Meeting with a Remarkable Tree: Joanna Orsatelli

“I don’t have any stories for your project I think.” says Joanna Orsatelli.

We have just met as strangers on the slabs at the back of the pool, where we adults gather at six each evening to bask in the last heat of the day. That’s ok I say, the everyday interests me too, not just stories of the wild and free…

“Well I do have a strange relationship with those tall trees behind the kiosk then. My friends think it’s funny, how much I love to sit and look at them. I’ve been coming here to swim three, four years now. Whenever I look at that end of the pool I feel as happy as I was in childhood, and at home somehow…”

She pauses. Yes?

“But it doesn’t make any sense really because I spent the first seven years of my life in Corsica, and nothing here has the colour and shapes of there. So I don’t understand why I feel so close to that time in my life while sitting by an English pool.”

I take a breath. Feel a little dizzy. I have something of great importance to tell this woman I have only just met. A thing I learned myself only hours earlier, kneeling to my scroll, thinking about how I wanted to learn the name of every last tree, stone and weed in this wonderful place.

“I’ve got something to tell you now. But it might make you feel a little odd. Do you want me to? Yes? Those trees. Do you know what they are?” She looks, shrugs. Some kind of pine? I nod, look her in the eye. “They are Corsican Pines. Corsican. So at a deep level of your self, in your mind’s eye, you had retained the shape of your childhood’s trees, however near or distant they were…and this is why you feel at home here, in line with them.”

Joanna puts her hands to her face. Laughs, shivers, almost cries I think. No, it can’t be. They must be something else? No, I insist, and tell her how I asked the manager only this morning. Swim, I say. Get in the water and process it. But she says she must go and check for herself. I watch, and smile when she reacts all over again to the manager confirming my story. She looks back at me and I wave, motion for her to get in and swim.

When she comes out we go laughing together to take photos by them. She is head full of thoughts and feelings. How did they get here? Who collected the seed? How old are they? She will go and hug them once she’s dressed…

Later, as I pack away my swimming-pool library for the day, walking to and fro with the trees in my peripheral vision, it is my turn to shiver: At the strangeness of this work I have embarked on.

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