Field Notes: Ecologies of childhood

Honi explores having a sense of place (and growing up).

Art by Amelia Koen.

I experienced my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood in the leaf-littered suburb of St Ives. Rife with small pockets of nature, it’s filled with numerous quaint woods, towering reserves, green parks, flowing gullies, and quiet creeks.

In the late damp summers and dewy brisk winters, I relished in the blooming of mushrooms — peaking above single blades of grass, broadly stepping out from fallen tree trunks — and the smells evoked by fresh growth along the narrow waterways that ran behind my house. 

As young children, my elder brother and I spent hours in the garden we were so fortunate to have; interacting with our mini-ecosphere using our small hands and new minds, we ‘invented’ a few ecologies of our own — here are just three of our favourite self-named flora:

Firstly, the Cheese Plant, whose flowers look like the stringy cheese carefully peeled off a primary school cheese-stick, or grated parmesan crosshatching the spag-bol off the kids’ menu.  

After spending too much time googling variations of ‘string-cheese tree’ and ‘flowers that look like cheese’, I found our culprit: the white-flowering, green leaf variety of Loropetalum Chinense. Specifically, I remember how it used to catch the wind like confetti, swirling and swaying through its thin petals; in my memories, it feels like I watched it for a lifetime. I suppose I did. 

Our curious obsession with plants-as-food continued with the Fried Egg Tree, also known as the white variety of the Sasanqua Camellia —  onto which we used to sprinkle ‘cheese’ from the Loropetalum to make an ‘omelette’. 

Camellia flowers have a habit of falling off their tree entirely intact; white petals splay out in irregular, organic shapes, bushy yellow beds of stamens rest in their centre. Trying to find the most egg-like flower on offer that day, we tenderly scooped them up in our hands to proudly show the other. I cherish these memories embedded in nature, of days filled with simple treasures, of unbound yet gentle imaginations. 

I really can’t elucidate the origins of the name we gave to this next plant other than to say we had clearly just watched the 1971 adaptation of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory because we dubbed it Slugworth Slime. Now, why we chose to name a plant after the movie’s antagonist — and President of Slugworth Chocolates Inc. — I’m honestly unsure, but I’d point to the fun of alliteration when you’re only six. 

The slime part of the name, however, I can explain. The small, bulbous roots of this plant behave somewhat like a natural chalk. Scraping them along concrete to create shapes and form visual ideas, the bleeding ooze of the roots leaves behind a glistening trail of, well, Slugworth Slime

As a child, every pathway and pothole I walked my feet along felt like a joyous exploration of new lands. But soon, holding tightly to my father’s thumb while trying not to slip on rocks in the shimmering creek became brisk walks along the same path, squeezed in during lunch breaks as an adult. 

Be sure to relish in the small natures around you, even as you, yourself, evolve. Refuse a hyperopic experience of the natural world — engage closely with your everyday ecologies, with childlike inquiry.