A friend has shared with me a copy of Roger McDonald’s The Tree in Changing Light (2001).
There are some delightful serendipities for me in the book.
On writing …
No genuine book has a first page. Like the rustling of a forest, it is begotten God knows where, and it grows and it rolls, arousing the dense wilds of the forest until suddenly, in the very darkest, most stunned and panicked moment, it rolls to its end and begins to speak with all the treetops at once.
On planting trees …
What might come of this could only be guessed. Some time later a forest? Birdlife and the layering of ecology once cleared out? Or simple failure and starting over again … Whatever happened, there would remain the feeling underneath, the shape of a tree where no tree was before.
When someone said, ‘Why should I plant a tree if I’ll never see it grown?’ I thought, look at the seedlings in the moist ground, they are beseeching.
On trees …
Was it possible to know nothing about trees and yet experience with certainty what they were? To know nothing in the same way we know just rudiments of people – yet readily love them, possessed by the certainty of knowing them?
Roger moved to a property near Braidwood in 1976 and ‘became a tree man himself’ (Murray Waldren, 2001). I spent a year as a tree planter and forestry worker in 1974 in North Wales.
Roger began publishing poetry in the early 1960s (Australian Poetry Library). One of my wonderful opportunities in 1974 was to plant a coppice in memory of Gerald Manley Hopkins at St Beuno’s, one hundred years after he started studying theology there.
I have been thinking about writing a great deal of late. The frontpiece of The Tree in Changing Light makes a powerful link between writing and trees (‘No genuine book has a first page … until suddenly, in the very darkest, most stunned and panicked moment, it rolls to its end and begins to speak with all the treetops at once’).
A Love of Trees
Reading The Tree in Changing Light brought back powerful memories of my year in the woodlands of North Wales. I planted many trees that year including the deciduous coppice in memory of Gerald Manley Hopkins.
I had taken a year off after leaving the University of York. My hope was to become involved in physically demanding work before I went to Loughborough College in 1975 to become fit enough to compete for a place in the team coached by Jim Greenwood.
I did become fit and was ready for my year at Loughborough. But the year did much more for me. I developed a love of trees (and tree climbing) that remains with me today. Roger’s writing, and his love of trees, helped me understand the connection between planting and writing. Both are beseeching.
My year in the woodlands ended with a rugby game that took me to a new path … but always grounded because of my year in contemplative silence.
Roger McDonald (Random House Books Australia)
St Beuno’s Grounds (St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre)