Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The big tree – Finsbury Park

Saturday October 18, 2008:

What on my watch? The year I have dedicated to the trees? My great big beautiful hornbeam tree is threatened! Well I say “my” but although it graces my modest London garden with its large presence, I don’t own it, I just look after it.

When I moved into this flat 22 years ago, the tree was an innocent-looking ten foot high. Each year it thickened and spread until there came a time when it was sturdy enough to bear my weight and I would climb up and sit happily in its branches for a while.

In time, the ivy that rampages joyously around the garden found it and began squirming up it. The tree loved it. Its branches spread as though to say “mine, mine, this is all mine!”

After some years I got it trimmed a bit. It liked this and grew even more vigorously. Now at over 40 foot high, it surveys the gardens around but still looks up to the great tall ashes and oaks high up on the embankment on the Parkland Walk.

Alas, its vigorousness encountered the foundations of next door’s extension. Cracks began appearing and dark mutterings were heard beyond the pyracanthas about”that bloody tree!”

And then the tree surgeon came. “It has to go” he declared …. “Sorry” he continued seeing my stricken face.

“What all of it?” I asked sadly, “can’t we severely chop it?”

But alas no; pollarding, coppicing or doing anything other than felling and poisoning the roots would not do. Hornbeams being sturdy and vigorous trees will just grow back again, pushing their strong roots through the clay, dislodging more of whatever got in the way, even if it is an overpriced Victorian terrace.

Months ago, I hung a green man amongst the ivy. The tree seemed to appreciate the adornment and grew more. Last year, a pair of wood pidgins nested in the tree. Every morning during the spring and summer, they would coo comfortingly to each other and poo all over my water feature and the rosemary bush below!

I took to visiting the tree and stroking its heavy clad trunk. Each morning and evening, I would include it in my circle as though it were one of the families.

That night, under the full moon, I danced by the tree calling lathe silvery moon behind her cloud to come and watch over the tree. It seemed to me that the garden glittered in response and the tree raised its head and stood in the Luna brightness, whilst I danced in the moon shadow.


Just past six am on a cold and quiet Saturday morning, I sneak out into the garden to be with the tree. I lean against it, breathing deeply the fresh ivy which damply encircles it.

The mountain side is bare, but everything is very small - the trees, perhaps an inch or two high. In the middle of them sits a huge figure, solid, brown and round... His face long and sad.

“I’m just too big”, he says disconsolately sitting there. A huge weight of grief fills my chest and I lay my cheek amongst the cool ivy and weep. The ivy spirals closer to the tree as I lace my fingers in its stems.

“Beautiful tree, what can I do?” I ask it. My fingers stroke the silky soft leaves.

And into my mind comes an image of the tree’s trunk, reconstructed and covered with ivy. On the top sit robins feasting and singing. All around the tree stump are piled cut off pieces of trunk with plants growing in and out of them. Not a living tree but still a veritable wildlife and botanic garden.

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