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The old pine tree

Updated on May 12, 2015
Cape Town, 2010
Cape Town, 2010

The susurration of the pines

Time it was and what a time it was

It was a time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They're all that's left you.

  • from "Old Friends" by Paul Simon (1968)

As a child I used to be lulled to sleep at night by the susurration of the wind in the tall pine trees which surrounded our house, known as "The Manse", in Blythswood, a mission institution in the then Transkei, where my father was the superintendent.

Trees were in fact all around us and I grew up loving them, they were adventure, they were places to play, they were shade.

There was a particular game I loved to play on the many young black wattle saplings in the area – I would climb as high as I could into the still green young trees until the tops bent and I would get back down to terra firma riding on the tree.

The old "Manse" at Blythswood, taken with my first camera, in about 1957.
The old "Manse" at Blythswood, taken with my first camera, in about 1957.
Boy in a black wattle tree in Blythswood. I think it is my brother Chris. Photo by Margery McGregor
Boy in a black wattle tree in Blythswood. I think it is my brother Chris. Photo by Margery McGregor
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Pretoria, 2011Magalieserg, 2010
Pretoria, 2011
Pretoria, 2011
Magalieserg, 2010
Magalieserg, 2010

"Birches"

It was only some years later that I discovered that I was not original in having fun this way. At university I discovered the poetry of Robert Frost and was amazed to find:

“When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lies of straighter darker trees

I like to think some boy's been swinging them.

But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay

As ice-storms do.”

And then wondrous ending of that poem, “Birches”:

“I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk

Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,

But dipped its top and set me down again.

That would be good both going and coming back.

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

Of course we did not have any birches in Blythswood, but the black wattles grew plentifully, their green young trunks quite strong yet supple enough to give me hours of fun.

When I discovered Frost's poem it was almost overwhelming to me to find a kindred spirit, if that is not too presumptuous of me. I read and re-read the poem, gaining more pleasure and recognition each time.

Although I did not look after my father's cows (he didn't have any!) I certainly could identify, as effectively the only child at home (my brother, seven years older, was away at boarding school), a home far from a town of any size, with the lines:

“Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,

Whose only play was what he found himself,

Summer or winter, and could play alone.”

I did indeed spend many hours alone, wandering through the many groves of trees, and down the valleys, of that place, idyllic at least in memory, climbing when I found a likely looking tree and I too quickly learned, as Frost's boy did:

“...all there was

To learn about not launching out too soon

And so not carrying the tree away

Clear to the ground.”

A tree at Blythswood. Taken c 1957
A tree at Blythswood. Taken c 1957
A mountain protea, also c 1957
A mountain protea, also c 1957

Photos of trees

Trees were such an adventure for me. I loved to climb the older trees as high as I could, and when the wind blew and the tops of the trees swayed with me clinging onto them, I fancied myself a voyager across mighty oceans, the tree my great ship, discovering new places where adventure awaited.

When I got my first camera, a Brownie something or other, I immediately began taking pictures of trees. I loved in particular to stand close to the trunk of a tree and photograph the trunk rising up above me into the sky.

Since the camera was not that great the photos did not come out as I really wanted them to – not enough depth of field – but I still persisted in taking them. Unfortunately now they have mostly disappeared. I would love to look at those early photos and be able, with the hindsight and perspective I now have, try to recapture for myself the feelings those trees evoked for me.

Instead I have tried to capture some of the magic trees hold for me with this poem which is inspired by, but does not really describe, a pine tree I saw recently in the Gardens suburb, Cape Town, which I call just “The Old Pine Tree.”

The Brownie Holiday camera. Image from http://westfordcomp.com/foundfilm/brownieholiday/index.htm
The Brownie Holiday camera. Image from http://westfordcomp.com/foundfilm/brownieholiday/index.htm
Another tree photo taken with my Brownie Holiday
Another tree photo taken with my Brownie Holiday

My first camera

"Kodachrome*

They give us those nice right colours

They give us the greens of summers

Makes you think all the world's

A sunny day."

  • from "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon (1973)

I have done a bit of digging around the Internet to find the camera which I first used. It was bought on board a Union Castle mail ship, most likely in 1956 when my father and I travelled by sea from East London to Cape Town.

The camera I have identified is a Kodak Brownie Holiday, described as "as pedestrian as they come" by one writer who has a fascinating page on this camera.

The version I had did not have the flash attachment.

The specifications of this camera as given here were:

Type: Solid body eyelevel rollfilm

Introduced: Oct 1953 Discontinued: April 1962

Film size: 127

Picture size: 1 5/8 X 2 1/2"

Manufactured: US

Lens: 1953-55: Kodet 1955-62: Dakon plastic

Shutter: Rotary


I used this camera for a number of years, at least until 1962. I have no idea what happened to it after that.

"Mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Mama don't take my Kodachrome away"

  • from "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon (1973)

* "Kodachrome" is a registered trademark for a colour film.

The Old Pine Tree

I know an old pine tree

growing out of the tarmac of the sidewalk

improbably flourishing

and dropping from time to time its sweet scent on passers by.

Its trunk is twisted and bent by the winds which wind up the valley

wheezing and howling up from the harbour in the bay –

winds all scented with kelp and fish oil;

and the winter rains drip their cold fingers onto the people

who shiver and hurry on to find some solace.

The pine needles shake off the drops in the glistening of the street lamp.

Behind a curtained window a pale light offers a fraudulent shelter.

There is no solace there or anywhere –

but still the tree stands improbably against the dark wind with its sea weight.

A man passes the tree in a dark coat collared against the cold,

one hand in a pocket the other wiping the rain uselessly off his face;

his shoes have a patent leather sheen from the rain,

a dark patch on the right knee of his trousers.

As he passes I see the dark holes where his eyes should be.

The water in the gutter hisses and splashes, racing down toward

the town which grumbles softly to itself in the rain.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2011

A gallery of some more of my tree photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Transkei 1963Cape Town 2008Gauteng 2009Mpumalanga 2010Gauteng 2010Pretoria 2010Cape Town 2010
Transkei 1963
Transkei 1963
Cape Town 2008
Cape Town 2008
Gauteng 2009
Gauteng 2009
Mpumalanga 2010
Mpumalanga 2010
Gauteng 2010
Gauteng 2010
Pretoria 2010
Pretoria 2010
Cape Town 2010
Cape Town 2010

Comments

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    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India

      Beautiful, Tony!

      ''I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree' - well, you just topped that with your tree photos - and I love the resilience of the old pine tree that you have captured so well.

    • donna bamford profile image

      donna bamford 6 years ago from Canada

      Enjoyed that Tony - i too am a lover of trees and I think the weathered pine is my favourite. Excellent poem!

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I've woken to the scent of pine on many a camp-site,thanks for sharing Tony.;)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      What a lovely piece, Tony. Thank you for sharing it.

    • justom profile image

      justom 6 years ago from 41042

      Loved it Tony, I'm waiting for someone to say they hate trees but there probably aren't any Republicans reading your hubs :-P Nice work, as always! Peace!! Tom

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I learned a new word: susurration! Great word, for all of us who have enjoyed the wind in the pines...it is so pleasant ( the sound and the new word)! My favorite tree poem is by Joyce Kilmer, "Trees"...can be found on Google books...I bet you know it as well! Note: there are quite a few more good poems on trees on the same page! Great Hub!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Hi, Tony. This was so beautiful and amazing. I love all stunning pictures about the old pine trees. You still the best. Thanks for writing this. Rated up. Take care!

      Prasetio:)

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Great photos. There is something special about old pine trees. Nice hub.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Great Tony,

      A great hub with beautiful photos.

      I push all the buttons on this one and thanks for sharing.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 6 years ago

      Very beautiful Tony. I loved the video with Frost. God bless brother!

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      Great memories Tony, i could imagine the fun one would have sailing down from the top of that tree. Most kids were never happier than being at the top of a mighty tree. Very enjoyable read. Cheers.

    • profile image

      Golfgal - Lisa 6 years ago

      Tony, this was a lovely piece of work. I too as a child would sit in trees for hours. It is so interesting how children view trees as a friend as if the tree has a soul. In someway they silently speak to children. When we return to visit an area of growing up, we seem to gravitate back to old tree that comforted us and shared many a day. Thanks for the memories.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 6 years ago from UK

      Wonderful stuff, Young Tony. A child being put down gently to the earth by tree must be a tender thing to watch :-)

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      A lovely gentle hub, Tony. I also like the birch... go to the Ukraine and almost every tree you will see will be a silver birch (Biroshka) and also in Russia, A lovely tree, and a lovely hub.

    • Scarlett My Dear profile image

      Scarlett My Dear 6 years ago from Missouri

      Dear Tony,

      “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

      I love your ode to trees and our desire to be a part of them through the lens of a camera, especially in the hands of a child. Thank you for sharing your memories and your vision. You always seem to know that others must feel that connection as you do!

      Love, Scarlett

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Tony, You have many responses to consider from this lovely hub- you must be busy as I, these days- but I must add another for you would love the artistry of Emily Carr.

      Emily Carr was a solitary woman in British Columbia who loved to paint trees from the same perspective you photographed them. Her trees were the sturdy ones of a hardier climate; dark and embolden to the eye. She could lean into her large trunks and feel supported, as I do when I lean against the wall of my home.

      I have loved trees since A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Thank you for your poetic examination of these elegant universes. Hugs, Barbara

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Tony, I enjoyed your pictures and the poetry is beautiful. When i was a kid, i loved to swing on grape vines. I love trees, esp. now when they are just starting to bloom. Thank's for taking us down your memory lane.

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I think the tree loves you, Tony McGregor. Somehow it felt connected to you, too. It recognized your awe and treated you gently, almost fatherly. I love this beautiful writing. Thank you, Tony.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for a beautiful hub, Tony. You've conveyed the special magic of trees so well. It was a lovely experience to read your words and look at your photos.

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 6 years ago

      What a beautiful hub! You know you've encountered true artistry when a mere tree can be turned into such a thing of beauty.

      voted up/beautiful

    • Aris Budianto profile image

      Aris Budianto 6 years ago from Lying along the equator Country

      Look at your photos and read the poems like breath of fresh air, thanks Tony.

    • tonymac04 profile image
      Author

      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Shalini - thank you so much. I really appreciate your stopping by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      Amazing hub about trees and the photos are fantastic. I too love trees, they are beautiful in their own way. Voted up!

      Tina

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

      The pic slide was wonderful Tony; looks like you had a few climbers there.What a land you had to grow up in. I begin now to understand a little of how you and your loving spirit began. Thank you for this article and a look at your childhood. Yours AP

    • jandee profile image

      jandee 6 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Last house then the woods !Freedom from the hated confinement of school! As Soon as I reached home I would report in then disappear for hours !

      Just running wild jumping over brambles,jumping over streams that led to the big pond where the huge ,huge oak tree reigned supreme .In order to reach the rope one had to climb almost 1/4 up the tree ! Wow! nothing like being suspended over that pond! Alone in the world....

      Tony you have revived old forgotten memories with your obvious love of the beautiful trees,m.

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Donna - thank you for stopping by and the kind words.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Bryan - few better ways to wake! Thanks for the comment.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Alek - thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you liked the article.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Tom - I guess you're right! Thanks for the great comment, I had a good chuckle!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Scribenet - glad you like the word! Kilmer's poem is beautiful - I love Paul Roeson's singing of it.

      Thanks for stopping by

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Pras - thanks for the visit and the kind words. I really appreciate that you stopped by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • chisom emmanuel profile image

      oji chisom emmanuel 6 years ago from NIGERIA

      great hub.

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Sandy - thank you so much!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Eiddwen - thank you so much. And I will take "double" care!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      My brother Micky - thanks as always, you are a welcome visitor indeed!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Keith - thanks so much, friend. Glad you got the connection.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Golfgal - thanks so much for stopping by. Glad y9ou enjoyed!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

      l don´t know where my love of trees came from , but this was a real treat for a tree´-lover like me.

      Fantastic hub. Thank you

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Dimitris - thanks and it was a great thing to do too! Thanks for stopping by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Ian - thanks so much for that lovely comment. I wish I could get to see the birches in the Ukraine and Russia.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Scarlett - I really appreciate your comment so much! The RLS quote is beautiful and apt.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Barbra - thanks for the comment and I will look up Emily Carr. Thanks for that tip also.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Ruby - thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed this post.

      Perhaps my inspiration for writing this one has to do with a bit of seasonal nostalgia - our trees are just donning their winter foliage.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Amy - thanks for that thoughtful and kind comment. Much appreciated.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Alicia - thank you so very much for that comment!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Fay - thanks for a lovely comment. So glad you liked this one.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Aris - thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate your comment very much.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Tina - your visit and kind words have warmed me on this cool morning and I thank you.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Alastar - thanks for your kind comment and I'm glad the Hub has meant something to you. I appreicate your stopping by indeed!

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Maxine - wonderful comment, thank you! We oth took some refuge in that sometimes lonely world at the top of trees! Beautiful.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Chisom - thanks for stopping by.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • tonymac04 profile image
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      Tony McGregor 6 years ago from South Africa

      Dim - I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. It was a great time for me writing it.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • cindi h profile image

      cindi h 6 years ago

      Beautiful again Tony!! It brought tears to my eyes remembering my tree swingin' days of my youth. I did not have quite the experience you did, mine was an apple tree. Thanks for conjuring up such wonderful memories:)

    • lionel1 profile image

      lionel1 6 years ago

      Thank you for your hub post, those images of the trees are phenomenal.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

      WOW! l feel totally spoiled.! l adore trees., love the Paul Simon song and memories of my father always warm my heart. He used to call his camera his Box Brownie.

      Therefore, needless to say this hub was a most wonderful one for me. l love all your work., but this one felt so special. Thank you.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 6 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Hello tony - This is perhaps the best and well-done piece on trees on the internet. You have a way of weaving your experiences directly into the mind and heart of the reader. Your poems are magnificent, brilliant really. The old brownie photos are a masterpiece, especially in the hands of a master such as you.

      My first camera was also a brownie (with a flash - ahem). It was my pride and joy even 'tho I didn't have a clue about what I was doing. :)

      Bookmarking this one to return to again and again. I just can't find the right words to tell you how much I admire you, dear tony. Rated up and pushed every button.

      Peace and loive to you, dear man. :)

    • My Esoteric profile image

      My Esoteric 6 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Ahh beautiful Tony. Bookmarked as well to back to in order to relax after doing battle elsewhere. I think I will forward this to one of my more "interesting" reader/commenters who loves to go into the woods in Canada.

      You wonderfully described a setting I dreamed of lying in bed in my tract house in one suburb of Los Angeles or another. The closet I came was a beautiful old oak tree a friend and I used to cross a rather large catch pond to climb and enjoy. This is in Whittier, CA and every few years, the pond would fill up for a month and we would have a real lake to raft on.

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      snakeslane 5 years ago from Canada

      I love your words and photographs of trees tonymac04, they evoke magic memories of childhood. I was wondering have you read "The Tree" by John Fowles and Frank Horvat? I have my own treasured copy of this book, a collaboration of Fowles writing and Horvat's stunning photographs. Fowles looks deeply into the relationship between man (woman) and trees and his own love of trees. He says as a boy that "Slinking into trees was always slinking into heaven."

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Beautiful poem and images; thanks for sharing.

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      jandee 5 years ago

      Hello Tony,

      Came back for another read . My best part was the piece after the 'pine tree'. Lovely.m

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