That single tree

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Posted on December 17, 2013

back garden sycamoreThat single tree that greets us, and is greeted by us, every morning, holds the morning against its winter silhouette. The sky behind shifts from pink to white to grey to blue, from dry to wet to blown to still. Each evening its skeletal shape fades into dark as dusk is pulled over the land - except with a strong moon, like last night, when every branch and nest became an etching on the deep blue infinity of the cold night sky.

This sycamore has become something of a companion, a constancy. Without realising it I have accepted it as part of my environment when I open my eyes each day, almost in the same way as I accept - and expect to see - the window, the mirror, the floor, the door. Yet despite its age and beauty, and its effortless embrace of rook colony and resting buzzards, it has a singularity and isolation that stir in me a sense of melancholy. When I look at this tree I also see the space around it. I wish there were others next to it, and it was part of a wider woodland. Its winter bareness emphasises its separation from siblings, from others of the same seed stock.

This tree has been left, I presume, after clearing lowland land for grazing. I recall again the origins of the word field (‘felled’). It is a survivor - but in a sad way. Yet some other isolated trees that have caught our eyes in the uplands carry less melancholy and more pride: they proclaim strength and resilience in landscapes where harsh winds and snow and rocky earth, as well as grazing deer and sheep, challenge them. They have grown in areas where their beginnings were dependent on a cluster of factors, on the tiniest probability of success.

What’s the chance of a single seed dropped by a bird finding the right bit of earth, at the right time? Of a tiny seed clinging on, pushing down and then up? Of a sapling surviving, and keeping going,Whitbarrow Sycamore 1 year upon year, to become a sturdy adult tree that now surveys the land, witnesses the passing seasons? These strong trees represent survival in the face of adversity, and are a reminder of the value of trees in our landscape, and in the wider world. But they also have their own quiet beauty and are places for reflection, if you were to take the time to walk to them, and rest.

We've encountered six of these sentinel trees so far and they will be the focal points for our next major project, the Long View. They hold a special place in the landscape, but then so does the lone sycamore outside my bedroom window. It has its own story, and I am watching this unfold with each sunrise and sunset. I hope it has many years left.

More about somewhere-nowhere here.

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