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November 2018

- The Dancing Tree -

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"Mama, what do you like better," my daughter Xira asked me many years ago, "the stars, the rivers, the trees or the flowers?" – “The trees", I answered her immediately. – “All?” Xira was quite surprised. "There are so many and not all are beautiful, I reckon. I only like grandma's apple tree for climbing and the chestnut trees with the chestnuts for doing handicrafts." – “Everyone is important to me," I said, "because trees give us the air we need to live. Imagine that: Without them, the oxygen in the atmosphere would be completely depleted in 200 years."

But then I told her about my favourite trees, the cork oaks in southern Portugal. Sometimes they form small groups, spread over slopes or stand individually on fields. Their bark is thick and resistant. It protects the trees from drought and heat, even forest fires, and every 7 years you can "harvest" them to make cork products. My favourite cork oak stands above a clay-brown stable that is already decaying and always catches my eye when I turn north on the country road coming from Faro airport behind Bensafrim. It seems to welcome me to Portugal.

Years later, when I finally painted this cork oak, it was a cool, windless autumn day and the sun shone pale through its leaves. While I sat motionless on a big field stone, the tree suddenly seemed to me so extremely moved – completely in the style of a Japanese Butoh dancer, who tells a story in a bizarre dance with all her limbs. Even "my" cork oak seemed to dance her life in complete immobility: Her mighty trunk, forced to its knees by a storm, branched and twisted dynamically in all directions in turns, bends and abrupt changes of direction. Did it follow the sun, did it defy the wind, did it stretch towards the stars?

Trees are beings. There are countless of them in the world. Most of them are inconspicuous and go unnoticed. But if they have enough time and space to unfold, as they age and grow, they become like "my" cork oak and develop a extremely strong character. That's why I love them.

 

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