Mother Trees

Below is an extract from the new Feral Theatre play TRIPTYCH. This part of the story is inspired by the work of Professor Suzanne Simard, a US forest ecologist who has discovered that large mature trees form the bedrock of forest communities. She explains why in this beautiful short film.

 In sand OHP shadow, we journey the length of the tree’s inner body from root tip to leaf tip in shadow. The woman stands at the foot of the silks. One of the trees in the woods at Newbury was called Granny Ash. The biggest tree in a forest community is sometimes known as the Mother Tree. Sand shadow painting gradually makes the woman part of the tree, her body subsumed by the bark, the bark her breasts and belly. Scientists recently discovered that the Mother Tree nourishes and protects the trees around it as far as the eye can see. All the trees in a community form interconnections and bridges in a vast complex conversational network. Tree roots intertwine with soil fungi and communicate with each other. Roots expand out from the sand shadow tree. Even as a tree dies, it deliberately passes its nutrients to new saplings emerging from the soil.

Two of the performers take hold of lengths of white muslin that have been hanging from the same point as the silks, and lift them out over the audience. The strips of fabric become a web. The roots on the projector become strands in a web. The performers hold torches and shine them into the web, like pulses of light.

Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web, covered with dewdrops, in the early morning light. Every dewdrop contains the reflection of all the other dewdrops, shimmering, infinite. This is Indra’s Web, the Buddhist conception of the universe.  Every touch, every action, every movement in the web shimmers and reflects on all the parts. Now somehow we are beneath the earth. Beneath the soil, the symbiotic tree roots and fungi make an intricate, intimate, infinite web. The web on the projector becomes roots again, we are deep beneath the Mother Tree, looking up. You could describe this animate web as vast lungs, or capillaries. A sentient neurological network. A universe within the soil.  Music. Wonder. Dissolving. Darkness. Silence.

You can see the play as part of the Brighton Fringe festival, May 18-20 2012.

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