Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trees: Tops

I’ve always loved trees. Well, more accurately I suppose, I’ve always loved woods. Apparently in Japanese, there's a particular symbol for "tree", and the word for "wood" is the same symbol, clustered together several times. I know no Japanese so have no idea if this is true or just entirely made up, but I hope it's true because it just seems eminently cool.

For me, one tree on its own is like a single pea: you assume it must be there by mistake and start casting round for a few more. What I really like about woodland is the whole kit and caboodle.

There's that satisfying crunch underfoot that makes you feel vaguely intrepid. Even in evergreen forests, with fewer actual leaves, there’s always something falling from the trees (pine needles; old bark; chipmunks). That feeling of hiding from the outside world – in a decent forest, you’ll probably be sheltered from the worst (and the best) of the weather. And yeah, the trees themselves aren’t bad. So old! So big! Hmmm, so articulate, Sarah.

We visited a great new wood last month, and have just returned from my favourite forest in the world. It's got me thinking about woods I have loved, or at least, woods that hold memories for me. And sure, a list of favourite forests should *really* be filed under "cures for insomniacs", but hey, I'm one of those too, and if this ends up curing my insomnia too, so much the better.

So: without further verbal faffing, here's the first one:

1. Royal Forest of Dean, summer 1989

Starting with the oldest and best of forests - the one I've always known just as "the forest". This seems a timely one to be choosing, too, since it's A-levels/Leaving Cert time and this whole memory has that edge-of-adulthood, end-of-reason flavour.

I was eighteen, and just finished with A-levels and thus with (high) school forever. I’d grown up on the edges of the forest (pretty much literally, if the copse at the end of the drive counts) and didn’t need distance from it to know how gorgeous it was. Bluebell woods; babbling brooks; tiny little ponds accessed by twisting, made-up lanes and appearing out of nowhere through the oaks.

That last summer before leaving home is, of course, framed with nostalgia and a lot of the more dubious or just-plain-tedious details erased, and what I remember is this: Blazing hot days; picnics by the stream; fashioning hula skirts out of more random debris and just kicking back with that endless feeling of freedom. Bottle upon bottle of The Dreaded Red. The Blues Brothers soundtrack; Squeeze; local bands with such glorious songs as "Sheep on Drugs" ("fair blows my mind"). One particularly brilliant evening of partying in the forest; cookouts; music from the car stereo; lying back on the undergrowth and counting the stars. Driving through the woods at dawn and coming across a stray sheep (not unusual in this land of sheep badgers) , so putting it in the boot to give it a lift to its rightful patch.

Still, and always, my favourite forest; still, and always, one of my favourite eras. If you could wear memories on your jeans like patches, this one would kelly-green and blazing blue for the sky, and on my left knee, where I'd catch sight of it daily and grin a bit.


Stan said...

What a lovely post, Sarah. Thank you for writing about trees and forests. More people should. I should! Having grown up beside a small wood (and a lake), I know well the intense satisfaction of being surrounded by trees. Whether you're alone or in company, moving or stopped, looking up or down or around: it is just a joy, and a great shame the island has lost so much of its native cover.

There is a little information here about the Japanese Kanji characters for 'tree' and 'wood'.

Sarah said...

Stan - thanks for the comment - I'm nerdishly very pleased to have found a fellow tree-lover!

Thanks too for doing the research on the Kanji characters that I really should have done myself. You're a star.

Stan said...

You're welcome, Sarah! I enjoyed my visit here and will be back.