The colonisers

Earlier this year, the gardeners chopped out a lump of mistletoe from the top of the pin oak in our back yard.


Mistletoe the plant they sing about in Christmas carols, a plant I always imagined to be green and close in structure to holly. Though maybe the mistletoe they sing about at Christmas time is different from the one that once grew at the top of our pin oak.

I notice it most in winter when the trees are bare except for the mistletoe, which is ever green in a dull sort of way, not bright and cheerful like the leaves on trees in spring but a muddy green all year long.

I must beware of anthropomorphising the mistletoe but to me it comes alive in my imagination as a beast of prey, a creature with sinewy arms that will swallow you whole. A coloniser.

Mistletoe is a parasite, it grows on the branches of other plants, takes up residence there like a cuckoo stealing from another bird’s nest and like most parasites it’s fine as long as it stays in check.

It’s fine as long as the parasite doesn’t grow too greedy, as long as it limits its activities to one small part of the tree. Difficulties arise when birds, who are the usual carriers, inadvertently drop multiple mistletoe seeds over time onto the branches of the one tree.

Again you can see it best in winter, bare branches of an oak tree and patches all over of vegetation that suggests the presence of mistletoe.

Eventually a tree can grow top heavy with mistletoe and it will collapse.

So it is when one person gets taken over by another.

It can happen in an instant, a flash, almost as of electricity only pleasurable when the sight of something, the thin locket around a young woman’s neck, the smell of plastic on a new toy for the cats, can send shivers through me and I’m pitched back in time to my childhood. The flash of a memory, a sensation of infinite pleasure, a sensation almost ecstatic creeps over me, but like a dream it’s gone before I have a chance to savour it, before I get the chance to hold onto it and smell and taste it long enough even to make sense of it.

If only I could recover these feelings.

If only I could get hold of the sensation that accompanied these moments of joy.

If only I could go back there. But other more prosaic sensations take over.

My daughter told me the other day that some women of my generation have a habit of being rude to sales people in shops. We may not notice it but we are abrupt and rude at times to harass innocent staff who cannot help the fact that their store does not stock the item we wanted.

My daughter works in retail part time while she studies at university and she tells me that women like me, when we stalk into shops demanding such and such and then go off complaining loudly because it’s not available, can ruin a young shop person’s day.

Such encounters with women like me can leave her with a dreadful taste in her mouth, she tells me.

From my perspective, I mean no harm. From my perspective I’m merely stating it as I see it.

I go into a branch of the Telstra shop that sells plans and phones. Why not sell me one when I come in to ask for it. But the staff there in that small Telstra outlet are not equipped to handle the complexities of my business plan.

It’s not the sales guy’s fault, my daughter says. He explained that to you and you were gruff and rude and insulting. And worst of all, you don’t even see it.

It’s not the first time a daughter has told me off for my shopping manner. Which contrasts  with my sense of myself as an agreeable person who is pleasant to all she encounters, and riled only at extreme provocation.

My daughter begs to differ.

Perhaps she is right. Perhaps my sense of myself is an old sense of myself from childhood when I would not have dared to speak, when even to use the telephone was a torture, to now when I have the confidence of my age and privilege – a white, educated, middle class, albeit woman – who lives in a comfortable suburb and can afford to buy most of the things she needs/wants to buy.

Have I forgotten what it’s like to be shy, to lack in confidence?

Have I come to imagine that other people will take me at face value and recognise I mean them no harm, no insult, no stress.

Or am I in danger of colonising others like the mistletoe, spreading myself too wide, taking over too much space and killing off my hosts even as they might welcome me in?