There have been times in my life that I have felt a great emptiness inside. A hollow expanse that should contain all that is me but contains only muffled echoes of forgotten possibility. At other times that space has felt like it is overrun with rottenness; a vile, decayed sludge that has seeped in through forgotten cracks until I am full up with foulness. It spreads out from my core to the ends of my fingers, the tip of my nose, the top of my head, until I become a tower of unworthiness. Unlovable, unwanted…
Yet, somehow I am still here. Somehow, despite carrying this giant bag of self nastiness, I grew. I moved through life, not always functioning in the best way, but still alive. There are so many of us that live in this way – wounded, but still walking. Dancing along the edge of the wallow…
When I sat last night to draw I wanted to create some image that spoke to this feeling. This feeling of being alive, but deeply hurt. I put the pen to paper, and I asked my body, my heart, what image will convey this? And so emerged the hollow tree.
The hollow tree is wounded, but it lives. At some time in it’s life the heartwood was damaged. Fungi moved in, breaking the wood down. As time passes the core breaks down, but the rest of the tree grows – the fungi only feed on the decaying wood. Depending upon how you approach the tree, you may not see the gaping hole in its side. You only see the living bark, the green leaves, the blossoms, the fruit; you may pass it by never knowing the emptiness that is inside.
But you might also decide to walk around the tree. To examine it, to look more closely, as you come around the other side you see the great wound that is there. A closer look and you also see the spots where new wood has grown in around the edges. You will see the remains of a possum nest, or where a squirrel has stashed its acorn bounty. If the hole is large enough you may even step inside and marvel at the quiet of this hollow place.
I wondered how such trees could live; with their hearts rotted out. I discovered that trees are remarkably adaptive creatures. There are theories that the way trees rot is an adaptive trait, that the minerals, and nutrients stored there are broken down by fungi, returned to the soil, and used again by the tree as it grows new sap wood. Some say that hollow trees withstand storms better, they bend instead of break. Another theory is that trees will allow the rot to happen because the heartwood is not what keeps the tree alive, the new sapwood is, and so it turns its energy and resources to creating new paths for sap to reach the rest of it.
The hollow tree is wounded. It is damaged. But it is also resilient. It is also strong. It can grow, even flourish – there are some great hollow trees that are hundreds of years old. One in the UK is large enough that it has been host to a seated dinner for twenty people inside of its trunk!
Today I sit holding this image of myself as the hollow tree. Still reaching my branches to the sun. Still creating fresh new green leaves. Still blossoming and bearing the fruit of my existence. The wound is not gone, but it is not just an empty rotting hollow. When I step inside that space, that wound, I find that it is also haven. Here I can sit and remember how I survived, what got me through, and if I reach out to touch the edges, I connect to the tough, living wood that is my survival.