I have been watching the sheffield problem for a while now. I am new to this and this is not my field, I profess to know absolutely nothing. I’m an illustrator and a therapist. I am married to a sivilculturalist, however, but I confess to having the ‘wifey’ habit of switching off occasionally in the business of family life.
But today, sitting here reading all of this, there is so much to dwell on. I understand that everything is relative, in the face of gun fire this ceases to be an issue at all. But that’s not the case today, and it is part of something bigger.
Firstly I need to say that we live in France, and this may, in some eyes, give us absolutely no right to comment at all and they may be right. But this is still ‘home’ we’re discussing and sometimes living outside it gives a unique view.
I hate comparisons but it is inevitable that we will compare, even subconsciously, the practices and values we see every day to those we see at home. While there are many, many frustrations to living with our ‘neighbours’, (I’m sure it’s mutual!) we watch with a form of envy their guardianship and husbandry of their own environment and their own place. The urban and village trees here are pollarded. It creates this stumpy, fist-like feature that can look diseased or unnatural, but I’ve certainly grown to love the look of them and adore the routine involved. A small team will arrive, block the road for however long they feel fit and methodically carry on with that particular row for however long it might take them. Trees here usually line the parking areas, surround central squares, line pavements, stand in school yards, they are absolutely integral to both urban and village life. The annual process of pollarding is efficient and calm with an inordinately long lunch break. The trees initially look devastated and indignant, like shaun sheep, until the next spring when suddenly they look stunning, like they just found a new dress, all glammed-up for the new season. New, strong shoots burst out in ordered fashion looking stylish and healthier than ever.
Why am I writing all this? Because I hadn’t realised until today just how much they lift my soul. I’m surprised myself, but that’s where all of this leads. The routine, the care, the blocking of the roads, the new shoots, the new dresses in spring, the big, blousey leafed canopy, the gnarled trunks, the uneven pavements, the patterns, the dappled shade, the sounds, all of this lifts the soul….every…single…day…and we are not even aware of it….until it’s gone.
Life is not easy, for some it is downright miserable with battles tougher than we can possibly know. Living in a world where we guard our urban trees won’t change much, but, and it’s a big ‘but’ (!) it changes something, I’m not even sure I have a name for it.
At the weekend I was taken to visit a very special tree, high up in the Caussols. A ‘Mother’ tree, a beech. Huge, gnarled, ancient, embedded in the slope. But what was truly astounding was not so much her or how old she was, it was what was going on that blew me away. She had several ‘offspring’ creating a marked out area where no other species encroached, the daughter below her spread out almost as if fending off rivals for space and nutients. But the communication between the mother and her offspring is the part that the specialists still don’t fully understand, it is understood there is communication and that this helps pass or make available vital nutrients to those most in need, it also helps warn when disease or threats are there, but, how is this done? What possible mechanism? The most likely contender is the fungi network in the soil but it is simply mind blowing.
The practice of identifying and leaving these mother trees intact when a woodland is felled is common practice in France. It is understood they are significant and that they need to be left but so little is understood of the soil and what goes on beneath the surface. And my point is? Replacing with something new to compensate for a felled tree that was well established makes no sense either. True it is better than nothing but its NOT a replacement for decades of established growth beneath the soil.
Our housing crisis in recent years hasn’t helped either, the greatest priority seeming to be to maximise profits of construction firms. New homes become dull, unimaginative, cheap. My bugbear, social housing that is substandard and not fit for purpose. Every-day family life, life faced alone, life…..all of it…..battles and joys, up hill, plain sailing, all of it needs an environment that will at the very least not make things tougher, sadder, at best we should be able to look up every now and then and feel a sense of something good, even if we are not sure why that is.
The removal of healthy urban trees , trees that are kind on the eye, feels like another wound, another breaking of the heart. We need them there, where they are, with us.
We look at great paintings, beautiful works of art, all of us will have different views on what those are. Since earliest times we’ve created: Jewellery, paintings, music, gardens. The tougher life becomes, the greater the need to lift the soul, or have it lifted for us. Trees, painted on canvas, decorated at Christmas, climbed up, touched, sat under or just looked at. Our need for these friends and this sense of continuity that they bring has never been greater.
To profess to know something: To accept/understand that you know something. Switching off: Not listening or paying attention. To dwell on: To think about or ponder. Everything is relative: It may not be the biggest problem. Home: Unique word in English meaning not necessarily where you live but where you belong. Husbandry: The profession of taking care of something (usually animals or landscape). Pollarded: Trees pruned or cut each year to reduce the growth of branches. Stumpy: Short and fat. Feel fit: To feel necessary or appropriate. Integral: Essential, needed, vital. Inordinately: Very, incredibly. Indignant: Upset by an event affecting you personally. Shaun: Cut like the wool of a sheep. Glammed-up! Made to look glamorous or chic. Blousey: Large, flamboyant. Leaf canopy: The cover the branches and leaves provide over head. Gnarled: Misshapen, old, knobbly. Dappled shade: patchy sunlight coming through the leaves. Embedded: Dug in, half buried, securely fixed. Marked out: An area evidently marked or segregated. Encroached: Coming towards your space, a feeling of having your space taken. Fending off: Keeping something away, often with great difficulty. Well established: Something that has been there a long time, has experience and knowledge.