Country diary: trees with deep-rooted emotional significance

Country diary: trees with deep-rooted emotional significance

What is it about certain trees that so moves people? On the debit side of this relationship, I know one friend who, when a beloved wooded play area was clear-felled for development, suffered a teenage breakdown that shaped his adult life. The 1990s protests over Newbury bypass also spring to mind, because one heroic figure known as Balin stayed in a tree for weeks to defend it, reading Cervantes, living off chocolate, sleeping under plastic in the depths of winter, until the bailiffs downed him and allegedly beat him for their troubles.

I know these connections but from their positive side, because for 50 years I’ve enjoyed a line of trees that run the horizon at Lightwood. They’re not veterans or in any sense special; on the contrary, they are young pine and birch, pioneer species that colonise open hilly ground. The soil below them is acid and waterlogged and so deeply impoverished that my guess is, over the decades, several shallow-rooted generations have fallen and died and been succeeded by their offspring.

Birch tree on Lightwood skyline looking into Buxton.

Yet the sparse treeline survives and I have loved it since my childhood, when my neighbour Mrs Wilmott called them – goodness knows why – “cowboys and Indians”. The name has stuck and perhaps there is something strangely apt about it: how they break the skyline like an eagle-feathered bonnet; the way they demarcate the edge of Buxton’s civic area; the way they anticipate the wild spaces of the moorland tops. On summer evenings, if the sky is steeped in bright colour, those hard silhouettes also seem infused with a sense of something lost.

As a child I did once see cuckoos, tree pipits and ring ousels in those pines and birches. Alas, all those fabulous migrants have now gone from Lightwood, but the trees – some broken and occasionally astonishingly distorted in shape – still persist. This is, surely, one source of my attachment. They bound one edge of the town, but for me, and I suppose many others locally, they help to define the shape of our daily lives. They are cherished fixtures, companions and waymarkers for the incremental changes of each season.

o Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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