Research: Goethean Observations: Apple Tree
Standing at the end of the garden, a gnarled trunk, deep grooves in the pale brown, in place almost grey, bark. The trunk is full of swellings near the ground. On the 'front' as I look at it, there is a hollow, a small hole a few inches across, with thick smoothed sides - above it on the left hand side, a branch sticks out at an angle of about 40 degrees. A few leaves remain on younger branches around it - this older branch ends after approximately two feet. From the newer branch hangs a wooden structure, small with wire sides (meshed). Above that and above the old, short branch is another wooden structure - a bird box on the side of which the grain is clearly visible.
The trunk bulges out towards the hollow and narrows again just above it, from where it rises up a few feet and then splits into two main branches. That which grows out to the left grows at an angle of about 40 degrees, almost parallel with the old branch below. There it turns up, as if it has been cut, moving at an angle of about 50 degrees. From here it splits into two further branches and from there too numerous to count. The other main branch (on the right) splits into five branches one of which has been cut short. On the trunk, growing from amidst the swellings are shoots of leaves. A yellow wire is wrapped around the trunk, running over the smooth edge of the hollow, hanging down to then disappear some four feet below, behind the tree.
There are many apples in the tree and looking around the base of the tree, a circumference approximately 50% bigger than the circumference of the canopy are a number of fallers; some whole, some smashed, some cut in half.
The leaves are green and shaped like stretched ovals, pointed at the tips. There are few leaves on the ground and only the tips of a few branches are bare. The canopy of the tree itself is quite spare, and is as much made from the colour of the sky as the colour of its leaves and branches. The branches move a little and the leaves are agitated, moving a little like rattles. There is a sound, as the leaves move, a rustling. The colour of the leaves differs depending on where they are in relation to the light, some are bright green, others are dark and almost the colour of the branches.
The apples hang above the ground, each with a dark patch in the middle. I can see more evidence of pruning in the branches.
It's difficult to say how old this tree is, but it's easy to see how it came to be here. Around its base are numerous apples, inside each of which is the potential for more trees. It is hard to imagine, that this tall, robust, warty tree was once a hidden seed inside a piece of fruit - an apple, but somehow, an apple seed came to rest in the soil at this place and began to grow. At that time, one imagines that many of the houses around here would not have been here at all. The sounds would be completely different - I am struck as I write this by the sound of an electric saw, a distant aeroplane and the rumble of traffic - sounds which when this tree was a germinating seed in the ground would never have existed. I can hear the sounds of other trees stirred by the wind and know that such a sound would have been evident at that time, whenever that time was. This old tree then is very unlikely. How did that seed from which it grew come to rest here? There are no apple trees in the immediate vicinity that I can see, although they they might have been cut down in the intervening time - evidence of cutting on the tree observed shows that that is not at all impossible. Perhaps the seed was deposited there by an animal? What animals eat fruit? How far did the seed come, what is the physical connection between this tree and one elsewhere - or a space elsewhere where once the tree grew? As the tree grew from out the ground the chances of it developing must have been small - was it grown intentionally? By someone who lived in the area? Was this a garden back then? Or part of the countryside? Did people walk by here and pick the apples? Those which had fallen? When did the first apples begin to grow? After how many years?
How does a tree grow? Water and sunlight. I can see the ground around it into which it has sunk its roots and know that the ground has supported it for generations. But its being here tells me of the constancy of the world - the sun and the rain. I can through the sun and the rain, through the tree, know of a time and of certainty of that time even though I myself was nothing, not even as likely as the fallers from the young tree. Did people sit under its canopy if then it was not part of a garden. When was it enclosed? How were the definitions of the garden's space defined? When?
What of the future? The branches will continue to grow, the apples will continue to grow and to fall. People will cut the branches who are not yet even as realised as the apple which has just this second fallen to the ground a few feet in front of me. The apple which has come to rest will be collected along with all the others - its flesh will be cooked once the skin is removed and the cores put in the compost - or into the rubbish, where the core itself will rot away and the seeds inside might have the chance to grow. Where will these seeds end up and should the seeds grow and the tree mature to become like the tree is today, then where will it stand, what will the world around it look like? Who will sit beneath its branches and who will even consider, as they sit beneath the branches in the shade that I saw the apple fall from which it would eventually spring? By that time, no doubt, I will be as hidden from the earth as I will be from their thoughts.
And what of this tree? Will it grow fatter and taller? Will the houses remain standing or will it outlive or outgrow the garden fence in which it has been kept/contained? One thing is for sure. The sun will rise and set, and the rain will still fall. The smaller trees in the neighboring gardens might have matured along with those in the grounds of the school behind. The vegetation of the garden might grow and in hundreds of years time, nothing might remain of the place in which I am sitting - place being the garden. Even the tree might one day wither and die. Its trunk become hollow. Perhaps it will be cut and its stump left exposed - and the rings counted by children who will point at a ring and wonder what year it was was - some time way back when. Some time, now.
A movement pushing down and flowing upward . A movement which is sinking into the ground, pushing, seeking. Something moves back up through the trunk out into the branches. It reaches up. It reaches down and reaches up, it is pulling and pushing at the same time, collapsing and expanding, breathing. It's a spring, a squeezebox, but one so slow we cannot see it move. The leaves are the feint sound of this movement. Up and down. Circular. The ground beneath; reaching towards where others have sprung.
All around the base are the tightly packed coils waiting to be sprung; each one a tiny clock, wound ready, a clock so small but its seconds are long, its minutes like hours and its hours stretched to cover the distance of a year.
I breathe. Slowly. In and out. And with each breath expelled I reach towards the sky, I reach further than the tips of the smallest leaves by which I am covered. I extend further down in the cold, wet ground. I am only half seen, I am mostly invisible. I am never still. You cannot tell, but I am in a constant state of flux, moving up towards the sky, down deeper into the soil and out. I am never the same size. I am growing all the time, pushing myself through the leaves and the fruit, pushing through the fruit until they fall. And once on the ground I wait. I can feel just where I am in all my pieces. I am a set of contrasts. I am old yet new, older than you yet younger than you, yet even my youngest parts know far more than you'll ever know, even my fruits will outlives you.
The ground is cold, yet I am warm. I can feel the heat from the sun towards which I stretch and unfurl even these parts I did not know I had and inside I am warm. The wind moves me, it gives me a voice. I do not creak and crack because I am forced to do so - I am talking. My leaves do not rattle or whisper because they are young, small and are easily moved by the breeze - it's because I am talking.
I am never in one place, although it might appear that I am fixed. I am in many places at one and the same time. I am many years passed and many years in the future in a coil which slowly unwinds and unravels itself - the most complex mechanism of any clock you've seen. Idle hours spent beneath me pass in an instant. My memories are beyond your comprehension, I blink only in winter and when I open my eyes again, the world is already new.
Image: the apple which fell as I wrote the above observation.
Drawing the Gesture
I made the following drawings (drawings to understand) at the third stage of my observation.
So, having observed the tree, what then is its gesture? How can it be articulated in words? Are words the best method? What are the best ways to represent it?
One thing I realised through writing the above observation and through drawing the sketches was that the gesture of the tree is not something which exists in one place; it is not a movement which is limited to the tree as I see it, but is rather a gesture which is fragmented yet at the same time whole. In the tree itself, the amplitude of the gesture is greater, although the shape of its movement and its meaning is no different to that packed into a seed inside a fallen apple. It is a spring which stretches then contacts a little, stretches then contracts. Only when it can stretch no more will it begin to wind itself back up until, like the seeds, but smaller even than they, it can no longer be seen.