The first half of 2020 has been very unusual. Living in Devon we are used to a mass influx of people from spring onwards, as the weather improves. It has been very quiet and unique this year. We have been very aware of how blessed we are to live near the sea in a beautiful part of the country.
As lockdown has been eased and the return of tourists has begun, we’ve taken a trip to the Cotswolds on our first outing this year. The focus of our attention, being tree mad, is Westernbirt Arboretum. It is a stunningly beautiful place that is all about trees. A place where you can see the giants that give such character to a landscape. These really are amazing plants. To quote Thomas Pakenham from ‘Meetings with remarkable trees’
If a big tree was not a living organism it would still be a remarkable object. A big oak or beech can weigh 30 tons, cover 2,000 square yards, include ten miles of twigs and branches. Each year the tree pumps several tons of water about 100 feet into the air, produces a new crop of 100,000 leaves and covers Half an acre of trunk and branches with a new pelt of bark.
These living organisms are indeed remarkable but far from being just aesthetically beautiful they are atmosphere regulators that suck in CO2 and produce life giving oxygen. To walk amongst them at Westernbirt is a joy and always makes me think of how the landscape there would look without them. A big thank you is due for the people who planted in the past knowing someone else would get the true benefit.
The wilderness cries out, ‘Let me go’
Take your forces from my land
Trees are slain and ground is purged
No living thing can stand
A vacant lot
An empty space
Beauty born of a hundred years
No longer finds its place
Wild and free, loose nature’s hand
No more held back, restrained
Rebuild, establish, replenish, repair
Allowed to recreate the land
What was felled, burned and valued small
It should have a place
It deserves a world of calm
It deserves a space
Hold off your forces, conquering strength
Hold off your strident power
I will step in and feed your soul
With fragrant carpet flower
With leaves and trees and insect hum
With birds and creatures alive
With habitat in wooded dell
Where animals can thrive
Take time to see what disappears
Hold off, stay your hand
Before our children’s children look back
And cannot understand
What did you do? Where did it go?
The wonders in books I see
I would my life was filled with things
You have taken away from me
It’s not too late to change that fate
To redirect our path
To value what we take for granted
To establish what will last
So nature flourish, expand and grow
Spread green lungs across our land
Prick my conscience, challenge my heart
To give you helping hand
Walking through an area of woodland is with out question visually inspiring. From the sheer size of these fantastic natural monuments to the beauty of the yearly crop of leaves that carpet the floor. Like a coat of many colours the trees delight us with wonderful displays and signal the changes in seasons with vibrant colour. The sight of newly opened buds, of extraordinary flowers, like the Magnolia, and the stunning covering of autumn leaves. What a feast of colour and structure that prompts the artist, with every manor of medium, to creative endeavour.
The impact of trees hits many of our senses, but let’s consider how trees are so influential in the sense of hearing. Who hasn’t taken joy in dragging their feet through the fallen leaves just to listen to the sound. The crunch and rustle. At times it’s like spilling hard grains of rice on a kitchen floor, or like the sound of breaking waves. Delightful! The sound of the wind as it shakes the great canopy above. It makes me stop and look and listen. It’s like the sea above your head. This symphony of sound washing over our sense of hearing has certainly influenced many a songwriter or composer.
But, have you considered how much more directly trees have influenced the music we listen to. Of all the brilliant modern materials, created by extraordinary people, available to us in this amazing world, it is fascinating how much wood is still used to make the instruments we listen to. The piano, guitar, violin, cello, clarinet, bagpipes and drums, even modern instruments like electric guitars which can be made from any number of materials predominantly are made using wood. If not for the tonal quality of this amazing material, then for its stunning beauty. Instrument makers choose different woods for their resonant properties, many of them adamant that, ‘this wood must be used for this purpose’, only to be contradicted by another skilled maker. It’s all in the ear of the listener. If you think of your favourite piece of music whether composed 200 years ago or by some contemporary artist, it would not surprise me at all to find a tree was involved. Consider the guitar or violin played by a competent musician who amazes you with their skill. It’s very possible, regardless of how old that musician is, that the tree used to create the instrument they play was planted before they were even born.
If you want to fill the world with music in the years to come, why not have a hand in planting trees now?
When two saplings start to grow close together they can often compete for light and water. It causes them to grow quickly becoming very tall, but thin and weak. If you were to look inside a tree like that the heart wood would be neither strong or have any particular beauty.
In a managed woodland these trees would be thinned out so that one sapling is given all the resources to grow into a beautiful mature tree. It possesses a majesty and presence that catches the eye and is admired. The heart wood is strong and stable. The grain is straight and dependable. It is used for construction or sturdy furniture possessing strength and a grain that is pleasing to the eye.
However, sometimes the saplings are close enough to be pressured by their environment to join forces, to become something more than they could be on their own. They start to grow together, the bark combines the trunks twist and unite like a grafted tree. Two sets of roots become one. Two trunks become united and together they create a unique and unusual feature, the canopy spreading out as if the two saplings were always meant to be one tree. If you were to look inside this tree, at the heart wood, you would find amazing, swirling grain that curls and twists together creating stunningly beautiful features that are highly prized by skilful woodsmiths who can expose that beauty. This wood is not used for construction or standard furniture, it’s too precious for mundane use. Instead, it is set aside until it’s stunning properties compel a unique project that will showcase the individuality of its features. This wood is much more than functional or decorative. It is art!
Trees are beautiful living monuments in our landscape. They give our urban areas a connection to the countryside, allowing us to feel part of the natural world, even in the middle of a city. The hard surfaces and buildings are softened with the introduction of a living element. It improves the space for people and encourages wildlife to populate areas that might otherwise be exclusively used by humans. There is no question about whether London is better because of the parks and trees that are so visible.
I have been in places in the UK, and many other places around the world, that don’t have trees and it always has an impact on me. As though something good is missing. That’s not to say that a desert, a wilderness, the mountains or moors are not beautiful, they most certainly are, but I love trees. Even better if there is water. I guess that’s why I love to go to the Lake District. I find being in wooded areas really gives me a lift in mood and emotion and often inspires a sense of awe. Planting more trees has to be a beneficial investment for the future. After all, we enjoy the the result of trees that have taken generations to mature. Plant a tree now and give future generations a reason to be grateful for our forethought.