Mulberry trees stand in two corners of my mother’s garden. In summer, the garden becomes a minefield littered with incendiary devices waiting for a mistimed step, a careless footfall. Splatters of pink-purple cover the driveway, the outlines of shoes and bare feet silhouetted on the concrete.
Though resplendent with their purple jewels every year, their branches are too spindly, too lithe and lean to climb.
When I was young, a Japanese pepper tree stood in the corner of a different garden. Reaching its limbs to the clouds, littering the ground with small red peppercorn berries, it was my perch and my sanctuary. From the fork of its two largest branches, I could survey the backyards of all the neighbouring houses; Hills Hoists twirling, cats sunbathing, impromptu backyard cricket matches, veggie gardens abundant in every season, and the bare yard of a returned soldier long-widowed and lonely.
From my perch I could see each end of the laneway that wound between. I bore witness to the comings and goings, to the new arrivals, to the newly departed.
When my children were small, there was a fig tree in our garden. Its spreading branches, pregnant with figs twice a year, bore the boys as they climbed skyward. In winter, when it had shed its coat of leaves, its jewellery of figs had been put aside, the tree’s skeleton sheltered the various laboriously constructed twig and branch cubby-houses, essential to children’s imaginative play.
In summer, the fig tree bore the Twenty-eights as they screeched and squawked and pecked at figs, leaving a litter of detritus and half-eaten fruit in their wake. It bore me pruning limbs and netting fruit. And it was the field of combat in my own personal war with the ring-necks. Each morning of summer, we would flock to the tree from our separate arenas to do battle; me, armed with a broom, them, armed with nothing more than their taunts and mocking laughter.
When I was very small, still a freshly minted migrant, an almond tree stood in the far corner of our yard. Every day I climbed its branches and sat in the central fork. When its branches drooped with the weight of fruit, I plucked them, peeled back their velveteen outer husk, cracked open their hard labyrinthine inner shells between my teeth, and wolfed down the creamy seeds. When my mother burned leaf litter and garden debris in the rusting 44 gallon drum that stood to one side of the yard, I perched in the almond tree with the cat, supervising. When my much older siblings painted the exterior weatherboard walls of the euphemistically named ‘sunroom’ that was in reality my brother’s too-cold too-hot bedroom, I perched in the tree, crunching shells and munching almonds. The almond tree was my spot. If my mother couldn’t find me around the house, it was a safe bet that I was ensconced in the tree.
My children are grown now. The days of climbing trees are both behind and ahead of us, and my house has no garden for such sturdy trees.
Still, a cottonwood tree grows in one corner of my yard. A mango tree towers above me from a concrete pot. A tamarind tree bears the insults of winter. A bilimbi tree takes refuge inside the house through the cold and rain.
Perhaps when there are tree-climbing children in my life again, there will also be a yard filled with different trees for them to choose from.