Tag Archives: tattoos

There she goes, my beautiful world.

planeUp until I was about nine or so, I always thought these were called ‘plain trees’ – no special name, just your common-or-garden, standard variety tree. In London, where I lived, they’re all over the place, so it seemed a reasonable assumption. In fact it’s spelled ‘plane’ and they are London Planes, Platanus × hispanica (or × acerifolia).
The London Plane is a hybrid of two trees from either side of the world, Platanus orientalis and P. occidentalis. The Eurasian one, orientalis, is obviously the closer to home for me and is the one that interests me more. It (like the London plane) is huge, beautiful, sturdy, fast-growing and long-lived — they’re particularly revered in Greece, where at Kos, there’s one that’s supposed to be 2,400 years old under which Hippocrates taught medicine.
The leaves can be used to treat certain eye problems, and while (unlike me) the plane tree is super tough and hardy, (like me) it loves and needs sunlight — in fact, from one of the tree books I love so much at the national library I’ve made a note of the decisive sentence, ‘It cannot grow in the shade’.

Really though, for me, this one is about where I’m from and remembering how much good and beauty and strength I get from that. My other two leaves, for their own reasons, are to do with growth and newness, looking forward and finding my own way in the world, my place in Edinburgh, where I’m at or where I’m going more than where I’ve been. This leaf, which I picked up last time I was down there on my way to Camp for Climate Action 2008, is to balance that out a bit, is about recognising that the past is wonderful too and that, as I keep saying, I’m very lucky and blessed to have such fantastic people in my life who have always been there for me. To remind myself, perhaps, a little, that it’s not always all about what’s new: you need roots and wings.
Home and family are all mixed up together for me; memories of London are inevitably memories of my brother, my parents, and my sister’s birth. Memories of primary school and starting to know myself, learning to learn. The first pavements I ever walked were scattered with plane leaves, and so this seems only natural, simple and right.

London, of course, is the hometown of very many other people, many great and inspiring people. Not least among them is William Morris, the great Walthamstownian (that is clearly not a word, but should be). I’ve quoted him here before and will again (particularly if and when I add an elm leaf to my little gallery – see Previously on Alice’s torso), because he’s endlessly appropriate. All of these together, with my lily and shooting star, are symbolic of Morris’s and my shared understanding that there is so much beauty, so much deserving of awe and adoration in nature, and that it’s worth looking after. So, I think I shall leave you with him today, on pattern-designing:

You may be sure that any decoration is futile, and has fallen into at least the first stage of degradation, when it does not remind you of something beyond itself, of something of which it is but a visible symbol. […]
[T]hose natural forms which are at once most familiar and most delightful to us, as well from association as from beauty, are the best for our purpose. The rose, the lily, the tulip, the oak, the vine, and all the herbs and trees that even we cockneys know about, they will serve our turn better than queer, outlandish, upsidedown-looking growths. If we cannot be original with these simple things, we shan’t help ourselves out by the uncouth ones.

(lecture, 1881)

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This one’s from the heart.

lime, hornbeamLIME (is the British name) or linden leaves are heart-shaped and especially beautiful, most especially especially at this time of year. Just go and look at some, they’re everywhere.

In Norse and early Germanic religion, the linden was highly revered and associated with Freyja, the goddess of fertility, attraction and love. In Greek myth too (or just Ovid), it’s lovey-dovey because of the story of Baucis and Philemon. They were an old married couple who, although they were poor, showed kindness and hospitality to Zeus and Hermes (in disguise) and were rewarded by being granted their only wish: to be together forever, even in death. He was turned into an oak tree and she a lime, and there they stood, intertwined, in the deserted bog that was the ruin of their town (the gods had to destroy it because everyone else was too wicked, see).

The association with romance has continued through European art and literature, via people like Walther von der Vogelweide (scroll down – Unter der linden is the third one on that page) all the way down to Nick Cave. Aw.

Tilia platyphyllos (the large-leaved lime) is one of only about 30something trees native to Britain – only the south though, which is where I’m native to, too. It and its friend Tilia cordata and their hybrid Tilia x europaea are very frequently planted as ornamental trees, or shade trees in parks and gardens. The European thing is to have long lime-lined avenues, like Unter den Linden in Berlin and the gorgeous Frederiksberg Allé in København. It used to be a closed street, with gates, which only the King and his family (that’s Frederik) could use, but luckily for me it was opened to the public in 1863. I walked down there on September 14, 2006, which became one of the most unutterably beautiful days of my life.

Lime blossoms make a sweet and pleasant tea which has been used as a remedy for, among other things, headaches, indigestion, fever, liver disorders, anxiety and hysteria. The wood is soft and easily worked so it is favoured by carvers, including the most excellently-named Grinling Gibbons, and my uncle Roli who is totally ace and taught me about the Gibmeister, having just completed a degree in Ornamental Woodworking. The blossoms are also good for a light, delicate but beautifully flavoured honey. This tree is all about the prettiness.

Sun in the sky, you know how I feel.

Yeah, I’m feeling good. Today is a day off (extracurricular work – I did go to lectures) and it feels much better when it comes after a few days of actually having done some work rather than just many guiltily taken days off in a row.
Sooooo, ink.
new ink
I am going to get four or five more all down my right side/ribs – different species of tree and in different springy, summery and autumny colours – over the next year or so. I am in love with it. I think it is super beautiful. And it didn’t even hurt that much. Arnica makes me superwoman.

Leaves are beautiful, but they’re also a memento mori, for obvious reasons, and even more so for a less obvious reason. I was lucky to know a wonderful woman and rabbi, Erlene, who sadly died last year. She had been in hospital in London for some time and we’d been writing to one another; when I heard that she had died, I’d recently made her this little card with bright green dyed leaf skeletons (I bought them from Millers, oddly), and having nowhere to send it to, it sat on the mantelpiece in our old flat for nearly a year (until we moved out), reminding me of her.

Trees are links to the past, and they inspire me. I like to touch them. And, to quote, erm, myself, “I think it’s fair to say they are much greater than us – so much bigger, older, slower, grander, and harder to hurt. And they do so much for the world, and don’t do anything evil or malicious. They’re a home for birds, insects and all the coolest animals of the forest, like squirrels and bats. Um, actually I think bats live in caves. But never mind. And they make the air that we breathe. They’re amazing.”

Some (many) people translated this respect and awe into actual tree-worship (cf. The Golden Bough). Lots of funky nature worship stuff right here in Scotland, and to a perhaps surprising extent trees and nature are important in Judaism too. Most obvious example would probably be the popular idea of Etz Chaim (The Tree of Life) or Tu Bishvat – we celebrate the trees’ birthday! yay! – but they also come into play at Sukkot and Shavuot. The Torah – the Law – itself is described in a common prayer as being “a tree of life for all who hold fast to it: its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”

Ruskin love: “The leaves of the herbage at our feet take all kinds of strange shapes, as if to invite us to examine them. Star-shaped, heart-shaped, spear-shaped, arrow-shaped, fretted, fringed, cleft, furrowed, serrated, sinuated, in whorls, in tufts, in spires, in wreaths, endlessly expressive, deceptive, fantastic, never the same from footstalks to blossom, they seem perpetually to tempt our watchfulness, and take delight in outstripping our wonder.”

This particular leaf came from a hornbeam tree in George Square, near the labyrinth; I picked it up just after a very pensive stroll around it last week, when I’d been thinking about lots of important things that I still am not entirely ready to go into here because they’re complex and hmm, painful. But lots of other nicer things as well. And, yeah, I am incredibly happy that I came here to Edinburgh and have a lot of respect and joy and happy memories and all that sort of stuff tied up with that particular geographical area. don’twanttoleave. Now I’ll always have a little part of it with me, forever.

Amusingly (I only found this out the other day), hornbeam is the Bach Flower Remedy used “against feelings of exhaustion and tiredness that come before an effort has been made. The person in this state feels that he or she is too tired to cope with the demands of the day. It’s easier to stay in bed or put off making a start – but if an effort can be made to get started the weariness will fade, a sign that unlike the Olive state this is a mental rather than a physical weariness.”
The website quotes Dr. Bach himself: “For those who feel that they have not sufficient strength, mentally or physically, to carry the burden of life placed upon them; the affairs of every day seem too much for them to accomplish, though they generally succeed in fulfilling their task. For those who believe that some part, of mind or body, needs to be strengthened before they can easily fulfil their work.”
I have an anti-procrastination tattoo! Heh.

And just to make today even more awesome, I got a nice jumper from a charity shop for four pounds.