I am working on a field study titled “Not Tree Not Not-Tree”. The work studies an unknowable Peppercorn tree located in Carlton gardens, an exquisite park on the fringes of Melbourne city. I live ten minutes from the tree though have never taken notice throughout all these years of its shimmering leaves that dance to the whisper of the cool-morning breeze, the green moss emanating from the trunk after successive rainfall or the possum who dwells in a hollow six and a half feet from the base and at dusk emerges wide eyed to the steady stream of walkers, exercisers and me. During isolation in COVID-19, I was looking for some not bad magic and visited the tree every morning from 6.30am to 7.00am. I started by drawing and mapping the tree with my camera, its leaves, branches, bark, roots and its entanglement with the broader ecology. I then moved to mimesis, tuning my body and the camera to the trembling of its leaves with the morning breeze. The camera was an intermediary to a mode of encounter with another being. While the great numinous unknown of the tree remains present, the durational process has created an intimacy and kinship with the tree; and a widening of my community that embraces it.
My kinship with the Peppercorn tree has made me re-evaluate my definition of nature. The nature I used to seek was the exotic other, far away devoid of people, though never devoid of our influence. I had been unwittingly subscribing to the notion of nature being over there, outside the city limits, a green space or – in the case of the ghostly remnants of black box trees found on the bone-dry Lake Menindee, desolate landscapes. That “there” highlights a demarcation between nature and culture and is one of the great dualisms responsible for the alienation and exploitation of other beings. Nature as an “other”, a resource or a place for leisure. Nature and culture are, however, interwoven and porous: from the deceased 100 year old Murray cod unable to breathe due to algal bloom; to politicians weaving stories and dressing facts to jostle favour and climb ladders. Nature is not down the Monash freeway to Wilsons Promontory; it is the freeway, concrete, weeds, humans, bacteria, Peppercorn trees and all beings co-existing on our blue dot floating in space.