The Mother Magazine, Editorial
Issue 24, Sep/Oct 2007
"The Old Pepperina Tree", by Veronika Sophia Robinson
During the summer, my daughter Eliza wanted to show me how good a climber shed become, so I watched her go to the top of a cherry tree in our village.
I was struck by how confident and agile she is ~ rather like a monkey, but without the tail! When did she learn to climb like that, I wondered. What was I doing that was so important as to miss this particular milestone?
Most of the children in Britain dont get unsupervised, spontaneous play. My children consider the village to be their back garden and go playing for hours. Thats where they learnt to climb trees after they graduated from the plum tree in our garden.
Although I spent a lot of time up Enid Blytons Magical Faraway Tree, my own magical tree was the imposing pepperina in our front garden.
My childhood surroundings in Queensland, Australia, were a paradise for tree climbers ~ hundreds of acres, including mountains covered in eucalyptus, pines, wattles and pepperinas. There were the occasional wild apricot and lemon tree, too.
Despite being the middle of eight children, I spent the vast majority of my childhood play-time on my own, captivated by my imaginary friends and the world I invented for myself.
The pepperina was a sanctuary; a place to escape, day dream, create, write poetry and love letters for undeserving school boys, and, last but not least, a place to spy on my siblings!
My birds eye view gave me a 360 degree lookout and afforded me ample camouflage from the outside world. The trees willow-like leaves disguised me time and time again.
If I was ever in trouble with my parents, which, given my mischievous nature, was rather a regular occurrence, Id head straight for my other home.
It was, without doubt, one of my favourite places in childhood. I couldnt have claimed it as mine, however, unless Id taken the risk to climb ~ to move away from the safe and familiar earth beneath my feet.
I had to risk falling, being hurt, being told I was reckless, scraping my knee, getting covered in sticky sap, breaking an arm, meeting a tree snake or being bitten by a wasp. I dont remember actually ever giving much thought to these possibilities ~ my focus was always on navigating the hard-to-reach bottom branches so I could journey to the very top.
My beloved pepperina tree is a metaphor for my life as a parent. By choosing to climb up and away from the familiar parenting culture of our western world, I discovered a new view. At the top of the holistic living tree, I found I could birth my baby in water, at home, by candle light. My mother carried the candle up the tree for me, by birthing her last three children at home, unassisted.
By sharing the tree with my mum, I knew that breastfeeding was the only option for my children. I learned that I could breastfeed my daughters until theyd had their fill ~ which they took advantage of for seven years apiece! Society didnt like this one little bit. They called me sick, selfish, stupid. Ah well, never mind. From my tree-top look-out, I could see things that were impossible to witness from down on the ground. One day more people will be brave enough to climb the tree. And then theyll know...
My daughters didnt get sent off to nursery at three years of age like all the other children. I ignored the voices manically calling to me from the bottom of the tree, and chose to let my girls wake up gently to this world.
George Bernard Shaw said that trying to explain vaccination to a doctor was like discussing vegetarianism with a butcher. So I didnt invite the doctor anywhere near my children. At the top of our tree of life, we nurtured our girls through love, an optimal in-arms gestation, child-led weaning, pure water, slow parenting, plant-based whole-foods, cranial osteopathy, chiropractic care, and quantity time.
Life at the top of the tree isnt to be confused with being on a pedestal, or up in an ivory tower. Far from it. Choosing this way of life comes with its own set of challenges. It is, indeed, the road less travelled, or the branches few choose to climb. A perfect life is not guaranteed. And, it can be very, very lonely.
I doubt Id have absorbed the enormity of what our culture does to us had I stayed on the ground, or even the bottom branch. Theres simply no scope for perspective unless you can see the whole picture.
Climbing up, and away, and literally going out on a limb, is an absolute pre-requisite to conscious parenting in this modern world. We may be more technologically advanced than in any time in our known history, but we couldnt be more backward or more blind, as a culture, if we tried!
Ive found the view from the top, at times exciting, exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, and, at other times, downright depressing. At the top of the tree we see how brain-washed people are by the media, health care systems, institutionalised education and government diktat.
The ascent can be challenging, precarious, and, for some, rather scary, but unless you do it, despite everyone at the base of the tree calling you back down, youll never know how liberating the complete trust in yourself, and your family, can be. The most beautiful part is when you feel confident enough to reach to another, and give guidance along the branches..
Ive often felt that parenting has stopped me taking risks; that Im no longer the girl I used to be ~ the one whod fly to a new country, on a one way ticket, with less than a tenner in her pocket, just knowing everything would be ok.
My mums advice throughout life has been Just jump, the angels will catch you. And you know, I believed her! My mother was the perfect mother bird, guarding her nest at the top of the tree, knowing the right time to push her little chickadees out Fly, shed say.
I often hear her voice in my head, and upon reflection, I realise Im no less of a risk taker now than I ever was. My day to day choices are seen as risks, to modern culture, but to me, well, theyre just part of everyday life, like breathing. Stepping away from mainstream thinking is as big a risk as well ever take. Personally, I think its a far greater risk not to step away.
Tree climbing is an interesting experience upon which to draw strength and belief in ones self. Its perfect that this happens in childhood.
Its good and right that my girls have learnt to climb trees without me nearby wondering if theyll fall down!
I dont know if my magic pepperina tree is still standing, but Id love to think another child spent time there, hearing the Divine Whisperer beckoning climb higher, my friend, climb higher
Until our paths cross again, climb high!