The Treeumphant vision
As part of CPRE’s celebration of Black History Month, poet and tree champion Maureen Morant explains how green spaces have been part of her own personal history. Looking forward, Maureen tells us about Treeumphant – a planting project to deepen her connections with the landscape and help people and nature to heal and grow.
I am a Black Woman of African Caribbean heritage, a Daughter of the Windrush Generation and a Child of The Mother Earth of Creation. This story is about the birth of a concept of a personal journey to assert my blackness, through the healing act of planting single trees, across different public sites across the UK.
The vision of Treeumphant is infused with my recognition of the healing qualities of the tree, for people and for nature. The very act of planting involves my personal energies too, which become part of the life of tree and land. The idea of a journey that takes me beyond where I live, to many sites across the UK, is a response as a black individual as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I am researching potential sites and approaching a variety of owners of sites, including the Woodland Trust, the National Trust, Leicester University, Fordhall Community Farm in Shropshire, and the Tree Wardens for the Borough of Sutton. The process is, for many, an encounter with the reality of a black person, and the conversations are intercultural dialogue. The appearance of a black woman wishing to plant a tree takes all those that I speak to on a journey too, because I embody a cultural vision.
Planting a tree is for me an act to heal and grow the earth and people. The dominant perspective in our contemporary world is a scientific one. Planting trees is valid act to repair damage, to stem floods and to absorb and hold carbon. Of course, all of this is scientifically sound and true, but I feel it is really important to reawaken the fact that we are living things, and part of the earth.
Covid is alerting all of us to the fact of our interconnectedness with other people and nature. But we are far from living this at a spiritual, emotional, cultural and practical level. When any of us plant a tree we are putting in our energy, part of our being. We can be spiritually, emotionally, and culturally engaged in healing the planet and ourselves. Allowing this deep connection allows this simple act to echo through our lives, and take us towards being whole.
Morden Hall Park – a special place to start my journey
The first tree I will plant on my journey will be in a place that is very special to me, in an emotion-filled return to Morden Hall Park in October 2020. It is a place marked with layers of significant personal memories, built up over many years, and means so much in my life. I was married here in April 1994. My spiritual ceremony took place in this wonderful National Trust green space. And the celebration of my marriage coincided with celebrations over the end of apartheid, with black people able to take part in South Africa’s elections for the first time that same month.
In this beautiful place there is the enormous house of grandeur, Morden Hall itself, which is something that is beyond our usual experience. The landscape is filled with an array of trees – beeches, limes and oaks. I often walk along the River Wandle, within which streams the African goddess energies of Oshun. I have enjoyed many activities within the park with members of my family, including the riverside walk on my way to the Deen City Farm.
Trees bear witness
Trees have always been an important feature of my life. Thinking about this takes me back to when I planted memorial tree for my late father in the woodlands of Leicester. I also planted a mango tree for him in the Caribbean. It is significant for me that my father and both of my children, who are now in their twenties, were also born in October.
Above all, I have chosen this month because it is the UK Black History Month. At this special moment, I remember my black brother George Floyd, who was also born in the month of October on the 14th. His breath of life was forcibly taken in such a way that it ignited the Black Lives Matter movement that we are all witnessing, with massive action for diversity and equality happening across the world. His spirit touched me and gave me the heart, energy and courage to conceive and give new birth to my Treeumphant vision of planting trees as symbols of healing and of growth, for people and for nature.
I am moved as I share this story of the planting of the first tree at Morden Hall Park, taking me onto my journey. I hope that you will accompany me in your hearts as I plant for the recognition and respect of all Black lives – today, tomorrow, and for a better, more caring future world. Although I hold this thought foremost in my mind and heart, it is set within my aspiration to plant for everyone.
Trees bear witness to the wisdom of our ancestors, which is passed on from generation to generation. May I leave you with some lines from one of my poems.
‘I plant in the Alignment of Spirit
With Seeds of Ancestral Holding
The Present Gift of Awakening
The Future of Evolving Wisdom
Inspiring on All the Pillars of Creation.’
Maureen Morant, supported by the Black Environment Network
Black Environment Network’s mission is to enable full multicultural environmental participation. Its publications section offers many examples and resources that are free to download.
And if you enjoyed this article, you might like to see more on the personal and collective histories of black people’s relationship with the countryside:
Maxwell Ayamba on My England
Sheree Mack on her exploration of race and nature
Baroness Floella Benjamin’s first impressions of the English countryside