Tag Archives: trees

Sky through branches

Most of the leaves are off the trees now in the area where I live. One of the more noticeable features of early winter, when there’s no weather drama, comes from this change. Winter is perhaps most easily noticed in terms of cold, storms, frost, snow and so forth, but British winters often aren’t that dramatic. Engaging with the season means noticing what else is going on.

With the leaves down, sky appears where, previously in the year I could not see much sky. The view from the window I sit in when working is dominated by trees. In the summer, my view is mostly leaves. However, I can now see a lot more sky. This can be especially good around sunsets, and sometimes I see the moon through the bare branches.

When I’m walking at this time of year, views become available to me that I just can’t see in summer. Seasonal shifts have a significant impact on my relationship with the land. In some ways, winter can be more expansive, with more sky, bigger horizons, more views into the distance. It’s curious because we tend to associate winter with drawing in, looking inwards and being more interior with spiritual practices. However, it is the time when we might most readily see further, and see more. The bones of the land appear without the leaves to cover them.

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Tree planting

The best time for planting trees is when they don’t have any leaves on them – it’s less disturbing to the tree and they’ll likely do better as a consequence. The downside of this is that tree planting is a cold business and the soil may be very wet or very frozen so it can be dirty and hard work. Still, it’s absolutely worth it if you can manage it.

Tree planting used to be part of my seasonal activity, and it was something I did as part of my Pagan practice. I believe in trees – which isn’t a difficult thing to do. Trees take up carbon, clean our air, provide habitats for insects, birds, mammals and reptiles. They’re good for human mental health, and I’ve run into evidence to suggest we’re better people when we have trees around us. We’re less violent in the company of trees. That trees are a force for good doesn’t take much belief at all.

We need more trees. In terms of action against climate change and a way of dealing with flooding, they’re an excellent option. Planting trees is a way of being part of the solution. It’s a real and uncomplicated action you can take to help tackle the problems we face. It makes a difference wherever you do it.

If you’re in the UK, The Woodland Trust has free tree planting packs for schools and communities, there’s other options too for land owners, or you can buy tree packs or single trees. Wander this way to learn more http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/

I’m hoping to get back to tree planting next year. I have a plan. It pays to start thinking about it well ahead of time because if you don’t have land of your own, you need to find somewhere you can plant, which takes time. You’ll need to talk to people, and you may have to educate them, or persuade them. You may need to do some research about the best kinds of trees to plant in the spaces available to you. You may need more people involved. Start thinking now, and you’ll have a much better shot at planting trees next year.

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Photo from The Woodland Trust – Community Tree Pack. Tree Saplings, Tree Tubes and Wooden Stakes on Pallet. Photo by: WTML


Tree Charter Day

The last Saturday of November each year is Tree Charter day. The aim is to get people to celebrate the value the importance of trees and woods.

The Charter for Trees, Woods and People was launched in November 2017. Not only is it a celebration of trees, but also a commitment to protecting them for the future.

You can find out more about the tree charter here – https://treecharter.uk/

You can add your name to the charter here – https://sign.treecharter.uk/page/6023/petition/1

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Photo from The Woodland Trust, re-used with permission: Winter conditions in Ledmore & Migdale Woods, Woodland Trust, Spinningdale, Sutherland, Scotland. Photo by: John MacPherson/WTML


Light through beech leaves

In the spring, beach leaves are a pale and delicate green, the sun passes through them easily and there’s something enchanting about a beech wood in direct sunlight. As the year advances, the beech leaves darken to a deep green that doesn’t let very much light through.

However, come the autumn, trees pull what they can back out of leaves, and the dark green fades to a delicate yellow, and then leaves turn a coppery colour before they fall. The impact on light in a beech wood at this point is startling.

A lot of light comes through the pale yellow leaves, but, filtered in this way it comes through as much more golden. If there are also fallen beech leaves, you get the amazing effect of honey tinted light interacting with coppery tones on the woodland floor. It’s a subtle thing, something you could miss if you weren’t looking for it. If you stop and pay attention, it’s quite a remarkable sight.

Beauty is around us. Re-enchantment is an everyday option if you go looking for it.


Field Trees

Ancient trees in fields are wonderful – I found a number of them at the weekend. In a field, an ancient tree has the space to really grow, and as a viewer, you have the luxury of being able to see it well from all sides.

Field trees are not the norm in agricultural landscapes because they make it harder to move big machinery around. In a landscape with the hedges grubbed out to allow the movement of big machines, there will be no ancient trees standing in the middles of fields.

Field trees are more likely to remain where animals are farmed – providing shelter and shade through the year. For an ancient tree to have survived the medieval period of grubbing up everything to plough the land, it likely needs to have been part of an estate. Large trees are often found in the parks of the wealthy – later on they were grown for their picturesque qualities. An estate might also cultivate large trees for building material. Sadly, a tree, or a woodland is most likely to survive when someone considers it useful in some way. If the land owners wanted a hunting preserve to play in, the wood survives.

Sometimes field trees exist because they were part of a farming style that deliberately mixed tree cover with animal husbandry. This might include pollarding the trees to provide food for livestock. A former pollard will have a broad trunk and then a cluster of branches at above head height.

Some field trees are lone survivors of former woods – you can spot them because they tend to be less spread out and taller. Sometimes former field trees can end up surrounded by woods- again, the shape gives them away and the trees around them will all be obviously a lot younger.

Fields of monocultures, devoid of hedge and tree are little more than industrial units. Nothing much lives there that does not directly serve humans. A tree is a sign of diversity, of life, of there being more going on in a landscape than human business.

 


Autumn leaves

The horse chestnut near my flat decided to get autumnal some weeks ago. Partly because of the drought I expect, and also partly because it has some sort of tree disease and tends to shed its leaves early. Said horse chestnut has nearly bare branches already and what leaves remain are the kind of brown most other trees won’t develop for more than a month.

Around it, most of the other trees are still green. At this time of year, the green of leaves is dark and tired looking compared to the fresh, bright tones of spring. A few of the trees are also yellowing – ash and elder specifically. These are usually some of the first trees to turn at this time of year. At least here. I have no idea how exactly autumn plays out anywhere else.

I think it’s really important to observe the seasons as they occur for you, not as they are supposed to occur. Far too many pagan books tell us what the eight festivals mean in terms of nature, and are mostly wrong – because of regional variation, shifts from year to year and so forth. No one can tell you how the wheel of the year will turn for you.

It’s also good to think about key seasonal markers and what those are for you, and how they manifest around you. What kind of trees grow where you live will very much affect your experience of the season. If you mostly live with evergreens, you won’t have colourful leaves. Here it’s predominantly beech, so those tend to turn a little later than ash and chestnut, and produce intense and coppery colours. For me, full on autumn is a beech wood, but for my husband who came from Maine, autumn means maples and birch, which we don’t have in the same way. We get the odd birch, but not enough to define the season.


Seasonal tree sniffing

One of the great joys of autumn for me, is smelling the trees. After the hot summer, it does feel a bit like autumn is coming early, and it definitely smells like it, with wild fruit ripening sooner, and all that follows from there.

Falling leaves and leaves that start to decay produce some wonderful, earthy smells. There are dry, crisp leaf smells, too. This is best experienced where you have a lot of leaves and not too many invasive smells from other sources – in built up areas, we can lose the tree smells all too easily. For autumnal tree sniffing, you really do need to be in a wood, for best effect, and as far from traffic as you can manage.

It is important to me to explore the dying away and decay inherent in nature as well as the growth and new life aspects of cycles. There is beauty in decay, as autumn leaves reliably illustrate. There is a magic in returning to the soil, and regeneration.

The smell that I most delight in, is the smell of rotting and fermenting fruit. In a domestic context, fruit rotting or accidentally fermenting is generally bad news, so it’s not a smell everyone will automatically find attractive. Out in the wild, that process is just part of what happens. It also softens fallen fruit in a way that makes it easier for some other things to eat. So does frost. If fallen fruit is allowed to just lie there, it will feed birds through the winter. I’ve seen massive flocks of fieldfares come to apple trees for the fruit left on the ground. Not tidying these things up brings enormous benefits.

Sometimes, the smell of fallen fruit in autumn is the only clue you get to the presence of an otherwise hidden wild fruit tree. If you like to forage, it can be a good indicator that will lead you to a fruit tree. Smells can travel, and if you can follow your nose, you will know where the fruit is for next year.

For me, fallen fruit smells heady and a bit intoxicating. It is an intense smell, not always an uncomplicated joy to inhale, but very real and immediate and natural, and I enjoy it in much the same way that I enjoy the heady excess of an over-ripe blackberry. Too-much is something nature does, sometimes; it isn’t all moderation and balance. Sometimes the apparent balance of nature is created by different kinds of excess. This is something I look for and actively appreciate.

For woodland foraging advice in the UK, go here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/things-to-do/foraging/


Drought, grass and diversity

We’ve had very little rain for weeks now. Places where there was just grass, and no shade, are dead-looking, dry and brown. However, a lot of plants are not dead and this reveals some interesting things. Grass that hasn’t been cut has held out for longer. Grass in any kind of shade is doing better. Grass protected by tree cover is doing best of all. Where there’s a mix of plants, those other plants are often surviving better than the grass. Grass in the company of non-grass seems to be doing better. Combinations of the above are also doing better.

Grass is pretty resilient and can make a comeback once there’s rain. In the meantime, it is easy to set on fire, and unable to support anything else much.

I honestly don’t get the British obsession with the lawn. The playing field at least has some obvious use to it. The neatly trimmed road verge where visibility is not an issue, the short grass of public spaces so rapidly worn away by passing feet… grass monocultures are in many ways useless, and yet we seem to love them. Possibly because we think short grass looks tidiest, and we love to tidy up nature. Right now, the ‘tidiest’ bits look dead and really unattractive.

Where there’s diversity on the ground, there’s a better chance of some plants being able to survive the conditions, whatever the conditions turn out to be. Plants have varying tolerances for sun and frost, drought and flood. By having a range of plants, we stand a better chance of not looking at dead ones. Plants are necessary for the existence of insects, and bees are in peril so we really need diverse planting that won’t be killed off so easily.

The moral of this summer for me, has been that in face of really challenging weather, trees are wonderful. I can sit out under trees – where the plants are still thriving. I can walk under trees, where the undergrowth is hanging on pretty well. Trees are amazing things.


Community and woodland

A healthy community and a healthy woodland have a great deal in common. Neither does well for existing in total isolation; threads of connection with other communities or woods are really important. A good wood has some diversity in it – different kinds of trees, a variety of underwood and undergrowth. It has birds and creatures. Equally, a good human community has diversity inherent in it too, but all too often what we do is connect up with people who are much like us – same age and gender, same class and education background, same sort of earnings level. We could learn a lot from trees.

One of the problems with tree planting is that you often end up with a wood where all the trees are the same age, and will all start to die off at the same time. It is necessary to thin out planted woods and allow young trees to come up after the original planting. A wood that will endure, has young trees growing in it.

Communities are the same. From school age onwards we’re encouraged to associate with people the same age as us. It means we grow up without access to the knowledge and experience of older folk and once we get older we may have little sympathy for the struggles of younger folk. If we live in an age-segregated culture, we may even have a sense that there’s inter-generational conflict. Perhaps at the moment there is, there’s so much abuse heaped on millennials.

Age-based human communities don’t endure. The spaces I like most are all-age spaces. You can show up with a kid in a pushchair, you can show up as a teenager and young adult, you can be there when you’re middle aged, and when you’re old. I like the atmosphere of spaces that have a broad mix of people in them. It’s a significant part of the attraction of steampunk, for me.

I go to too many events where those present are retired and very middle class. Often my son is the only teenager in the room, having grown up being the only child in the room at many events. Some of it, no doubt, is about disposable income and spare time, but we should be making spaces more accessible for people who work, have children and/or have limited funds. If a space looks old and middle class, it can be immediately unattractive to people who don’t fit. It can be hard being the one visible oddity in a room.

I don’t know how trees feel about other trees. People seem to find comfort and solace by being around similar, likeminded people. As we huddle into spaces populated by people who seem a lot like us, what we fail to notice, is that a great many other people who don’t superficially match, are also a lot like us.


Trees for mental health

Trees in our environment improve mental health. Walking, and being amongst trees can also help with mental health. Trees are good for us. They don’t solve everything – if your brain chemistry needs changing, a tree won’t do that for you. If the rest of your environment is hostile, stressful and making you sick, then the reprieve of tree time won’t fix that. However, we do all benefit from access to trees.

Trees are good company. They don’t judge, criticise or demand. They’re usually full of birds and other wildlife. They give us soft, generous light, protected for the greater part from sunstroke, heatstroke, and sunburn. In autumn they bless us with colour. They are beautiful as they age, beautiful when diseased, when gnarly, or twisted, or stark in winter. They help us challenge our limited ideas about acceptable physical shapes.

One of the big problems with mental health care at the moment is the emphasis on individual responsibility for good mental health. Let’s look at the tree issue again. Access to trees is not purely an individual issue. If your council cuts down all your street trees, the loss is yours, but the choice wasn’t. Planning decisions that destroy green spaces are often beyond our control, however much we might protest. Industrial landscapes where there are no trees probably aren’t your choice either, but you may have to work there. Affordable public transport to access green spaces isn’t something you get much say in. Accessible treed spaces for people who are less mobile are also not individual choices.

Our mental health is profoundly affected by the physical environments we inhabit. The role of green space in alleviating stress and promoting good mental health isn’t factored in anything like enough. Being in poverty increases the chances that you’ll have trouble accessing green space because you just won’t be able to afford to get there. It’s no good telling people to walk under trees to help with their mental health if they don’t have any trees they can get to. It’s no good assuming that everyone has a car and can afford to drive it to their nearest wood.

Our systems aren’t run to maintain good mental health in the populous, and what happens around trees is an example of this. We tell people to spend time with trees, but governments don’t enable that in any way. Trees should be readily available to all people, you should not need to make an effort to seek them out.