The tree trunks of Cambridge and an old people's home
I have always been an ardent admirer of trees. One of my earliest childhood memories is accompanying my elder sister to watch a parrot living inside an old tree trunk. Very stealthily, we used to approach the old tree, making sure we did not cripple dead leaves or twigs under our feet, thereby alerting the parrot of our visit.
It was a surreal moment for me as a child; witnessing a tree being home to a bird, since before that I had only pictured birds either flying or preying upon insects from the ground. Ever since, I started keeping an eye on bird nests often high up on tree branches or inside trunk holes, if any at all.
It has been more than 20 years since I first developed interest in nature, primarily through the aforementioned tree trunk fascination; something that now forms an integral memory in my mind. Therefore, observing trees is habitual of me. The desire to look at one of nature’s majestic reminders is overwhelming.
Trees, in that sense, become the most readily available reminder of Mother Nature, during dawn, noon, or dusk; especially when one is heading to work or back from it on foot. The static symmetry of trees along a roadside can leave one in awe, provided one’s mind and eyes are free from any technology that one is compelled to possess in this day and age.
For me, trees do not only serve as reminders of nature but also about some significant aspects of our lives – the most important being time.
Having been familiarised with nearly all the trees in my neighbourhood here at Cambridge, I now know the months in which these trees become barren and the months in which their leaflets sprout. I know the time of the year when flowers bloom on their branches and when, lastly, the mournful course of tree leaves turning brown approaches; the leaves fall helplessly to the ground, preparing to be crippled under pedestrian feet and bicycle tyres.
The transition of trees from one season to another is analogous to how we, as humans, dwell in mirth during our good days and fall prey to the harsh happenings of life during the days we aren’t prepared for. These seasonal tree transformations remind me of the swiftness of time, the transience of circumstances, good or bad, and the brevity of life in which we’re bound to face them.
Not long ago, I witnessed a roadside incident that left me in awe, reminding me once more of life’s different morphs and swings. I was out for a stroll with my baby in his perambulator, when the trees on the other side of the road caught my attention, and thus admiration. Tracing their trailing branches, my eyes fell upon a beautiful flower-bed upon a green patch of plateaued grass.
An aged lady was gently watering her plants from a canister, just when she lost her balance and fell from the plateau. As a concerned pedestrian on the other side of the two-way road, I hoped that she would be up on her feet instantly. When that did not happen for a while, my concern turned into worry. I immediately turned the direction of my baby’s buggy towards the opposite end and frantically, yet safely, crossed the busy road, landing the buggy on the footpath.
I could now see the woman lying on the ground and trying to fetch her glasses helplessly with feeble hands. All I could do was shout “wait there, I’m coming”, aiming to provide her some momentary relief first, as I had no idea of how to get to her across a fence with a baby and buggy.
The thought that I couldn’t leave my child on a busy roadside gave me fits of utter helplessness and panic. I was quickly able to fetch another pedestrian and divert his attention to the matter. Unfortunately, he was in a hurry to be of assistance but kind enough to guide me as to where the house’s backyard would be.
I pushed the pram and strode hastily, merging those strides into a brief panicky run; a traffic signal on the way had to be ignored recklessly. Once inside the house, a pebbled pathway led me to the grassy plateau. Knowing my baby was in safe domain, I left the buggy aside and ran as fast as I could to the other end of the raised ground where the woman lay.
During this span of time, I spotted a young man and a middle-aged woman climbing the fence and aiming to head in the same direction. Luckily the two of them were with her before me, and picked her up, one from each shoulder of hers. As I bent down to put the woman’s shoe in her foot, I felt haggard skin, deep blue veins and a sprained ankle.
Looking up to see her smiling face, my heart warmed up and the brief panic that had surmounted me, all faded away. She was up and safe in the arms of the two adults who were now taking her inside. As I headed towards my baby’s pushchair, a blue board caught my attention, on which it was written,
“Royal Albert Homes for the Old People.”
On my way back home I contemplated about that woman and how she might have become a resident of the old home. I imagined her in her youthful years, probably as an active individual, being independent and healthy; as a mother perhaps, whose lap would have provided sanctuary, love and guidance to her children like every mother’s.
Gazing up towards the static symmetry of old trees on the road, I wondered how much they knew; how many different pedestrians they’d seen walk past them over the years; how many birds they’d provided with habitat and shelter. I reminisced about my early childhood memory of the parrot’s tree-trunk sanctuary.
The image of the old lady’s warm smile filled my mind. It was difficult for me not to visualise her as that supportive tree trunk that had nurtured its family’s branches and provided safety to the surrounding species all its life. Only that now, the branches had withered away and the leaves had abandoned it. Winter was harsh and the barren tree was cold and lonely.
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