We Norwegians see trolls behind every rock, so it is no surprise that I also attribute olive trees with certain human characteristics. I mean, just look at them – bent and gnarly and simply exuding personality. I cannot go for a walk in the campo without noticing another dancing olive tree. My husband knows better than to reason with me, in spite of being fully aware that the tree in question is deeply rooted and won’t do a jig anytime soon.
I will often name the trees we pass on our walks. Not a human or a pet name, of course. An olive cannot be Juan Carlos or Pongo. Yet these venerable old trees deserve a name. Like any other sculpture, an olive tree can merit a title like The Thinker or Madonna and Child. The olive develops distinct characteristics and even idiosyncrasies with age. Like people, they also tend to get more hard-headed. Despite draughts, floods, urban development and other calamities, the olive trees will hang on, more often than not outliving the people who planted them.
The age rings of a felled olive tree do not have to be counted to know how it lived. Its history can be read directly upon its scarred being. The trunk will show where the wind bent it, an axe trimmed off limbs, or how a ray of lightning split it apart.
One of the many amazing things about the Olea Europaea is its stamina. One can cut it to the ground, leaving only a dead stump. Still new branches will emerge and before one knows it, the olive tree is back producing fruit.
This hardy stock will grow on the steepest of inclines in the poorest of soils, living through both the scalding Andalusian summers and our near freezing winters.
Keeping this in mind, is it any wonder that olive trees develop what appear to be mental ailments in their later years? Although I am no expert in the field of psychological afflictions, most mature olive trees exhibit distinct signs of past trauma. But it is in fact these emotional scars that give them character and make them so beautiful.
The following pictorial guide shows some of the great olive tree personalities I have encountered on the Iberian Peninsula. They make me question whether we may have more in common genetically with the flora around us than we are ready to admit.
THE EARLY YEARS
Like other creatures, young olive trees usually begin life with smooth skin and a relatively straight spine. Though I shall try to refrain from judgement, some olives, like this teen stuck in a rusted barrel, may have overprotective parents. I hope it will be allowed to spread its roots in the open soon.
Olive trees usually have numerous siblings. Twins are also quite common. Some will try to grow their separate ways, like these gemelos growing up among the sheep outside Ronda.
Later on, as the trees become young adults, life may throw them a curve ball and give them their first bend.
Isn’t that what we all want? Finding love. Of course, olive trees also long for someone to be close to, as seen in these two fine specimens. One leans East and one leans West and together they have become part of the same.
When love strikes, some enamoured trees will entangle themselves, never letting go.
Not all relationships are healthy. There are a lot of needy olive trees out there, leaning on their partners. (I had to hide in the grass as I photographed this intimate family scene.)
Then of course, there is the inevitable lovers quarrel. Some split-ups can be painful, causing scars, or even resulting in permanent or temporary split personalities.
When the time is right, the olive tree might also become a parent, like this olive tree mother (still breastfeeding, as we can see). Her youngster seems to yearn for independence. Do helicopter mums also exist in the tree population, I wonder?
Not all love stories have happy endings, but I have noticed quote a few re-united olive tree couples out there, so they must be more forgiving than us humans…
THE TESTOSTERONE ISSUE
The mighty olive they call them, and there is no hiding that some olive trees can be decidedly macho. The most common afflictions among these hormone-driven olive trees are Exhibitionism and Narcissism. You see them in the fields, boldly limbed and posing in manly stances to get attention.
Like any group of males, there will always be one who boasts of his erectile function. This Delusion of Grandeur may in fact cause olive limbs to grow in odd ways.
Though most olive trees prefer a regular trim, short and hairy types can often be seen in rural areas.
Macho or not, this guy, living in a friend’s field (but planning to run away soon), is particularly striking.
An ageing olive tree is sometimes a study in pain, as many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress or Anxiety Disorder in later life.
Being encapsulated by a concrete fence,
living without a core,
loosing another limb,
showing signs of early childhood trauma,
or experiencing Amnesia or holes in the memory.
Some are left with only skin and bones.
But there are also signs of hope, as olive trees have a rare ability to adjust themselves to changes and virtually be reborn.
Believe it or not, there are trolls out there.
Olive trees personify legends of the past and incorporate mythical figures, telling us stories from the time when nobody questioned the paranormal.
When stout town’s folk looked like Hobbits,
and a tree could become an elephant’s head,
or a double-eyed giant.
For the artistically minded, an ageing olive tree can be a sculptural beauty and a musical symphony,
with flowing Flamenco skirts,
and a peacock crown.
sometimes growing in the air,
In their golden years, some olive trees finally find peace,
rambling in the green,
or finding love at long last…
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this article is a piece of fiction and does in not in any way judge or comment on people with mental challenges. Any resemblance between the trees and actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.