Writing to Trees with Trees

Dearest Olive tree


I apologise for disturbing you this afternoon, but I have walked two hours to find you and am really grateful to be able to sit down at your roots for a while. Of the three olive trees marked with signs indicating their age and size I chose you, because of these old roots that provide an almost comfortable bench to sit on. On the way here, I passed numerous olive trees, this area is full of ‘olivieros’ or olive orchards, or perhaps we could call them by their brutal name, plantations. Most of the trees were much, much younger than you, but some of them looked really old as well. Funny, that I needed an official sign to feel entitled to sit down, as if you were on duty, serving the tourist industry now, in your old age. The officially oldest olive tree in (Catalonia), Spain, Europe, and perhaps the world, grows only a few kilometers away from here, on a private estate called L'Arion, that has made a business of allowing (only) guided tours to visit the tree. I am really happy and proud to have found you, with a little help from a city clerk serving as a make-do tourist officer, since the tourist office in Ulldecona is closed. He made me a map how to get here, based on a note on the website. This little grove is called La Foia d'Ulldecona and is clearly marked by bright green signboards. Right now, there is no-one else here but me – and you, of course, all of you. Some of the trees around you look much younger, and only three are marked with information boards. They are all more than 900 years old. They say that many of you, old olive trees, have been cut down and replaced by other types of olive trees that yield larger harvests of olives. But some clever managers have realized that they can make a profit by selling olive oil made from these old, old ones, like you. I am rather old myself, although never near your venerable age, even transposed to human terms, but, in any case, I can identify with the feeling of getting older and not being as productive and quick to learn new things as younger people. So, I sympathize with the idea of finding value in the products of elders, more slowly made, but perhaps special in their (flavour, in their) own way. – The sun is surprisingly warm even though it is winter solstice time, soon. When the clouds cover it, the air is chilly, but when it is shining it almost burns like in summertime. I wonder where you get the water you need to keep your leaves up and working? I guess it rains sometimes, and then you simply try to economize with it. The soil around you is bare, almost rocks and sand only, obviously prepared by humans. Perhaps it is easier to pick the olives, and you have then no competition. I noticed some abandoned groves where the olive trees were almost overgrown by shrubs. It seems like the collaboration between olives and humans has such long traditions, that some kind of balance suitable for both has been formed. I hope that this intrusion of mine does not disturb that balance, and why would it? In your nine hundred and something years some twenty minutes does not count as much. – I nevertheless thank you for allowing me to sit here and make these notes. And I wish you all the best for the next hundred years, and more. Goodbye for now!


Dearest Olive Tree,


After our brief encounter on Thursday I have met some other ancient olive trees, and also learned that it is not your age that determines the number on the sign next to you (how stupid of me to think of that) but the order you have been identified, however that was determined. I am sorry for this mistake, which is due to my carelessness in reading the signs. I was so attuned to the idea of ages around 1000 years because of the title 'olivieros millenarios', which does not mean millennials as the term is used in popular culture to refer to young people born in the eighties or even the nineties, but to thousand years of age, at least that is what I thought. But it seems that the title is more of an image trick, and the defining characteristics are size and height, size both in terms of width of the trunk and width of the crown. These are all indicators of age, of course, but nothing as definitive as exact birth date. There are some trees that have a clear date when they are planted, and if the historical information is accurate, that gives a clear idea of age. But, as far as I understand, you are not one of them. But never mind, exact age is nothing we should care too much about. Age is a number, as they say, and health as well as vitality is what counts. I am sometimes irritated when health apps constructed to create fact about human fitness say “excellent for your age”. What does that mean? Excellent statistically compared with other people of my age? But that says nothing, really, if most of the population is in a really poor condition. If you compare with weight, it is easy to understand. If the whole population is obese, a person who is seriously overweight could be called “normal” or “fit for your age”, or age group… But, anyway. The average is a usual way of determining the normal, I guess. – So, what about olive trees? Is it “normal” to live to a ripe old age of 1000 years, or is it simply a modern fad? Or, on the contrary, was it perhaps more common in earlier times to respect and care for ancient trees, while contemporary agriculture prefers productive mutations and quick profit, fast-growing, reliable, all alike? – Sorry for being obsessed by age, or so it seems. I really think of our brief moments together as an exercise in enjoying the company of trees. I am still astonished how little I managed to write in twenty minutes, perhaps because I was writing by hand, or perhaps because I had calmed down a little, influenced by your solid presence. I am already feeling more serene simply by thinking of your wrinkled bark.

I hope you are enjoying your time in La Foia d’Ulldecona, and that you are given time to rest between disturbing visits by humans, like me. Of course, I like to think that you enjoy the attention of human visitors, but strictly speaking, why would you? I guess you have plenty of company with the other ancient olive trees (and some younger ones, too) growing nearby. Anyway, I wish you all the best, and send you my greetings from the busy life of a human city… Take care!


Dearest Olive tree,

This is a last note to you from Vinaroz, a town not too far from your home. I am on my way, waiting for the train, and just wanted to send you one more note to say thank you, and good luck. You might be happy to know that I visited the museum grove at L’Arion with your very, very ancient relative, La Farga de L’Arion, and was of course impressed by its size and its age (1704 years!). They seem to know that because of the planting date, 314 a.d. But, there was never any kind of possibility for intimacy or even a personal contact. Of all the monumental olive trees in the region, you remain the foremost representative to me. I realize it would be very dangerous and tiring for you and your kind if humans would keep sitting on you or climbing up in you and so on, like I did with some of you the other day. I fully understand the behavioural restrictions in the museum grove. I am nevertheless happy to have had the chance to make more concrete acquaintance with you, and with all the time in the world that we wanted, rather than a hurried walk from one olive tree to the next. Although the guide spoke in Catalan I understood some details that he clarified in some sort of English, like the fact that all the huge old olive trees, or most of them, are of one specific species or type, namely Olea Farga, with particular oblong olives. I am more or less sure that you are one of these Farga trees as well, although I am not 100% certain. Rest assured, however, that I will remember you with sympathy and gratitude, and even though the small branch I took as a souvenir of you remained in a glass of water in the bathroom in my hotel room in Alcanar, the images and video clips will keep your memory fresh in my mind. And although I posed with other olive trees near the Eremita del Remei, you are the only one that I wrote with, at and to. So thank you once more, and goodbye!


Dear Ficus Macrophylla, or Australian Banyan Tree. I came back to visit you with a notebook and my camera, because the idea occurred to me this morning, before I was even properly awake. I came here yesterday, as it felt like a duty of sorts. If I am to use your trunk, or the image of your trunk as a logo for my blog, I should at least thank you for that. And after visiting you here in the park by the harbour, I looked up some facts about you on the internet and I got to know your name, and that you are from Australia originally, and also that you are sometimes called the strangler tree, because if your seed germinates on the branch of another tree you will grow roots down to the earth from there and then slowly strangle your host. Why that should be necessary I did not really understand, but perhaps it is a question of space. Here in the park you have plenty of space, each of you, with a ceramic fence surrounding every one of you. It is really funny to think that you are only one tree with all those roots and stems and branches turning into roots hanging down, because you look more like a group of trees. Well, that is what they say most trees actually are, communities of various critters, to use the term Donna Haraway prefers to creatures.

There are lots of people admiring you and probably some of them will be recorded on video as well, but I cannot do anything about it, so why should I mind, at least not now. I only hope that not too many people would stand in front of the camera, and obviously they do not. The dogs are worried, of course. But now I am sitting on the bench-like fence, so my behavior should not be too disturbing to them. The reason I am sneezing is that the ceramic bench is rather cold, and I hope I will not get seriously ill, well, probably not. – I wonder what brought you here, or rather, who brought you here. The information on the board is in Spanish. There are several of you only in this park, and a few blocks from here there is another small park which is constructed around a few of your kind. It seems that people value the shade you create and also enjoy the strange forms of your roots and trunks. But, they do not eat your fruits, I suppose. Birds do; that is how you can travel far and wide. I think there must be some colonial exoticism behind the idea of planting trees like you in the city park. And, of course you are the exotic one here, despite all the palm trees around you. Your form is sculptural and exciting, and there is something slightly scary about you as well. Although sitting here at a safe distance from you, and in the sunny morning, I am not scared. The time needed for you to strangle my body is so long that I guess I could move away in time. And to be honest, you do not look like strangling anybody. I guess it must be only if you happen to grow somewhere where there is not enough space (that you would engage in combat of that kind). I think you look like living very happily just where you are, without attacking anybody – unless they attack you, I guess. (But then again, there is so much of what you do that I cannot see). I wonder if you would grow into a new tree from a branch of your root? Could it develop leaves of its own to do some photosynthesis? Probably, why not? But not a very small piece, I guess. I do not want to try. Your leaves look exactly as the classic Ficus trees we have as house plants. I used to have one with exactly the same kind of leaves, but it died a long time ago, how long, I cannot remember. The Ficuses that I have now at home are not of the same kind, although clearly relatives.

Time to stop writing now, I guess, or time to stop the camera. Perhaps I will return to you later today. Meanwhile, take care!



Dear Ficus Macrophylla, excuse me for disturbing you, but I suppose I am not the first one to sit on your root here in the Gabriel Miró park. There is an empty water bottle and some other signs of human visitors right at my feet. (And the strange graffiti writing MDC on your trunk). After circling you a few times I decided this was the best place or camera angle for a video, as probably quite a few people have decided before me. What I wonder, though, is how you would like to present yourself if you could choose? Well, I mean present yourself for my camera, that is, because of course you are presenting yourself all the time, for the sun, the wind, the insects, the fountain nearby, which I can clearly hear all the time, the passing cars and humans and anything else around you. Probably you present yourself in very special ways to the fungi and microbes in the soil, or the insects on your leaves, and so on. As Michael Marder has pointed out plants are the true artists of life, because they create themselves all the time. And you have created this magnificent system of roots and trunks and branches. I wonder what they were supposed to be good for originally? Now you are clearly growing them for respect of tradition or out of habit, but the tradition was probably developed for a reason. Did you grow on unstable ground and needed all these roots to keep you in balance? Or was it to get the upper hand in a competition with your neighbours? Or was it simply a mutation that included some other benefits and these sculptural forms were sort of a side-effect? I should try to read a little, because clearly you will not answer me directly, however long I would sit here. (And now I feel worried about the camera behind me, although there are lots of people in the park so it would be difficult for somebody to just take it and walk away. So, I am simply paranoid again.) The sun is bathing your leaves, but here, down at your roots, it does not reach, not at the moment, at least. And it does not need to, I suppose, because it is in your leaves that you go on with the photosynthesis, and the roots are simply transport channels, at least the parts above ground. Below ground, in the soil, they are working hard, I guess, but these intermediate forms, something between a root and a trunk or a branch are the ones that fascinate us humans. (Do the hanging ones pick up some moist form the air?) The bended root-trunks are the “perfect garden furniture” for us, to put it bluntly. So, I will not know how you would like to present yourself or how you would like me to represent you even less, at least not today. This was my humble attempt at addressing you – in vain. Thank you for allowing me to do that, and all the best for the coming year – thank you!

On 19th December I spent some time with an ancient olive tree (no 968) in La Foia d'Ulldecona, first writing, then posing with my back to the camera on tripod and finally looking closely via a moving camera. The material is edited into the video Dear Olive Tree (19 min) and other works.


A blogpost with still images: https://annettearlander.com/2019/12/23/visiting-olive-trees-in-ulldecona/

On Christmas day 25 December 2019 I visited a Ficus Macrophylla in the Parque de Canalejas in Alicante and recorded my writing next to it as well as some material of its trunk. The material is edited into the video Dear Ficus Macrophylla I (19 min 30 sec) and other works.


On 27 December I visited a Ficus Macrophylla in the Parque Gabriel Miró in Alicante and recorded my writing next to it as well as walking around it. The material is edited into the video Dear Ficus Macrophylla II (14 min 13 sec) and other works.