In these days of lockdown I am more aware than ever how lucky I am to be living among trees.
The first thing I see when I look out of my bedroom window in the morning is pine trees. Then, as thoughts of tea and toast lure me to the kitchen, I wait for the kettle to boil watching the leafless but elegant ballerina birches, dancing in the wind, weeping as they wait for spring.
I love trees. Hate nothing more than the sound of a chainsaw, or the sight of a tree newly and needlessly felled. And I have the immense privilege of being a volunteer at a nature reserve, Mere Sands Wood, in Lancashire. My volunteered task, to write. It’s early days, nothing so far is online while we work out how to do this thing that’s new to us all, but I visit the woods regularly to top up my reservoir of inspiration.
Three weeks ago, before the car park closed, I dropped in for a restorative walk, the threat of Coronavirus and Covid-19 already weighing on my mind. And on that walk I learned something new and inspiring about trees. About one tree in particular.
The day of my visit was not wet, not warm, not sunny, but fair enough. And out I strode.
A sign told me a tree, somewhere ahead, was damaged and potentially dangerous. A diversion was in place and a map provided – but I’m hopeless with maps and went on my way feeling simply fatalistic. If it falls on me, it falls. I know, reckless. Inconsiderate. And not like me.
A welcome shaft of sunlight pierced the gentle canopy of branches, still in their skeletal winter costume, and lit on a mature tree ahead. One long, majestic branch had reached out across the path, probing the trees on the far side. It looked precarious and I was glad to see it had been propped up.
But I was a little puzzled.
Knowing there had been strong winds, seeing many toppled tree-limbs, it seemed odd that, rather than chopping down the overambitious branch, the woodland managers had propped it up.
I barely registered that thought and carried on, my head full of unnecessary woes and rather more necessary anxieties. But as I drew nearer the prop, I stopped. It was certainly a support, but no human had made it, or inserted it.
This tree had been coppiced – either intentionally or by nature. Had grown a new young shoot from its old base. That shoot, where it met the pendulous branch, had clasped its older sibling limb firmly, put its arms around it and risen on upwards, reaching for the light.
The tree had supported itself.
I have never seen anything like it and I went on my way feeling lighter of being.
Trees are magical, social – and occasionally antisocial – when in the company of their kind. They are all connected, like it or not, by the wood wide web* beneath their feet. And here was a reminder to me that we humans, too are always connected. Whether we like it or not.
I live far from any of my extended family – extremely far from our American relatives. It sometimes feels lonely. Many people have no relatives at all, no friends nearby, feel desperately alone. And now, so many are living in isolation.
But when we need or simply want human help, or companionship, it is so often there for us – if only we let others know we’re in need.
It is not weak to seek support, it is wise. There’s no pride lost in being supported. And there is joy to be found in supporting.
Take it from the trees. They know a thing or thousands.
Wishing you all well in this time of Coronavirus.
*Wood wide web was a term first used in the journal Nature in 1997 in an article: ‘Net Transfer of Carbon between Tree Species with Shared Ecto-microrrhizal Fungi, by S.W. Simard, D.A. Perry, M.D, Jones, D.D. Myroid. D.M. Durall and R. Molina .
For more on the inter-connectedness of trees and the ‘wood wide web,’ see The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.
Support during the Coronavirus lockdown: here in the UK there are many support groups, often to be found on Facebook, just search for ‘Coronavirus support groups’