Fired up by David Attenborough talks and BBC Podcasts all about trees and National Tree Week, my idea was to find ‘a tree a day’ in different local woodland areas, and study and blog about them for the whole of the Week. Unfortunately, the idea very soon went for a burton when I realised a)how unfit I had become during this year of isolations and lockdowns, and b)how much else I had to do this week.
So this is an account of what actually happened: some words and pictures of a short walk from my house down towards the Torridge Estuary, down a steep muddy track, that is fringed with trees and scrub and brambles and ancient overgrown hedges.
Here, the branches of the trees meet and tangle overhead, forming a dense protective roof, giving a sense of a safe, secluded tunnel. Like so many of the old tracks round here, this one makes me feel like a small creature, scuttling and foraging between the built-up areas. On one side of the wooded fringe lie gentle green hills and fields sometimes used for grazing. The other side, thankfully, screens the walker off from sprawling housing development, and the sound of road traffic in the distance.
I left the house, as empty-handed as possible: with small jotter and pen and pencil, and my phone, complete with useful apps, including the Woodland Trust’s Tree App (you will find it on their Search Page)… I have used this app before – sometimes successfully managing to identify a particular tree – but sometimes not, and I end up without the foggiest idea what I have been looking at. But it is fun, and for sure, gives me an increased appreciation of nature’s amazing processes.
The only other thing I stuffed into my pocket was a supermarket bag for gathering up anything I fancied taking home…
At the start of the track I was drawn as if by a magnet to a massively complex network of bare branches against the grey sky – a peaceful feeling of connection and familiarity: a feeling of the same life-force flowing through my inner systems as through the branches of the trees.
But there was no chance of identifying anything whatsoever from this tangled and intricate network…. And that is when my grandiose idea finally bit the dust.
I suppose (I tell myself), I am really more interested in the invisible, underlying energies at play, and the philosophical aspects of walking among the trees, than in analysing and labelling. This is perfectly true of course. Yet I am also aware that both practical and philosophical approaches are needed for a full understanding of anything.
So – I set off with the attitude ‘let’s see what I can notice and learn here…’.
Most noticeably, a huge variety of plant life, and copious ivy and other creepers clinging to trunks and branches everywhere.
A pervading protective stillness; small birds chattering quietly up above.
A nearby blackbird chirping hopefully as I passed.
Subtle shifts in temperature; shifts in distant traffic sound as I move from place to place; rain nearly beginning to fall.
Berries. A scattering of dead oak leaves on the muddy path, which drew my attention to the tree in question.
Having to watch my step very carefully on the steep muddy, stony path (I have already broken my thumb once on terrain such as this).
Hundreds of deep boot-prints that had churned up the ground, leaving a narrow strip of grass right down the centre of the track, where boots never trod.
Old dead branches that had been moved out of the way, to one side of the track.
A little patch of fungus growing right in the path of all those boots.
One bright berry planted in a deep footprint.
All this told me how life’s cycles and processes are continually at work, even in the dead of winter.
I neared a little gateway, that leads to a bench where people can sit and look down over the river.
As I squeezed through, the tiniest robin redbreast I have ever seen came scuttling up to me, and stopped right at the edge of my foot, gazing up to me with bright wistful little eyes. I felt dreadful, like a mean monster because I had completely forgotten to bring some bird food in my pocket.
I did not want to frighten the bird by attempting to take a photo – so I backed off and went home.
At the time of writing, the BBC programme ‘Podcast Radio Hour, Trees & Forests: Podcasts for National Tree Week’ is still available for listening and downloading – but I don’t know for how long.
Also, if you were wondering what I took home in my supermarket bag after my walk – I grabbed a handful of mud, as I thought it might come in handy…