What, MORE about trees?

I have just realised that the last three posts on this blog have been tree-centric. This was in no way deliberate, so must say something about where I am at I suppose.

I live amongst trees. Up the hill, they are mostly commercial spruce and larch, but downwards, it is mostly old oak trees, with a smattering of birch and our small orchard of apples, pears, nuts and soft fruit. In do not take this privilege for granted.

Many years ago, I was driving a friend from London up through Argyll and pointed out a beautiful copper beech tree- the sort that must have been planted as a specimen tree a couple of hundred years ago, and now has the shape and beauty that those who planted it could only imagine.

Look said, in over-excited tones, that is my favourite tree.

My friend, who is inclined towards the larconic, glanced at me with confusion, and after a while said I don’t think I have ever met anyone with a favourite tree before.

I felt a little stung, like some kind of yokel with too much straw behind my ears, but then reflected that he probably had a favourite bus shelter, or a favourite railway arch. He is from London after all. I, however, live amongst the remnants of the great Argyll rainforest and in this I am richly blessed (although there is this one bus shelter I remember fondly…)

Trees, or so we are told, have healing powers. Check out this old post examining the psychologically restorative powers of wilderness (and how it even helps our concentration and attentiveness towards random tasks.)

Then there is all that forest bathing stuff, which turns out not to be a new fad, but rather an ancient Japanese meditiative practice known as shinrin yoku in which we are encouraged to be amongst trees, observe nature and breathe deeply.

Trees do something else though, which we are only just beginning to appreciate. They are the mothers of soil. These benign giants are the shelter beneath which life can be lived. They remind us of the long view; of how change that matters is not measured only in human lifetimes.

The other truth that soon comes to us is that, like man, no tree is an island alone to itself. It lives in community.

We entered a competition piece at a ceramics exhibition that tried to describe this relational nature of trees. It contrasted two trees, one on top of each other, seperated by prespex as if in a mirror or an hourglass, and used the two ‘hermaneutic’ poems from this post. I really liked it, but sadly, no prizes this time…

The tree outside the door of the church…

Some of the greatest joys of my post-career career have involved the sharing of poetry with small groups of people. Poets are solitary beasts mostly, skulking around in the shadows, so when we can share our secrets with others and find common meanings, this is something special indeed.

Yesterday was a case in point. A small group of people gathered in a church hall, sharing stories of grief and loss, through the mediums of laughter, tears and poetry. What a wonderful thing to be part of.

One of the simple exercises we used was to walk in the woods nearby and find a tree, then imagine that tree speaking to us with kindness. What people wrote reduced us all to tears.

Outside the doors of the old Kirk stands a gnarled old sycamore tree. It looks older than the stone building it shelters, and despite the timeless impression, I vaguely remembered that sycamores are not native to this country, perhaps being introduced by the Romans, or some time in the middle ages- no-one knows for sure. They must have offered some kind of commodity that was appreciated, even though they have been villified as invasive species ever since.

I stood beneath this venerable benign giant and wrote this;


Old friend


Like you, I was not born here

But here, we put down our roots

Just outside the church door

Looking inwards

Looking upwards


Let’s compare scars

Look at mine

I will cover yours


Listen as I whisper

You are loved

You are loved

You are loved

We take a tree…

Today, we took a tree from the world.

We did not do it lightly, or without justification, but it feels highly significant.

The tree in question was an oak, of uncertain age, but most likely it was growing long before the first world war. It had a long straight stem and an uneven canopy, possibly from damage some time when it was young. It has been framed in our window ever since we moved here- a sheltering friend not just to our house, but to red squirrels and siskins.

Over the last couple of years it seemed to us that it had taken on a slight tilt- but like all things in the real world it was difficult to tell, because nothing natural is in a straight line except the far horizon (and even that is curved when you look from height.) Eventually, given the proximity to our neighbours, we decided that we needed to get it checked out, and the arborist delivered an unwelcome verdict.

The trunk was hollowed out with rot, and the good wood left was affected by a kind of fungus that would soon bring the old girl down. So down she had to come.

It feels like a great beast is gone, as if some fat fool shot and killed a lion or a great white rhino.

But so it should feel like that. I feel more than ever before in my life that any future we humans have on this planet depends on our ability to remember our connection with all manner of living things. This being so, any decision to break this connection can not be taken lightly. Our lives have already placed us at such disadvantage, so that when confronted with this disconnection at close hand we surely have to look up and take notice?

There is another side to this story that also speaks of disconnection. The potential high value target of our potentially falling tree is the house neighbours with whom we have become disconnected. There is a long and winding story here, which I will not recount as who wants to hear such things? No-one comes out well from such stories, which always have two sides. Suffice it to say that the decision to pay a tree surgeon a lot of money to cut down this tree for the benefit of our neighbours was not without irony. Like I said, it is all about connection and when we break this, there are consequences.

In cutting down this tree, I speak soft words of regret. I promise to plant again in the hope that the future contains brand new oak trees.

In relation to our neighbours, I speak softly and do not seek escalation or justification. I hold Michaela who is hurting and try to get her to let it go, let it go.

Because sometimes trees must fall.