What life is there in death?

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Posted on May 29, 2013

Dent has been released from the grip of winter. After a few false starts Spring has finally arrived. The leaves on the sycamore and rowan are luminous, the sky is blue, the water in the river is low.

Limestone River Bed

We walked down to the river today and sat on the pale white back of limestone curves, taking in the scene. A movement on a dry old tree trunk, still standing, caught my eye, so I rested my gaze on that space, a small, round hole in dead wood. Within a minute, a long beak and small head popped out. I sat and watched some more and the head kept appearing and disappearing. Sure sign of a nest.

Before long a greater-spotted wood pecker, with its bright red underside, jetriver trees black tail and black head glided towards the tree and set itself down, folding its wings into its sides. It crept around the trunk, and then flew off. I thought the head emerging sporadically from the tree-trunk hole was a baby, but it came out once more, followed by the majestic body of a full grown adult woodpecker. Both parents now put on a show for us, darting between the high branches of the trees along the river bank. And we sat opposite this tree, simply watching, to a sound track of morning birdsong and trickling water over rock.

This tree, in death, is home: perfect for these magnificent birds. No longer linked to the earth by the come-and-go of water through root, leaf and branch, the tree has tilted; as an infirm member of the riverside woodland it is now reliant on othersriver walls. The dead trunk is embraced by thick ivy tendrils, which help to hold it upright. And the tree’s bare branches are cradled by a neighbouring sycamore that will provide support until the sycamore itself ages, dies, and crumbles, with the passage of time and fungi.

One tree, here, is never truly alone - it is part of a family, of something greater: one never exists without the other. On this small patch of river, among these riparian trees, the essence of the universe is reflected: all things connected, each one affecting others. And the natural order of things tending towards vitality and life, even in death.

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