Last week I bought a book. A slim book, with a green and white cover. It was called ‘The Tree’ and was written by John Fowles. I didn’t know anything about it, except that I liked the title and the soft colours on the cover, thereby ignoring the oft-quoted advice on how not to judge a book, or anything else, for that matter. I shamefully haven’t read it yet, but it’s there waiting for me. And I know now it’s about more than a tree.
I mention this because trees seem to be taking an ever more present role in my life. The Japanese maple outside my window provides a riot of colour each autumn and is gradually losing its canopy of bright red leaves, leaves that have carpeted the ground for several weeks. I took a stroll up the lane near my home yesterday, looking up at the yellow leaves, made all the more dazzling by the phenomenal downpour that had just ended. Around me were London planes, a horse chestnut, and the russet red leaves of cherry. Frustration hit me as I tried to identify the tree with bright yellow leaves. (I later identified it as a small-leaved lime, a familiar enough tree but one I hadn’t recognised until now.) Distraction came in the form of a crashing flutter of feathers as a pigeon fell out of a bush. A few minutes later I watched as the pigeon did the tightrope on a thin twig in the midst of the branches; it was intent on harvesting the bright orange berries of the pyracantha. I passed the rusty red of copper beech and walked over another neon-like carpet of lime sheddings. I reached the end of the lane and decided to walk through the trees on the other side of the road. Walking on the pavement and following a path through woodland are two very different experiences. Wet leaves were underfoot and I stopped to look at the different forms, the leaves glistening in the sunshine, their moisture causing them to shine despite the shade of the branches. Starlings sat high in the treetops across the road, filling the air with sound. I turned into my road with the rhythmic clutter of the birds in my ears and my heart filled with the cheerful brightness of the blue sky and the rather cool bite of the autumnal air.
On Saturday I was invited to a meeting to outline plans for the planting of an orchard near my home. The prospect of filling a bare patch of land with trees, condemned for other uses because of toxins from the railway, was wonderful and I listened with full support. Whilst they contaminate roots, the particular toxins concerned here are apparently not passed on to the fruit of the trees, which makes an orchard an ideal outcome for this small urban patch.
At the end of November, all things arboreal will be championed in National Tree Week. There are several tree plantings organised in my local area; look up The Tree Council to see what’s taking part near you, if you’re not already involved. We need trees. Let’s celebrate them.