The trees along the wayside begin to stretch out now. And they are closer to me; perhaps they are less easily defined because of that. So we have to jump forward in time, through a decade which was far from treeless – among others London is full of its namesake trees, the planes, after all – but in which I formed no strong emotional attachments to any particular tree; or rather, can project no strong emotional story onto a sufficiently representative tree. Of course, if I put my mind to it, there might be buried deep in me trees which had some passing significance, a Japanese maple here, an oak there. But for a long time I lived without the special trees that seemed to dot my childhood and teenage years.
True, for half that decade there was by the gate of my house an old lilac, which though gnarled, still flowered fresh and white every year – but again, I would be pushing the limits of my metaphor to associate myself with it, or the pair of leylandii out the back which formed such an effective screen of green, and out of which one day the head of my brother (a tree surgeon) popped as he topped the cypresses to inhibit their monstrous growth. You don’t see him at first when you look at the photograph. And then you smile.
So we jump forward another half decade, to a house not quite in the countryside, but a place where suburban dreaming is at least well hidden among the loft of pines and the easy elegance of sweet chestnuts. And perhaps it is just because it is my current tree, and it too will fade to take its place among the others, but I seem never to have so readily identified with a tree as this one. It stands with others, but a little apart, a little proud. It’s slim, alien, a tree in exile, one both hardy yet supple enough still to bend in the wildest wind, to stand up to its force. On sunny blue sky days and frozen winter ones it is even gifted a certain grace. Its trunk divides neatly in two but in its crown branches and needles of the two forks intertwine and come together. A split personality or a unity, it’s hard to say. It drops cone after cone.
Threatened with and saved from the axe two years ago, now it’s under threat again. To me it is a beautiful tree, to someone else an inconvenience. I’m trying not to take it personally, but I don’t think it wants to be made into furniture any more than I do.
Photo by awildslimalien. See the Scots pine in winter.
Listen to the song that was a small part of the inspiration for this series – Guided By Voices’ ‘I am a tree’.