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by Tania De Rozario

It is rainy season here in Singapore, and as flashfloods assault small pockets of urbanity, a tree pushes itself insistently out from the strip of soil that flanks my house. Two years ago, this tree did not exist. Today, it towers above the roof. My landlord keeps pressing me to cut it down. I resist.  Here, people or plants growing wild, unnerve the general populace.

I love this tree. I have watched it grow, flower and fruit. Having finally taken a break from a history of house-moving, I have now been in one place long enough to see something grow. When time permits, I sit and watch species of birds I did not know existed, come for its fruit. When I write, I listen to the avian politics from inside my house. I am nonsensically proud that somehow, this tree picked this tiny spot in my yard, and from it, decided to sprout.

During my time at Hedgebrook, I spent hours sitting around in dumb awe of the heights to which trees are actually able to grow; of how nature refuses to remained contained. On days it rained, I listened to water drum itself onto the roof and on days it shone, I watched the light change everything it touched.

I am critical by character and rarely tolerate the mystifcation of things that can be explained with logic. Which meant that before Hedgebrook, I was also adverse to literature that mystified nature. I believed in and appreciated its beauty and importance but I would never have called the woods a magical place. Five days into my residency, I could not come up with any adjective that described it better. How else could I explain the fact that I was thinking differently, writing differently, feeling differently, even dreaming differently?

I have been a reluctant urban-dweller my whole life. Our image-saturated cityscape and its ready access to high-technology is what has kept me visible in the local creative industry. But it has also stolen lots of time from my actual life. The more ”connected ” I have become, the more solitude I have craved. The more tech-savvy we have grown to be as a nation, the more I appreciate the fact that I still cannot fully grasp terms like ”3G” and ”Bluetooth”. I will never understand why anyone would want a smartphone; would want an illusion of the world fighting for their attention on buses, in trains, at dinner with friends.

Arriving at Hedgebrook, I had traveled twenty hours from a life that was going very well and very badly.  Two recently broken relationships – one a lover, another a friend. Two recent accomplishments – one an exhibition, another a national poetry award. This had been the pattern of my year – extreme highs and extreme lows, starting with the extreme high of  being accepted to Hedgebrook. What is one to do with emotions so disparate?

Well, I can tell you that I did not write the first five days I was here. All I did was cry. Joyfully. Mournfully.  Tears for all the time I had been too busy to be with myself. I cried about things that had happened the week before; about things that had happened twenty years ago. After years of not remembering how to cry to actual people, I wept to the woods, and within the beauty that is the forest, felt held.

From then on, the writing came like second nature – The woods, the wonderful staff at Hedgebrook who cared for us and my fellow residents wrestling their own stories out in the surrounding cottages, helped me deal with all the rest.

It had been a long time since I had felt so uncompromisingly safe and nurtured. It was the first time (and this is significant to me as a night-writer) that I had been surrounded by the sort of darkness those of us afflicted with urbanity never quite experience. With these gifts, I managed to do what my life at home had disallowed for such a long time: Sustain a thought.

You would think that being surrounded by nature for three weeks would make for a rather anti-climatic entrance back into my single-treed yard. But if anything, it has made me appreciate my one precious tree even more.  I talk to it every time I leave the house. I admire its resolve to be something so big in a space so small. And since coming home, every time I have sat down in its company, I have thought of Hedgebrook, its people and the woods that now grow from the depths of my heart.

Tania De Rozario
About Tania De Rozario

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