There is a little park close to where I live. Once the grounds of a stately home, the park is graced by gigantic beeches, huge trees that now in spring unfurl leaves of such a light green it is almost phosphorescent. There is a small clearing in this park, and smack in the centre of it is a puny little tree – a sapling no more – that is dwarfed by the giants bordering the grassy, sunlit space. I ride my bike through the park and every time I see the little tree I have to smile.
Why? Because it’s so ridiculously small? Nope. Things that start out small can grow very big (and thank heavens for that)
Because it’s an unnecessary little extra in this shaded place? Nope. Old trees die. New trees take over. (Can be applied to a lot of things in life, no?)
No, the reason I smile – and often slow my bike – is that the tree is decorated with dummies. You know, the kind of dummies babies and toddlers become addicted to, small rubber teats with brightly coloured mouth shields and handles. Children from all around the neighbourhood are weaned from their dummies by having the child hang up their beloved pacifier in this little tree, and who knows, maybe the dummy fairy will bring them a toy in exchange.
As a result, the tree sparkles like a Christmas tree all year round – although perhaps especially in spring and after a brief shower. The dummies dance in the wind, there’s almost always an apprehensive child close by, gripping the beloved dummy hard, hard as he or she approaches the tree. Today it’s a girl. I keep on thinking that what if the only thing that remains of our day and age, say four hundred years down the line, is an image of this little tree?
The future anthropologist will hem and haw, turn the faded, carefully preserved photograph this way and that.
“What have we here? Some sort of a fertility rite?” (Weeell – if you think tangentially …)
“It might just be kids having a lark,” the assistant may protest, “no big deal at all.” (Much closer)
The anthropologist shakes his head and goes back to studying his photo. “What are these little things decorating it? Some sort of … err … dildos?”
“Dildos?” The assistant laughs out loud. “We haven’t changed that much in the last few centuries, have we?”
“Some sort of fertility goddess then,” the anthropologist snaps, clearly quite put out by her laugh. The assistant snickers and rolls her eyes.
The little girl has by now reached the tree and standing on her toes she hangs her dummy from one of the lower branches. She takes two steps backwards, regrets her hasty decision and hurtles forward to yank the neon coloured dummy back.
“Tomorrow,” she tells her mother. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
As they walk by me, the mother gives me a rueful smile. I wink at the girl. Some things are too precious to let go – at least until you’re ready for it.