Tag Archives: trees

All flows…

If rowers row and sowers sow, do flowers flow?

The prosaic answer is, no – ‘flow’ and ‘flower’ are two unrelated words. But in D.H. Lawrence’s poetic world, everything in the natural world – whether flowers or gemstones – is ‘flowing away’. Flowers, he says, ‘are just a motion, a swift motion, a coloured gesture; that is their loveliness’, and gems only seem to last for ever: ‘The wonderful slow flowing of the sapphire!’ *

He was right. Everything we see and feel around us is subtly changing, continually. We may think we enter the same living-room every morning, because everything in it – each piece of furniture and fabric – is still in the same place. Nothing has moved. But there are changes. Dust has settled. The curtains have faded a little in the sunlight. Paint has darkened: we notice it only when we take pictures off the wall and see the difference in the colour underneath.

Beyond our everyday experience, sand dunes shift, rocks are eroded and stars burn themselves out – all of them ‘flowing away’.

Sometimes, though, things don’t flow; they get suddenly chopped.

A couple of days ago, I visited my favourite garden, Buscot Park in Oxfordshire, for the first time since last September. As usual, like a cat or dog checking out its territory, I took a quick tour of the familiar places. The walled garden with its fountain was still there. So was the holly circle where I sit on the grass and watch other people drifting in and out, gazing and wondering at the obelisk sundial in the centre. The white garden still had its four swinging benches round the edges, and I could still walk through the avenues of poplar trees that rustle like tin foil in the breeze.

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I probably wouldn’t have noticed the enormous cedar tree just to the east of the 18th-century house – except that the massive trunk was stretched out on the ground, shorn of its upper branches, next to its equally impressive, fresh, unweathered stump. There was no foliage to tell me what variety of tree it was, but I recognised the distinctive smell – similar to, though a bit sweeter than, the balls of wood, saturated with cedar oil, that I use to keep the moths out of my winter woollies.

Cedar stump, Buscot April 2017I counted the rings – at least 180 – some wide, some very narrow, giving clues to the weather conditions during each passing decade. For 180 years this tree had been growing taller and wider while generations of human beings argued and fought, made amazing discoveries, and shrank the world with cars, aeroplanes and satellite communications.

It’s always sad to see a majestic tree brought down to the ground. This cedar was toward the ‘flower’ end of Lawrence’s spectrum, yet closer to the sapphire than we are. Its life may have come to an abrupt end, but its ‘flow’ continues in its sweet, pungent scent and in whatever beautiful and practical use is found for its wood.


* ‘Fidelity’, from Pansies (1929). See ‘Flowers they fade…’

Listening to silence

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For just a few weeks in late April and early May, my local bluebell wood is a magnet for visitors wanting to catch one of the ‘special events’ of the year. The blooms are not visible from the road, not accessible to casual passers-by. You have to go there on purpose – park the car, open the gate and climb a short slope to the edge of the copse. Then you see the familiar but always magical carpet of mauve (not blue at all, of course), beneath the delicate fresh beech leaves in their contrasting yellow-green.

In August, t0wards the end of an all-too-short summer, the leaves have darkened, the thicker canopy blocks out more of the sunlight, and the ground is a boring brown. Without the bluebells, it’s nothing very special.

Or so I thought. Wanting to spend a quiet hour or two alone on a fine Sunday afternoon, I went to the woods. I parked the car, opened the gate and climbed the short slope to the edge – to be met by an extraordinary atmosphere.

Utter stillness. Not a breath of wind to produce the shushing sound of swaying branches. The air pressure was that of a humid enclosed space, pushing gently on the ears, as if everything around me was waiting and listening for something. It was, as one translation of an untranslatable biblical phrase puts it, ‘a sound of sheer silence’.

I usually stroll around the perimeter of the wood to the far side and stand on the ridge looking out across the fields beyond. But this time I wanted to tiptoe straight ahead, along the broad avenue cut through the middle of the trees, to get deeper into the stillness at the centre.

I20150816_161335n spring time, I’d be admiring the display of bluebells; in the autumn I’d be kicking the rustling layers of fallen leaves. Without either of these distractions, with nothing interesting to see or hear at ground level, I looked up, noticing the towering height of the beech trees and the patches of pale sky between the branches.

At last the spell was broken with the echoing shout of a dog-walker at the edge of the copse, and an excited answering bark. Walking on, I had my quiet hour alone – and didn’t once wish for bluebells.

Cinquain 8

Beech tree

Crackle –
under my boots
the prickly beech nut husks;
lime-green layered leaves above me
ripple

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Lechlade path

Steady
footfalls between
the rising-ebbing wind
and the creak of old split willow –
solace