen our growth in emerging markets?” “Well sir, I like to think of it as being like a Beech tree. Here are the roots, then you have the bark, and you don’t know exactly where each branch will come out of the trunk but they will come, and the tree will still end up as a tree shape, and birds will build nests, and squirrels will move about symbolising our customer base. Leaves will grow and fall and grow, and if it all starts getting out of hand we can chop it down and build a nice beach hut or a deck-chair.”

I sketched this tree because I liked the bark. It reminded me of something a dog said once.