Planting a tree is an act of faith, an expression of hope.
The Five Acre Forest inspires that hope
In transit from the globe-trotting life of an aid worker, Trish Nicholson came upon an eroded dune beside a lake in New Zealand’s far north and felt a strange attachment. The following year, she abandoned her Celtic roots and returned to plant a thousand trees.
Twenty years on, the author shares the physical and emotional trials and triumphs of transforming the dune into a five acre forest, and describes the lives of its native trees, birds and insects, enchanting us with local legends and her nature photography along the way.
Woven into Nicholson’s personal narrative is the deep-time story of an extraordinary landscape of dunes, lakes, swamps and beaches formed from an ancient shared geological ancestry.
Trish Nicholson’s description of her devotion to the forest she has painstakingly created is detailed and creative. Alongside her account of adapting to seasons, such as allowing for the summer drought by watering stingily, are interspersed stunning descriptions and fascinating local folk tales. She observes that, “trees like each other’s company,” as she plants each species in groups of 3 or 5 so they can use the interconnecting network below the forest floor, reflecting the Māori belief of the interrelatedness of all living things. She describes the “almond-eyed” lake changing colour and mood under the varied skies, quoting Kandinsky who said, “Colour is a means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul.”
The chapter telling of spring in the dune enchants the reader with the song of birds, residents and newly arrived migrants. There are swallows, sparrows and thrushes but the photographic section also shows us the fantailed piwakawaka and the delightful kotare (sacred kingfisher.) The emerging insects are a reminder of the endless life cycle. Trish witnessed success as over the years her forest grew but she also learnt from her mistakes and had the wisdom to plant small trees which gradually adapted to their growing conditions. The forest is a sum of its parts, the balance of variety sustained by other growth such as the Rata vine which by covering the soil surface protects it from erosion.
The author takes great pleasure from time spent in her tree house, listening to the way it creaks, “like an old sailing ship,” but she also despairs when bulldozers arrive on the wetland to dig deeply for ancient kauri trees for export, with devastating consequences. Dealing with the increased heat and drought caused by global warming is a struggle with failure and some success. She has become a sky-watcher, the stars above and the surrounding forest sounds her companions.
This is a book to read slowly absorbing its atmosphere, learning about, for me, an alien environment and appreciating those like Trish who are conserving essential parts of our environment. A fascinating read.
Trish Nicholson‘s website Words in the Treehouse
My review of A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity by Trish Nicholson