house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Paulo Peppertree

Our friend Paul James Mellet, the elfin dreamer and warrior, darling Paulo, died a month ago. I find him again in memory, or do I? A bit like trying to capture a fairy in amber...


On the third of November 2008, Paulo and I planted fruit trees around our old farmhouse in Portugal.

A few days earlier we had driven to market to buy trees– apple and apricot, peach and pear, cherry and orange and lime. Some tree-dreaming later we had 29. 

No, 30. Oh, and with the walnuts and the fig, 33. They looked easy-to-bruise and naked, a bunch of newborn sticks carried underarm past barrels of olives, chestnuts roasting, wine in green bottles, winter socks. I counted trees twice and gave them names: Alice and Anastasia, Bluebell, Clara, Josephine, Jane.

It was a Thursday, mist over the valley and a murmur of river with long stories of rain.

On Friday we just hopped around our trees wondering where such bald and brazen batons could hold all that promise: where was the shade, where the fruit juices, the flutter of leaf and wing overhead, but where, where? We walked the land. Humbled, dizzy with wonder, just imagine: where the trees stopped, new moon paths would begin – and here we were, gods bearing trees, carving the way.

On Saturday, we cut deep into the bramble kingdom, spiteful decades of it. We stepped, scythe in hand, through weed mud and carpets of dry thorns and bugs. 

On Sunday we found a river and the boys jumped in. We then sat and shivered on a picnic blanket, eating nuts and figs, goats’ cheese and apple pie. The light was pale and green, the world was made of trees, river and sky.

I don’t remember what else we did on Sunday. 

But now, on Monday, third of November, we are planting trees. 

Paulo digs the first hole, I bring the first tree. Peach, says the label. Pauline, I say. ‘Or Paulo’, says Paulo and I say ‘Paulo, c’mon, aren’t all fruit-makers phenomenally female?’ 

We fill the hole with water and compost and we mix and we turn and we stir. 

‘Yum’, says Paulo. 

We touch root and tendril and wrap them in soil and it looks a bit like trying to defuse a large and rusty land mine. Moona appears, drawn as always by danger and mystery in the air. 

And there it is, tucked in and quiet, wide-awake, the first tree.

‘Do your thing now’ says Paulo.

And Moona says ‘yes, tree, grow’.

And I say ‘One tree in, 32 to go’.

And we straighten up together and say ‘wow’ and say ‘oh’.

‘But think of all that mulch, the shade, the food forest, the fruit, the air… think how happy that bee.’ says Paulo waving at specks of light and widely upwards – as always –
Root to flight
Soil to sunshine
And all, all held together by one tree.

It’s been 5 years now.
Swarms of bees drowsy with tree blood and blossom.

And today again,
Moona and I are planting a tree
Watched, I would like to think
By Paulo
and the original 33.

We make a hole
We fill it with compost and soil, water and light and wonder
And we mix and we turn and we stir.

We touch those root tendrils and wrap them in straw and spring water, memories and mulch and clay. 

Our tree is tall and narrow, thin branches all tangled, a flourish of leaves waving in the last embrace of today’s sun. Boastful, this young tree, with its bunches of pale peppercorns – well even I have to say: fruit so brazen, spicy and surprising can’t possibly be female. 

We bend to tuck him in – ‘good night’ we say; we lean against each other and the tree; and when we straighten up it is to a shy flutter of foliage on skin. 

Before we let him go
We make sure there is water nearby
A bridge of bamboo
And a shoulder of sky. 

‘Do your thing now’ – I say
Paulo Peppertree