The whole Druids-trees thing is undoubtedly my favourite available Druid cliché. I don’t do white robes, am notably lacking in the beard department and am very seldom at Stonehenge, but trees, absolutely. Any chance I get. One of the problems with the last few years of boat life, is that trees have been in short supply. There are some willows, ash, and even hawthorn along my stretch of canal, but only on one side. Being near trees is nice, but it’s not the same as under them. There’s evidence that time under trees – just 5 minutes a day, improves mental health. I find that very easy to believe.
I like willow a lot, its resilience and utility make it deeply appealing to work with. However, I’m also very partial to beech trees, and un-shockingly, I like oak, hazel and yew as well. Hey don’t grow around here much. I didn’t used to get on with yew trees, but we seem to have reached an understanding now.
Being amongst trees is very different from being near a few trees. Ancient woodland is a whole other thing again. This is more than just trees, it’s about the fungi in the soil, the undergrowth and other denizens. A proper wood is far more than just trees. This is something that bothers me with tree planting, because while, yes, you can plant trees, if you don’t have the rest of the community, it’s not a wood, just a big clump of planted trees.
If a place has been wooded in the last fifty years, a surprising amount of what it takes to really make a woodland can be sat there in the soil, waiting for the trees to show up. This awes me.
The air is different, under trees. You can smell it, and that means, as you inhale woodland air, you are also inhaling something that is of the trees. I’m not sure what it is, but I do know how much it calms and settles me, how much cleaner and more whole I feel for getting to do this. I am also affected by the softness of light in woods, especially in summer. I’ve read a lot of tree related science (Colin Tudge, The Secret Life of Trees, Diana Beresford-Kroeger The Global Forest, assorted articles). Enough to know that from a scientific perspective, the impact of trees on people is huge, and often to our benefit. Enough that, if you did not have a handle on the science, you’d have to call the power of trees magical.
I have a very keen sense that my ancestors evolved to live in close proximity with trees. I like open spaces, hill tops, open sky, but not all the time. I crave the dappled light and greenish air, the companionable rustling and the sense of peace. My absolute favourite is woodland that has water running through it. Happily, I found some of that this morning. Leaving the canal will not be hard, because I know where to find the things I need.
The ancient Druids did not have a sacred book. They had trees. Individual trees. Groves of trees. Woodlands. There are things to be learned in the company of trees that one human cannot hope to write down for the benefit of another. It’s something you breathe in, I suspect.