by Gillian Judson
(Vancouver, B.C., Canada)
I was asked recently what is something that has shaped who I am as a teacher. My answer? Arbutus trees. I invite you to come with me to Saanich, British Columbia, a rural municipality outside Victoria on Vancouver Island. I recently returned to Saanich, to the arbutus-filled acreage where I grew up. I ran my hand over the smooth bark of an arbutus tree, one still growing on the property, much bigger now than when I was last here. The cool, silky texture of the bark, the look of the knotted and twisting branches, and the patterning created on the leaf-strewn ground beneath the tree evoked some powerful, emotionally-charged images in my mind. Growing up, we used, abused and ultimately adored, the arbutus trees sharing our land. We peeled their bark and - I now shudder to recall - carved messages into their trunks. We also cut some of the trees down, clearing land for our driveway and home, for running trails, using some of their wood for our stove. We had a rope swing attached to the biggest arbutus on the property. It supported our daring swings out over the land below. Under the arbutus trees were the paths we ran, the imposing fortresses we built, the hiding places we felt no one would ever find. I recall being mesmerized by the soft, dancing patterns cast by the sunlight as it streamed through the arbutus branches. The trees offered welcome shade in the afternoons, a canopy of broken light protecting me from the sun’s rays. I often thought that their peeling bark was like my skin after too much time in the sun. By night, the arbutus leaves, on twisted branches created dancing patterns against the darkening sky.