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The Business of Trees

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way… " William Blake

Mosaic at King Shaka Airport

I, shamefully, have been postponing this blog post, written well before I left Durban, because I hadn't found proper mental closure. Leaving a place seems final in its simple form, when clarity for a return is left unexamined. The long flights between the ends hold a measure of uncertainty. Will I make it back? The Business of Trees is in large part about unfinished business.

Mitchell Park

While I 'rooted' around for a satisfactory quote, (above), I descended the rabbit hole of email subscriptions, in particular, Brain Pickings. In her weekly emails, Maria Popova eloquently disseminates reading suggestions for a myriad of interests in a linking network that defies even the most curious. Recently, I had bookmarked one on Trees, without knowing I'd be writing about a tree in what is this long-overdue and last post of my sojourn in Durban. Trees have been on my mind and in conversations for other reasons, so why not this:

There is a tree in my front yard, which looks southeast across Bulwer Park’s trapezoid of green in the middle of Glenwood. There are many trees in the park, along all edges of the paved black-topped walking path that encompasses its perimeter. Above the trees, from my 3rd floor perch, the landscape expands with the rise in terrain as the road pitches west.

It's an enviable vantage point, as I can see the Durban Harbor and commercial parts of the city along the Indian Ocean. Their lights, sprinkle glitter on my view in darkness. It's almost magical.

Durban after dark

This one particular tree , slightly taller than its greener neighbors, interrupts the expansive panorama with it’s uncharacteristically bald branches. The ragged and undulating trunk is a dark and wide mirror of its root life. Tendrils of bark snake upward toward the branches, hinting at its underground secrets. From a distance, I thought there was a gap in a the trunk that went through to the other side. I thought it dead. I wished it taken down, if only to give me clearer perspective of what lay beyond its barren limbs.

I noticed that most trees in Durban are left to fall naturally as trunks rot out from spring rains and pernicious beetles. During my time here, I have seen stumps become bonfires that smolder without spreading, winter campfires. Storms prune the weaker wood, that lands shattered on the street. Occasionally, the municipal pruners will remove the most threatening of overhanging branches, but trees here seem revered or otherwise a low priority for maintenance, because mostly, they remain standing in all their uncertainty.

I'm ashamed of my short-sightedness. I’ve watched this tree through almost three seasons now, privileged to have spent six months looking out on the park's residents, green and otherwise. It’s spring in Durban, almost Summer in the Southern Hemisphere. My spiritual lens has grown clearer on this side of the globe. I observe growth echoed in the sparse clusters of fernlike leaves that emerge from the naked brush of this living monument. My tree is alive, not perfect, but I recognize elegance in its bony stature. And the tree has shared its wisdom with me.


What I need to know is right in front of me, even when it’s blocking my view.

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