Ali Matteini

a life creative

Time and the Tree

The other day, I saw a tree (pictured) that I had planted with my classmates when I was fifteen years old. I had forgotten all about it. I’m not even sure what variety it is, but it was planted as an single two-foot-long twig that had a line of buds elbowing their way out along its length.
It was planted to mark the first year ten class to come through the school – a school that has since closed down and whose occupants have moved on. I’d forgotten all about it because, soon after planting it, I went to a much larger school to finish years eleven and twelve, and I was soon swallowed up into the last years of adolescence, old friendships fell quiet and new friendships evolved. There were loves, deaths, study, rites of passage and the grownup business of being busy. These days I drive past my old school grounds several times a week and I have never noticed once over the last twenty years that the tree had quietly been turning into a giant the whole time.
I equate my encounter with the tree to time within a tale.
When I write a story I steer temporal shifts through description, dialogue, plot, analepsis (flashbacks), prolepsis (flashforwards), etc. Movement forward and back like this, for me as a reader, is like being picked up in a space elevator and then being dropped down at another time and place at the author’s whim.
Real life time doesn’t happen quite like that. No matter how slow or fast time goes for me, it’s linear until I look back (although nostalgia sends me sideways), and it’s marching on no matter what characters I meet, or whether I speak or not; memory, old letters, film, and photographs are my analepsis, but as far as prolepsis is concerned, I’m stabbing in the dark unless I had the skills of Nostradamus.
In this “real” world, I’m very aware of time markers – the growth of children I haven’t seen for a year, or attending a school reunion and seeing my peers for the first time in a decade, and the other day it was when my parents – who were also feeling the ghosts of time in those school grounds – pointed out a large shade tree (possibly a Claret Ash) and reminded me that I’d had a hand in planting it.
That was a whoa! moment. I took several photographs, stood beneath it, rubbed my hands over the nodes in its trunk and tore off a sample of the leaves, rolling them in my fingers to release its scent. I think I was trying to recapture the feeling from the day it was planted.
Days later, the tree is in its field but it’s also a renewed idea in my head and an image on a computer screen. The leaves I’ve kept have curled and I’m sure there’s a photograph somewhere in the world that someone took the day it was planted. Two of its infinite forms, however, are my very own narrative markers – the sapling and the giant represent a temporal shift in me.
I know for sure how the characters of my novels should be feeling at their homecomings.

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This entry was posted on December 28, 2011 by in creativity, Family, identity, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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