Updated: Oct 14, 2019
A few yards from the back door of Manor Bottom stands a magnificent ash tree. I nickname it The Sentinel. Probably not more than 150 years old it nevertheless imposes itself on the view from all around. A friend wrote a poem about this tree but, although the poem was good, for me it just simply wasn’t about that tree. The main problem I had with it was that the poet described the ash as lonely. This tree is not lonely – it sits happily among other ashes, cherries, thorns and hazels. It houses a greater spotted woodpecker. Jays and owls perch in it. And…it has us! I call it The Sentinel as, I like to imagine, it is watching over us.
We moved to Manor Bottom, a house among trees, from London three years ago. In the city I made a point to look up as I walked the streets. I became in awe of some of the architecture, not just the epics made by Wren, Nash, Lasdun and others, but the humbler houses – well-built places that have stood strong for centuries as the world moves by them, in and out of them. And so, when arriving at Manor Bottom, I looked up. At first, I saw just trees. Like the poet, I didn’t know what kind – I could pick out an oak and a birch, but the rest were simply trees. What I did know though, was that some of them looked amazing.
I know now that all of the trees at Manor Bottom are amazing. I have done the reading – Richard Powers, David George Haskell, Peter Fiennes. I have learned my beech from my ash, my hawthorn from my blackthorn. I have moved from human architecture to natural architecture. And I am more in awe of trees than anything us humans have made. Our achievements as a species are spectacular, but we need to appreciate this and appreciate the natural world and what it does for us! It is quite simple really, trees allow us to live. They support life – a single oak can support 284 species of insect and 324 types of lichen, pollinators and purifiers. Learning about trees and trying to understand them has changed my perspective and my priorities. That, and having my children. I know that severing our biological networks is not a good idea. It will lead to the end of our creativity for sure!
Recently we went back up to London for a weekend. I walked with the kids along the south bank of the Thames – one of my favourite walks in the world. My boy was a Londoner, he’d seen this before, but my girl was too young to remember having been in London, having done this walk, seen these sights. She is a village girl! And so, walking with her by the river, past the Shard, seeing Parliament, the Shell-Mex, the Gherkin, I expected her to look up, amazed. In fact, she didn’t comment. This frustrated me - London is truly amazing! We walked on, me watching her. All of a sudden, she stopped and said ‘Wow!’. We were in front of a London plane tree, not far from the Tate Modern. ‘What a lovely tree!’, she said.