Mothers and Orchestras of Organisms
Updated: Apr 26
II am struck by this avenue of trees at Homerton. It seems to lead away from the college but ends up at the back with the railway behind the fence as its destination. t clearly has been around for a fair few decades and a mystery surrounds it which I read about in the archive (see image below). It's also been drawn and photographed by students and staff throughout. Its not far from the college's orchard too. Thinking of the many trials and tribulations that the Homerton trees have witnessed I am reminded of Richard Powers Overstory where taking photographs of a horse chestnut becomes a family tradition. Powers' gripping stories are reminders of the amazing powers that the often overlooked trees hold and how entangled they are with us, at times becoming protagonists in our lives.
My thinking about trees has shifted dramatically in recent years as I became aware of the work of Suzanne Simard who discovered how trees communicate and sustain complex relationships to form a collaborative community. I am impressed by her belief that we can learn from the way trees interact: “Some trees have lived for thousands of years. They get along, develop sophisticated relationships and listen – they’re attuned. Attunement is something we all need too.” It makes me think of colleges like Homerton as collaborative communities that have always had their own lines of communications, long before social media. One of my favourite 'archive finds' was the 'round robin' notebooks (see image below) whereby ex graduates would write to each other using one notebook which was sequentially posted to each of the names and addresses at the front of the book, detailing the news to be shared. Some of them took years to complete their cycle and are filled with travels and new jobs as well as marriages, births and in some cases deaths.
I found another interesting link between Simard's view of trees as sophisticated and social beings and the college - mothers! According to Simard trees have 'mother trees' that bring them to life and nourish them, whereas within Homerton (like some other colleges I am told) a 'mother' is a second year student who meets their first year 'child' off the train and accompanies them through the journey that is student life.
This nurturing and attunement are all part of belonging to what we must acknowledge we are part of - an orchestra of organisms we all belong to and within which we must play a part.
The mystery of Homerton's avenue of trees in newspaper from 1986.
A sample of 'Round Robin' notebooks found in the archive.