Counting the cost and planting anew

I am struck by the amount of mature trees that this winter has claimed in its ferociousness. Ashes bent and humiliated, the land torn up and roots splintered by the collapse of such enormous beings that have stood sentinel for so long, unnoticed for so long, lucky in the story of survival, of the hundreds of years they have witnessed. The sky line can never be the same again. It is clear that many of these beautiful lives had grown old and perhaps were ready to fall some day. But there are so many, so many. Paths meander round the fallen canopy, or over the trailing trunk, allowing me to walk in solemnity around their rather imposing size. How come, as they soar above, it can pass my attention by that they really are so huge, hulky, vast? Held up by watery sinew, resilience and sheer force of the will to grow, to Be. I have hugged trees and felt them bend and sway beneath me. I have stood on a grand oak’s roots barefoot and felt the humbling power of the grip they have upon the Earth in order to hold up such a creature. I have eaten brand new beech leaves, soft and bright green, tanniny taste making my mouth salivate with its bitterness. I have sucked the sugary blossom leaves of the hawthorn in May, a little way-side treat. I have watched the same leaves grow, flourish, turn and fall in a single year on a single tree and I have been thankful that the creature itself was doing what it knows to do.

Treebeard: Many of these trees were my friends. Creatures I had known from nut or acorn.
Pippin: I’m sorry, Treebeard.
Treebeard: They had voices of their own.”

There is a grief that wells within me at this devastation. These trees really were my friends, they have shaped this landscape for far more years than I hold. They have led the eye on gentle meanderings, on joyous Spring days and head-down-coat-zipped freezing, wet winter walks of necessity and magiclessness. They have been there, noted or not. And now they are gone, bypassed, circumnavigated, reconfigured, and eventually cleared away by industrious landowners for firewood.

As I walk home, I remember that last year I bought a little pear sapling, to keep company the struggling Old Pear tree that clings to life in the tangle of the bottom garden. I should have planted it in the winter. Perhaps I’m too late already. I walk up to it. It is budding. Pear is awakening. It needs a home. I should plant no more than four meters from Old Pear. Like an orchard of two. There are three apple trees already in the garden and like frilly, blowsy old ladies at a tea and cake morning, they are getting on famously. Old Pear has needed some help for some time, even though I was delighted that It produced two fruits last year, it is not famous for bumper crops. I fetch my spade and the sapling and I bring them down into the bottom garden, where inquisitive chickens come to oversee and scratch around where I work. I dig a hole.

Dig. The blade cuts smoothly into the brown earth and I feel a wave of calm spread up from it, into my being and into my face. It changes my muscles, contracting my mouth into a little smile. Soft tears start to well in my eyes as I make the hole even on each side. I feel the scrape of a pebble against the spade, the momentary halt, then the juddering descent into the ground as the earth rearranges herself and yields to the cut. I dig more. The little mound of excavated soil grows and the chickens investigate. Scratch, buuuuurrrrp, scratch, scratch, burrrp beeuuuurp. Contented are we. Their soft throaty sounds mingle with the gentle swish of the branches overhead. Even with mere buds upon the boughs, the sound of trees in the wind is changing from the dull clack of wintery, wind-swept branches to the prelude to the full, oceanic, rustle of Spring.

The hole is dug. I take New Pear out of Its pot and I place it into the ground. Yes, I think, I’m just in time. It is hungry for the earth and I should have done this before now. I feel an urgency to the job, this sapling is in my care and it needs all the help it can get. I replace the earth and water the ground. Blessings come to my lips, without a thought: grow and be fruitful. The simplest of blessings, calling straight to its heart. Do what you need to do, because your nature requires it of you.

As I turn away, I remind myself to do what I am requiring of myself to do. Old trees fall and new trees grow. This is the unassailable truth. But planting, that is a choice.

 

Excerpt from The Lord of The Rings- The Two Towers J.R.R. Tolkein

 

 

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