The following tale no-doubt sprang from the amount of time I’ve been spending around trees. It gets to the heart of my perennial epistemic obsession. I’ve included some photos from recent adventures in nature and a progress shot of the fire pit corner of the garden.
A passer-by looked up at a tree, her attention grabbed by its bright leaves with their scalloped edges and their size, like a man’s hand. She wondered what sort of tree it was. She ran her eyes up the thick channels of its trunk, over the dark boughs that bent up and around, giving the plant that picture-book tree shape, dense and round. Then she spotted the early kernels of a few acorns and she knew it was an oak tree.
Another passer-by, who was shouldering a heavy bag, stopped to catch her breath in the shade of the big tree. Looking into the eyes of the first passer-by, she announced, ‘This is a gumtree.’ Her tone was confident, triumphant even.
The first passer-by looked from the tree to the second passer-by then back to the tree, her curiosity piqued.
‘But its leaves,’ said the first passer-by, ‘are they not big and rounded, rather than long and pointy? They don’t look like the leaves on a gumtree.’
‘Oh, I know it’s a gumtree. Its leaves must be deformed.’
‘But its bark,’ said the first passer-by, ‘isn’t it rough and dark, not smooth and fair? It doesn’t feel like a gumtree.’
‘Oh, I know it’s a gumtree. Its bark must be diseased.’
‘But its fruits,’ said the first passer-by, ‘aren’t they smooth with little caps, not flowery or bell-shaped, like the fruits of a gumtree?’
‘Oh, I know this is a gumtree. Its fruit must be bad. In fact, this must be a very unhealthy gumtree.’
The first passer-by quietly considered the possibility that this was a sick gum and not a majestic oak. After a while she ventured, ‘Perhaps it is not an unhealthy gumtree but a beautiful oak tree. That is what its leaves, its bark and its fruit tell me.’
‘You are mistaken. I have told you I know this is a gumtree. Its deformed leaves, diseased bark and bad fruit have deceived you.’
After making this assessment, the second passer-by picked up her bag and went away sad and frustrated because of the ignorance and lack of trust shown by the other.
The first passer-by remained, confused, gazing up at the beautiful tree. When she finally walked away, she was no longer confident in her ability to correctly identify trees. Worse, her enjoyment of the shapes, textures and fruits of trees was tainted by an absurd uncertainty.