We are constantly surrounded by greenery in our natural environment. Trees are an important source of oxygen but their bark and leaves tell stories to individuals as well as their own stories. Growing up in Johannesburg, known as a concrete jungle, there is a large amount of trees that compliment it. In this blog post I will conduct a photo elicitation, in which I will provide photos in a research interview. These photos will encourage dialogue and evoke information, feelings and memories.
Dean (2015) refers to trees as being symbols, tree narratives will show the meaning and memories that one finds involving trees.
NARRATIVE OF SERVICE: Providing services to the human residents, i.e.: shade; environmental benefits.
Every Christmas since I first moved in to my house, I remember running outside to the park outside our house, where our family tree had been planted. I remember getting extremely excited to decorate our family tree with Christmas ornaments, and celebrate another year with my family. This tree was planted by my family along with other families, who lived around the park, who planted trees in the neighbourhood, over 15 years ago. The tree as a service, provided environmental benefits as over 2 households planted trees, which are still rooted in the park.
REBECCA: My friend recalls of her recent trip to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. She remembers how hot the day was and how a large tree, which she does not know the name of, provided shade and coolness to her and her family. Rebecca enjoyed seeking shade and comfort under the leaves of the large tree.
KERRYN: My Mom recalls of a specific tree that she used to play with at her school. It is a large oak tree that had huge branches for her and her friends to sit and play on. My Mom attended a co-ed school and she remembers how the girls and the boys used to mimic the famous Romeo and Juliet balcony scene.
REX: My Grandfather immediately thinks of the tree at the bottom of his garden. He recalls hot summer days on the patio at a Sunday lunch, where we have all be caught by the sun. He speaks with a smile of how we gather the chairs, our plate of food and make our way to the shaded area, where our Sunday lunch commences, this time only a lot cooler.
NARRATIVE OF POWER: Human control of nature; aesthetic purposes; symbols of race; class and status.
This is a very memorable photo of trees to me. This is the entrance to my school, which is shaded by the arch of the purple Jacaranda tress. These trees symbolise a form of power as the Jacarandas form an archway, a symbolisation of royalty and importance. The trees are planted in an well known private school, which highlights wealth and class. I remember running through the parking lots and hearing slight popping noises of the fallen jacarandas under my school shoes. Having a fear of bees, as a young school girl I dreaded walking through the parking lot because bees loved the Jacaranda trees. We used to play a game called ‘Milk or Honey’ with the Jacaranda flowers, that we used to push the juice out of the flower and guess if it was milk (white) or honey (transparent). If I walk past a Jacaranda tree, I am still tempted to play ‘Milk or Honey’
REBECCA: Rebecca, a school friend of mine, related well to this photo. She too remembers running through the parking lot with Jacaranda flowers on her shoes. She recalls how the Jacaranda trees framed the road and how these tress were found in wealthy well known areas. These jacarandas used to frame a long way down the roads and the sun used to shine through the gaps.
KERRYN: My mother as a young girl, walked to school with the rest of her siblings. Being a young girl she remembers her interest in looking at the gardens of the houses that she walked past. She remembers walking past the larger, wealthier houses, that had large trees with swings in them. My Mom longed for a tree with a swing in her garden, but my Grandparents never had the space or tree to do so.
REX: My Grandfather, who takes care in his garden, especially the front outside his house, he recalls of the small trees that people used to have outside the entrance of their house. He recalls how the trees were shaped and trimmed into round balls and looked like large green lollipops. He says that these trees were made to stand out and placed for decorative purposes.
NARRATIVE OF HERITAGE: Prominent community landmarks, trees associated with a historic person, place, event or period.
I have a huge interest with regards to World War 2 and the history behind the Nazi Holocaust. I was fortunate enough to travel to Berlin where I came across this monument of concrete slabs which was the Holocaust memorial site. A variety of bright green trees make up the boundary to the contrasting grey slabs. The boundary of trees, highlight the history of Berlin with the holocaust as well as they symbolise the growth of a new era where discrimination is not tolerated.
REBECCA: Rebecca remembers of her trip to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardnes where she saw Wood Cyacds. A clump of these were discovered in Durban and transported to different Botanical gardens in South Africa. These cyacds are often rare and there are such things as cyacds thieves that try to steal and sell for money because they are so rare.
KERRYN: My Mom remembers a trip she had to game reserve. she remembers how fortunate she was to see the famous Marula trees, which the fruit is often eaten by Elephants. The Marula tree is symbolic to South African heritage as it embodies the natural landscape of our country and feeds the sweet tooth of the Elephants.
REX: My grandfathers recalls of the mango tree that my other grandparents have in their garden in the South Coast of Durban. This mango tree attracts many animals who love the taste of the fresh mangoes. My Grandfather remembers watching how the monkeys used to fight eachother and sit on the balcony and eat the mangoes.
COUNTER NARRATIVES: The unruly tree
When thinking of the unruly tree, I immediately think of the numerous times that my Sister and I swam in our pool, covered with purple flowers from the large Bougainvillea. As beautiful as it was, with its bright purple flowers, the tree was a lot of maintenance. The leaves landed in our pool and along our garden and often there were large dustbin bags of flowers, from the weekend clean ups that my sister and I had to do. The tree was huge in height, and its size, was a threat to our house and neighbours as it was soon to fall naturally. As sad as it was that the tree was cut down, the light in the photo above, still shows some of the purple flowers that we find in our garden today.
REBECCA: Rebecca thinks of the vines in garden that run and grow up on the wall.The also grow up on the poles and Rebecca often finds them annoying. Vines are hard to maintain and often result in rats living in them.
KERRYN: My Mom, agrees with this above photo. My Mom loves her garden and often on a Sunday we will find her working in it. The Bougainvillea was extremely hard to manage and maintain. My Mom was constantly frustrated with the fallen leaves that had to be taken out of the pool and swept up from our garden. My Parent’s bedroom is right by the tree and my Mom often found the Bougainvillea’s inside her bedroom through her bedroom door.
REX: My Grandfather humoured me with his memory of an unruly tree. He does not remember what the tree was called but his next door neighbour had a tree that half hung over my grandfathers wall, at the pool area. The tree’s leaves often fell into my Grandfathers pool and this frustrated my Grandfather extremely as he would have to clean up the leaves of a tree that he did not own. Much to his frustration, the neighbours refused to cut or trim their tree. In an act of rebellion, my grandfather collected the fallen leaves from his pool, placed them in ball in a plastic packet and placed them in the freezer. At night he would remove the frozen leaves and throw them over the wall to the neighbours’s pool, where they would defrost in the pool. My grandfather’s last statement was “They were not my leaves”.
These narratives show that Dean (2015) was true in her account that through photo elicitation, trees do have narratives. Trees hold memories and stories that are generated through our own personal encounters with them. The photo elicitation shows the connectivity that trees have on humans and the way in which we have encountered with them are memorable.
Dean, J. 2015. The unruly tree: stories from the archives, in Urban forests, trees, and greenspace: a political ecology perspective, edited by: LA Sandberg, A Bardekjian & S Butt. New York: Routledge: 162-175