I went and sat in a tree. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks of half term school holidays, this, that, the other. All of it sending my brain into a spin. So I sat in a tree.
As a child I spent many of my happiest hours at the top of an apple tree in our garden. it was small, so was I, and the branches were perfectly configured as a fairy queen’s throne or a cavewoman’s watch post. I know but I was into cave people. Even then. And one of them needed to watch for mammoths who may or may not have looked quite like a small black Labrador.
The wettest winter since records began has not been kind to our trees here. Those that stand along the sides of the streams have had their roots submerged for too long and then, when the gales came, they couldn’t all stay upright. I found a beautiful ash, tipped over into the field, her roots still in the ground so she is still alive, but she will never stand again. I’m hoping that the farmer and the estate manager decide to let her stay there to provide shelter for the sheep who’ll be back soon but I don’t think it probable. She’s more likely to be chopped up for firewood.
For two weeks I just stood and talked to her as I passed each day. It seemed disrespectful to start poking around. I took photographs but it felt intrusive. And then, this day, it felt okay to climb in.
I sat in the branches that not so long ago had been 25 feet in the air. It’s not often that chance comes along. I looked at the beautiful lichen, the moss and the ivy she wears like a robe. The scratch marks from squirrels’ claws and birds’ beaks. Around us on the ground lay broken branches, some stabbed into the ground by the impact. She is wounded, but rooted.
The child who sat in her mammoth-watching seat was already fascinated by trees. I remember standing and looking at the ones in our garden – not huge but they seemed big to an eight year old – and thinking how amazing it was that they exist underground in a mirror of their lives in the air. That they are balanced. I thought about how humans are somehow ‘snapped off’ and that disconnection from our source, our nourishment, was the price we’d paid for physical freedom. And yet, we aren’t free, I thought. Birds are free (I added a cautionary note about cats as I recall). Humans are not as rooted as trees and not as as free as birds. The existential angst of a nature-loving child. Ha. I was a weird kid sometimes.
Decades on and I’m more upbeat about the human condition. I learned a long time ago that roots and wings aren’t necessarily physical things. I know how to sit and extend myself down into the earth and feel the damp, cool richness of it. Hear the life there. I know how to sit and lift myself into the sky by hitching a ride with a buzzard to see the world below from a distance that brings peace and perspective. Humans, when we remember, are so woven into It All that there is nothing closed to us. Just as we are closed to nothing.