MRS. DALLOWAY SAID SHE WOULD BUY THE TREEKAWA HERSELF
Tree people! Legend of Zelda! Stupid shit to get us through the day!
cw: eating disorders, references to suicide
The fourth Pokémon film, Pokémon 4Ever, is arguably the worst of the Pokémon-film-era I have deemed as things that are peak nostalgia to me, personally. Let’s call it the first five films: Mewtwo Strikes Back, The Power of One, Spell of the Unown, Pokémon 4Ever: Celebi - Voice of the Forest, and Pokémon Heroes: Latios and Latias. It’s been years since I’ve actually paid attention to a Pokémon movie, besides Detective Pikachu (which I saw in theaters) but for a while, those five were everything.
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I’m old enough now to admit that Pokémon 4Ever was not good. (Are any of them good?) I’m not sure what it was, exactly - I haven’t watched, or the others, in a long time - but in my repeat watches as a kid, I was a little bored, and frustrated that it was not as entertaining as the other movies I had on repeat. Despite it all, it was my favorite, and we had it on DVD (and the others on VHS). The reason: Celebi!
Whenever I sat with trees, I imagined Celebi, a guardian Pokémon, the voice of the forest, watching over me. I imagined its energy echoing through the bugs I let crawl in my hands. I sent apologies each time I anxiously ripped up grass while idle.
Closely related to my love for Celebi was my love for the kokori from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time is one of my earliest memories; if I close my eyes and pretend I am a toddler, I can see the clunky old TV with red-yellow-white A/V inputs our N64 was hooked up to in the basement in Michigan. I remember my brother handing me our extra controller and telling me I could be Navi while he controlled Link (what a way to keep your baby sister occupied before Nintendo embraced co-op). Of course, I was a little kid, and so my favorite characters were also little kids - the kokori, the perpetual children that lived in tree houses with their green outfits, ungoverned by the limitations of being young enamored me so, but none more than Saria. I always loved characters whose name started with S, just like mine; Saria, Samar; I can see her sitting on a tree stump, greenery glittering around her as she plays her ocarina. The trees are magic, with light reflecting off of the poorly-rendered-but-impressive-for-the-time graphics mirroring the sparkles that trail each fairy. Saria, the fairies, the trees—their freedom and life seemed so tied to one another, and I wanted that, too.
The kokori become the korok, children with close relationships to trees literally becoming trees. A relationship to land that is so close and intimate that you become the land, too.
I grew up in suburbs—Ann Arbor to the Inland Empire—and each year, became more and more of an indoors-only kid. Depression, seasonal allergies, asthma, the general inaccessibility of movement facilitated by Southern California all combined to keep me a lonely kid choosing my bedroom over nature. And yet, for as long as I have memory, I have loved the possibility of the forest.
As I retreated more and more into my own head, my tree-people obsession changed course; I no longer sat outside and dreamed about Pokémon and Korok surrounding me. Strangely, the immersion of video games felt more connected to the outdoors than other hobbies - the more my tree-people obsession was found in books or movies the more severed it was from the reality of their inspiration. These depictions differed from the loves of my toddlerhood in their proximity to violence, too.
The Wings series by Aprilynne Pike followed a waifish changling growing up in California, who, in her teen years, learns of her true parentage and must balance her two realms—the human one she grew up in, and the fae one she “belongs” to. who could only eat fruit and lettuce like the delicate little fairy girl she was. For years, I was enraptured by these books; it had the typical YA fantasy love triangle, with the protagonist having to choose between a boring human boy and an exciting fae boy; I really don’t remember anything of the plot, only the sense of body horror simmering between the pages the more I understood the relationship of the fae-body to nature; for our protagonist, the average human diet was harmful— in order for her body to be pure and well, she had to eat as closely to the Earth as possible. There’s a moment where she’s explaining her salad-lunch to boring-human-boy-love-interest, don’t worry she says, it’s not a diet, but eating anything but peaches makes me sick. And what a relationship to food that was: magical, delicate tree-girl with the perfect, magical, delicate disordered eating habit that proved her otherwordly-ness. Why wouldn’t I, a diasporic teen girl, considering her own liminality in the world she was raised in and the world she “belonged to”, also struggling with an eating disorder, not fixate on this detail? The tree-people used to mean freedom, to mean eternal childhood. Here, it was a completely alternative reality, diet included. I was more indoors than ever with a depressive disorder on the horizon, leaving childhood behind with each day. My fixation had to shift.
To transformation it was: first, there was Hozier’s “In a Week”; the romance of decomposing, of returning to the Earth with someone you love. After I read the Apollo and Daphne myth, I dreamed of bark covering my arms for months. After watching Annihilation, I thought of Tessa Thompson’s character in my lowest moments; her death was beautiful, peaceful, new growths emerging from the parts of herself she had harmed. In each instance, the people were consumed by trees: roots and branches and leaves enveloping their body until they were no longer human.
We don’t know how the kokori became the korok, only that in between The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the world flooded; disaster, a catalyst. But did it hurt?
I did not fully realize my fascination with tree-people until I watched The Green Knight. This film, along with the opening track of Mitski’s Laurel Hell “Valentine, Texas” and Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is what I identify as my ideal aesthetic: eerie but not scary, a confusion of realms, and suitable alongside a perpetual fog. The color grading of The Green Knight felt the way I wanted my poems to feel. The tree creature was so different than the ones I encountered before - neither child nor tragic. Instead, powerful and unsettlingly erotic. I’m not a monsterfucker, and points have been made about the missed opportunity for a more explicit depiction of queerness, but Dev Patel has great weird romantic chemistry with basically everyone he shares a scene with. There’s tension everywhere, whether it’s opposite Alicia Vikander or the CGI monster that’s going to kill him. This particular tension highlighted another difference in my tree-people journey thus far — trees are no longer a source of protection, of guardianship. Trees are no longer the response to a violent catalyst — it is the violence, done onto our point of view character.
Two years before the kokori evolved into the adorable, merchandise-able korok, Link would make the horrifying transition into a Deku plant in Majora’s Mask. The psychadelic-kaleidoscope vortex he falls into when you equip the Deku mask is only as unnerving as the haunted adult-man-scream that accompanies it. The transformation is completely necessary to advance in the game. It sounds like it hurts.
This is a sharp departure from the familial commune of the kokori just one game prior. Instead of joining the children he grew up around as they evolve into their next forms, Link is violently thrown into a reality in which he has to become one with a creature—tree/plant, yes—that was once an enemy. (Part of this is because he has to grow up and has - he is Hylian, and being a 17 year old is integral to saving the world in the other game). His transformation into tree is not a tragic but beautiful enveloping, not a romantic departure, not an evolutionary process that brings the humanoid closer to the Earth in a spiritual sense — it is ugly, strange, violent. It reminds me so much of The Green Knight; watching that movie brought me back to Majora’s Mask, for which I’m grateful, considering the creative space it continues to situate me in. As I continue to write my little poems based on the Zelda franchise, Majora’s is a touchstone; the energy, the game mechanics, the characters—that overwhelming strangeness comforts me. Most importantly, to the purposes of this essay: there is that interaction with nature necessary to move forward.
After I graduated college, I was sick. For about a month, I could not walk without wheezing. I took my inhaler wherever I went, but mostly I just did not go. Instead, I played Breath of the Wild. I needed that simulated escape into the outdoors so dearly; to go uninhibited, to witness strength I had never had in my own arms, to observe the wind flowing through grass, to pick flowers. It was a balm that simultaneously brought me back to my child-self, daydreaming about fairies giving me instructions, and changed the way I understood my relationship to video games—this escapism was not to forget the world around me, but to remind me of it.
I’ve been going outside more. It feels necessary. As I lace my sneakers at the doorway, I am motivated by the thought I’m going to walk until I feel less insane. This is a refrain that’s echoed for a few years now. I like to imagine the evil-brain-static falling out with each step, sliding off my body as I sweat. My favorite walks are after it rains. The foliage in my neighborhood is extra beautiful, with lusher greens, lusher pinks, the drought-resistant plants refreshed and prepared for another dry-spell.
After years of anxiety keeping me inside, these walks have become routine. I owe it to Mary Oliver, I owe it to Maggie Rogers, and like most good things from the past four months, I owe it to Haikyuu.
“Working until ‘being okay’ has become a habit” follows each time I do anything good for myself, despite how much I might not want to. I still get frustrated when basic-human-things do not come easy—sleeping being a big one—but this crystalized practice of being okay has helped so much. I wanted to notice things in nature like Mary, I wanted to feel real breezes instead of simulated ones, I wanted to listen to “Horses” while I heard leaves rustle, I wanted to feel a closeness to trees without being in pain, I want to go outside because I want to go outside, not because I feel like I will disintegrate if I don’t.
My favorite genre of Haikyuu-post quickly became Treekawa posting. Every character has their little mascot variation, but most of the schools are represented by animals - , the animal mascotsonas are yes, also goofy, but make a little more sense. Meanwhile, the Aoba Johsai mascotsonas are just GOOFY! The guys are just in little tree outfits! That’s so silly! I was enamored with Oikawa, in particular - he is one of my favorite characters, yes, but more than anything this little plushie felt antithetical to who he was. In the words of my dear friend Jess, “how can this male thot enemy of the state pretty boy bitch and absolute nightmare also be a small and harmless tree spirit. i dont understand. but it is real….”
Here was this kind-of-insane-for-no-reason, #meangirl antagonist character softened by symbolism-turned-merchandise. Here was this character, merged into tree-not out of evolutionary survival, not with a violent catalyst, not a metaphor for suicide or death, but just for fun! My tree-people obsession, finally free from angst and impossible for me to project my depression onto. Here was this plush, a companion to fans all over the world—Treekawa at a beautiful pond, on a trip to a snowy mountain, on a picnic on a sunny day. The enjoyment and pleasure of the moment felt realer, somehow, with the little plush accompanying them. The staging of the moment was not the act of spending time in the sun, the staging of the moment was the whimsy of having Treekawa there, too. I wanted that desperately. Good thing eBay exists!
In my first weeks of being a Treekawa-haver, I kept him in my pocket when I went on walks and took pictures of him next to my video games and desserts. Staging my little creature against the mundanity of my little life - this was a silly joy. It felt easy, so unlike the other actions I took to keep myself afloat. Alongside this material joy, “being okay” felt within reach.
On my bedroom mirror, I have a wool needle-felted Celebi, gifted to me by my dear friend Fargo. I have a plushie pair of olives connected by a leaf (you know, because I’m Palestinian), gifted to me by my dear friend Mia. I have pinecone fairy lights draped around the frame. I have my Treekawa, and next to him a tree-Iwaizumi I needle-felted myself to keep him company. Unknowingly, I created a little tree-people shrine to greet me each morning. It’s woo-woo, it’s silly, but it feels protective: why wouldn’t the culmination of my nerdy fixations, imbued with love from my friends, cradling the thing I use each morning to affirm that I am, in fact, a human being, a person, a real person!, be anything but spiritual? Be anything but healing?
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