In March 2020, obsessed with the platanes, or plane trees that lend magic to the roads in southern France, I organized a series of poems and pictures about their disappeance. Covid derailed the presentation of the piece— the series languished.
Two and a half years later, I have returned to the same place in Camélas, southwest France, return to the trees, to the scene of poetic, arbored and aesthetic drama — how are things now? There are still graceful roads with remaining trees, sometimes 200 years old, but they stand like the Citroën or Deux Chevaux, a Charles Trenet song alongside gleaming strips of bold blacktop drawn straight on the land. “Old” roads are now designated for bikes or tractors. The modern highway obsession exposes all kinds of things — for moderns, it’s not the journey, it’s the destination. With speed and air conditioning, who gives a damn about quaint shade. Just when Americans are desperate to relearn the language of ecological coexistence, those who speak it are abandoning it.
But the trees? I’m here on a day when the air is already hot; in the care of the platanes, I am cool, in their corridor of peace. As much as I came to check on them, they check on me. The massacre that I witnessed and photographed is over; trunks and limbs that resembled bones and body parts of animals have long ago been carted away. The trees that remain are tagged with little metal plates, 612, number of the highway — G16+ 550. Individual and prisoner, naming’s double entendre.
Their trunks split into a trio of uplifted arms. Their leaves are still bright green oxygenated veins that hold life, hold secrets not tightly, given to those who ask. They are full of knowledge about the long game, la durée — about light moves, about the shared dance. In metamorphoses we survive, we move on. They offer a vision of ourselves walking eight steps ahead, our next move, next creative breath. There for the taking.