I love to walk in the pine forest where I live because I find its alien stillness comforting, protective, like a warm hug from a loved one when that is just what you need. No words, just an embrace that at once draws you in and confines you and gives you the space to wrestle with your thoughts and unravel a tangle of emotions, unhindered, without judgment.
Pine trees are trespassers, Category-2 invasive weeds, and alien to our land. My botanist neighbour never tires of reminding me.
The pines were brought here because they grew fast and straight and were easy to harvest, and therefore ideal for timber. After the last of the slow growing indigenous forests had been felled to the point of extinction – their precious hardwoods exported around the globe – the rare and precious fynbos, too, was summarily obliterated from the landscape to make way for the pine plantations that sprang up to feed the commercial logging industry.
I understand and appreciate my neighbour’s frustration at the slow pace at which our indigenous plants are being reintroduced to areas where they should be thriving, and his dismay that his proposal to rather consider paper production from cannabis plants – they’re indigenous, require little to no tending and need no pesticides – has been ridiculed or ignored by industry moguls.
It’s not the trees’ fault, though. And besides, the pines are being kept in check these days, the forest regularly cut back at the mere hint of creep beyond its now defined border.
I am gifted with a silent sanctuary. I love how my feet are cushioned, the sound of my footsteps muffled by the myriad needles discarded by their former hosts.
The leaf-litter, according to my neighbour, is precisely the major problem. The pines seem to have evolved this protective mechanism where their leaf litter changes the pH of the surrounding soil and poisons any plants that attempt to grow there. The needles I so love have created a green wasteland that cannot meaningfully sustain any other plant and therefore, animal life. No other plants other than the odd, badass fern, really. No small mammals, though someone claims to have spotted a solitary mouse. And birds don’t even roost in those trees – except for a pair of pigeons and black sparrowhawks, but they could nest on a bed of nails if they had to. Nothing else really makes its home in the pine forest. Nothing else can really grow where the pine trees grow.
So when I go there, I never feel as though I’m disturbing anyone, intruding on anything, invading. No delicate biological balance is going to be disrupted because of my presence. I am not to blame, there.
It’s just me, and the trees. Even the shhhhhh of the wind blowing through their needles is the kind of ‘there there it’s okay now-shhhhh’ rather than the ‘pull yourself together now-shhhhh.’
And so it is there, when I am overwhelmed by my own discomfort that I go to receive the comfort that I crave, that I need. And I receive it without judging the provider.
Shannon Kenny lives in South Africa and is a reluctant social media user. 100 Words of Solitude thought her piece Deadlines and Cuddles was worth sharing. She tweets sometimes @ShannonKenny031
image: Nikki Dudley