CCRI Research Assistant, Jasmine Black has recently spent time exploring Manchester’s Whitworth park ahead of undertaking two weeks of fieldwork there for the Changing Treescapes project. This was a time to get to know the park, understand how people, flora and fauna use and enjoy it. The project aims to bring awareness to tree health issues such as Ash dieback and Acute Oak Decline, and better understand people’s relationships to trees. She has written this reflective piece about her experiences there.
On the horizon through tall buildings, my heart beats faster with delight to see foliage emerge as I draw closer. A shock sensation – hot to cool as we entered in. Dark grey to green, diminishing heatwaves unseen.
There were many enjoying, sprawled across the park to soak in the sun or bask beneath shady boughs. We talked to just five of you, taking the time to be with us, satisfy curiosity. You asked what you wanted, we indulged your questions – will you reply to ours? A mutual exchange of life stories and tree knowings.
We spoke with just as many trees – a rubbing, a writing, a drawing, a dancing. Touching, feeling, listening, breathing.
Malaysian men in hypnotic, colourful patterned robes shared photos and stories of their culture and Eid al-Adha celebrations – a time of sacrifice. Others were celebrating the abundance of sunshine: the music-man, weaving across the park on his bike, boom-blasting summer songs, creating spontaneous dance. I gave another hip-wiggle to the sweet voice of a woman singing reggae as a BBQ began.
After I danced apart, alone but watched, with Ash branch entwined through arm and thigh, I loved to hear an elder’s story of grace and jive on her own dance floor, many a year ago.
We listened carefully to another’s philosophical musings – the importance of nature beyond culture, religion, divide. An open soul and a warm heart to share. Watching on with reverence and curiosity as one bowed, crouched low in prayer, fingertips almost touching trunk, leaves and roots cradling above and below.
I felt the quietude of allowing pigeons and squirrels to crawl close, silently enquiring at my feet for food. Saw others rattling bags of goodies, clicking and chirring to feed greedy mouths. Saw the flash of a verdant wing as unreachable parakeet squawked in the tree tops.
In bright gowns of Arabian nights, flowing in the breeze, women played ball across the cut grass. In the play park a man skipped alone, I felt the exhaustion of his exercise as I watched.
Whilst creating small stages for scattered branches, a mustached young man wandered by – the trees connected us beyond the park to your home, so close to mine, far from here. Mutual friends both person and plant. A girl and an Ash.
We saw the desire lines, drawn amongst the trees to favourite spots… In the open, in the hidden, foreground, background – being observed, being observer. Differences in moods, preferences, personalities, motivations.
Your shining leaves, bold in the golden sunlight, silhouetted against an orange harvest moon. Sanctuary space, city oasis.
My heart fills and spills out gratitude as we leave, spirits brought closer. Sayonara for now, but not forever. I will skip along your intertwined fungal pathways to home, keeping the connection open and flowing.