A long life feeds the imagination

One pohutukawa tree with three vertical trunks. Two trunks are bound round and round with roots.
Pohutukawa tree with a triple trunk. Two trunks are wrapped with its own roots

A long life feeds the imagination, giving endless material for reflection and (especially) making surprising comparisons.

Comparisons are at the very heart of any poet’s craft. Similes. Metaphors. Aphorisms. Parables. Surprising juxtaposition of words or ideas. Changing rhythms or tunes to express a changing mood. These all require an awareness of similarities and differences. Which is an essentially human faculty.

Whatever your field, whether it be “creative” or matter-of-fact, I’m sure if you look closely you will find you are constantly making comparisons, seeing similarities and differences.

Graphs. Performance assessments. Annual reports. Pricing. Cleaning. Cooking. Where’s Wally? All these activities involve our ability to make comparisons.

The Muppets come to mind: One of these things is not like the other…

So, in my 80s, almost every minute, one thing reminds me of another. One tree in Aotearoa with an odd arrangement of air roots reminds me of trees in Kyoto in the snow. Roots winding themselves around a tree trunk remind me of the Japanese practice of komomaki. That involves wrapping tree trunks with a straw belt to prevent harmful insects damaging trees in winter.

From such a simple flash of recognition might come a poem… a drawing… an email to a friend from my travels… or simply a moment of wonder. Because it’s all rather thrilling, this human ability to see things in different contexts, don’t you think?

If you fear old age and dread growing older, bear this in mind: a long life feeds the imagination with rich material. The creative life can flourish in maturity, if we only let it.

Tree trunks wrapped in straw belts at Hama Rikyu in Tokyo. Photo by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble.
Tree trunks wrapped in straw belts at Hama Rikyu in Tokyo

The photo of tree trunks with their straw belts is by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble. They write:

There was a bilingual (Japanese and English) sign explaining these straw mats, which are insect traps. The mats are attached at the end of October, around the time of the first frost, and capture harmful insects as the go to ground. The upper tie is loose, the lower tie tight, so the insects get in but cannot get through. The insects remain in the mat through the winter – it seems to mimic the insulation of the ground – but come early February the mats are removed and burned.

Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble, Wikimedia

How To Be Old: a book for curious grown-ups

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14 thoughts on “A long life feeds the imagination

  1. Oh yes, age feeds the imagination! I’ve never seen trunks wrapped with mats. It’s clever and doesn’t use chemicals.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Now you can imagine them!

  2. Nemorino says:

    This reminds me of a quotation from the French playwright Jules Renard (1864-1910): β€œIt is not how old you are, but how you are old.”

  3. Prue says:

    Just love these observations Rachel!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That makes me happy, Prue.

  4. I’m glad you explained those tree trunk trusses. It’s great that you are pointing out the advantages of getting older.

  5. Cathy Cade says:

    And there’s me buying sticky bands to keep the moths out of the plum tree. I wonder if straw mats will work?
    They certainly look nicer.

  6. judibwriting says:

    We have to be imaginative to keep finding ways to adjust to our older bodies and young spirits.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That is so true. Never were our creative skills more in demand!

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I certainly find the same–metaphor appears to me all day long. It is quite fun though I rarely remember them long enough to jot them down!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That sounds familiar πŸ™‚

  8. cedar51 says:

    In my art practice of late, I spend much time “auditioning” bits of “paper” into pleasing compositions and then clip them…later they are taken to the sewing machine and stitched. Usually I get the “layers to work” but yesterday I ended up with 2 strips of blue paper – one which should have been under the the paper below. I pondered then thought “well what is the colour underneath” turned out to be yellow/orange and it then “worked well” above the blue… One has to take time with any sort of creativity.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I really enjoy the way you write about your art.

  9. haoyando says:

    Yes, life feeds the imagination. So well said. And we just can’t stop loving stories. We are social animals who love stories. Actually everything is a story and social media is just a newest form of telling stories.

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