The old Camphor Laurel tree
My education began in a row of weatherboard portables, lined up like soldiers along the edge of an asphalt playground. My most vivid memory was of an old Camphor Laurel tree. Thirty feet tall and almost as wide, it hovered over us like a protective parent, providing a cool respite from the harsh summer sun.
Under that tree secrets were shared, sandwiches swapped and skirmishes settled. Its gnarled trunk had been used by generations of hide and seekers and the hard packed soil around its base was the perfect marble pitch. It was the background for our school photos and the marshalling point for all activities, including drinking that horrid warm milk they decided would do us good!
That tree became a friend from my first day at school. My mother often told the story of that day. Most children were crying or clinging to their mother’s hands, reluctant to leave. I marched straight through the gate and never looked back. She told me she felt rather sad, but there began for me, a love affair with learning that has never waned.
The bedroom window of my childhood looked out on an old Crepe Myrtle tree. It flowered like a huge mauve cloud and as the wind coaxed its blossoms to the ground, they lay like a carpet around the clumps of bluebells and violets that huddled underneath. It was a window to childhood dreams. I could see the blue sky and the wispy white clouds, the rainbow and the rain, the lilac when it bloomed and the tall white azalea at its feet. I did my homework under that window, wrote letters and shared my thoughts and dreams in a diary. It was my favourite part of the house.
In some ways it represented the beauty, love, wonder and nourishment of my childhood. My Dad had taken a very ordinary block of land around our home and turned it into a masterpiece of beauty, fragrance and colour in every season.
It inspired me and as a young child. There was something very dependable about that garden ... every Spring bulbs would burst into life and the lilac bloomed ... summer brought roses and the crepe myrtle blossoms and autumn never failed to change the leaves to apricot and gold. It taught me an expectancy and love of gardening that has stayed with me all my life.
I’d always loved the poem The White Magnolia Tree by Helen Deutsch. It tells the story of a young couple who planted a white Magnolia tree the first spring they married. She was twenty-one and he was twenty-three.
"This tree," said John, "shall grow with us,
And every year it will bloom anew.
This is our life. This is our love."
And the white magnolia tree grew and grew... “
The poem follows their life and love, their youthful passion, the loss of a child, and how real a word like courage can become. The things they came to value in old age, friends, faith and satisfaction in a job well done … and the beauty of the old Magnolia tree.
When my first child was born I planted a white Magnolia tree. Like the little boy who tumbled into our lives and taught our hearts a love we didn’t know was possible, it grew and grew. Every year it blossomed anew as he grew from childhood, through the teenage years, to a young man heading out into life. It grew to full maturity and every spring it was a “thing of beauty and a joy forever”.
Its creamy white and pink blossoms covered the tree completely, stately and elegant and a constant reminder of the years that had passed. My son became a woodworker ... maybe something of my love of trees was handed on to him.
He fell in love, married and had children of his own and like the old Magnolia tree now each of them bring me beauty and joy untold as the years pass and they grow and grow.