The Resilience of Trees

Yesterday was a glorious September day. Warm enough to wear a t-shirt all day, cool enough to have an edge. It started damp and ended with that buttery light that only comes in autumn. It was the best of all possible days. The little red dragonflies were swarming and the hawthorns pushed their fat red berries at me like a conference of strumpets.

 We spent the day cutting back the trees which grow with abandon in the Night Planted Orchard. It feels cruel to take thick boles out of trees, or to cut down the wild plum trees which have sprung up everywhere. It's equally cruel to leave the rowan crowded until it's sad, bowed head and starved leaves are a footnote in the shrubbery, or to leave the Ginko struggling upwards, its light stolen by a rampant Mirabelle on one side, a bullying laurel on the other, and imperious ashes behind. Struggling to carry a twelve foot, six inch thick bole down the garden it struck me that there must be hundreds of tonnes of wood in the garden, all still, all resilient, looking down at me with my mighty pole pruner and whispering 'is that all you've got, little man?'


Spring Dreaming

A bewildering acceleration of circumstances meant that I left Babylon on a dreary autumn day and arrived after too much sleep in springtime in Adelaide, with blossom on the trees and a strange buzz in the air. The similarities between Australia and the UK only serve to illustrate the differences. There is talk of Christmas as the pinnacle of the long climb into glorious summer, not the distant bright light in the middle of a dark passage. My hosts were shocked that I suggested making a bonfire to burn old letters. One of my reluctant bonfires in the Night Planted Orchard would start a fire that would flush half of Australia into the sea. Double glazing is a rare and curious beast. Air conditioning is mandatory. In the US-style strip-malls, US brands compete with familiar UK brands. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car for once, but the road furniture is pure US which can lead a distracted traveller astray. Men talk about family, tragedies and real life in a way that would have real men fleeing in terror from an English pub. Beer is drunk like a bewildering sacrement that has had its day. Wine has equal standing. Serious conversations turn out to be wind-ups and keeping a straight face is a national performance art. Pubs are full of families and children. Kangaroos cross the road like sacred cows. There are protests about not opening underground coal mines. The greatest difference of all is the sheer overwhelming sense of space. There is wilderness here, more even than in the US. The population is tiny for the size of the country and most people live around the cities or in towns nearby. I drove the back way back to Sydney, through the mountains and the national parks, and didn't see another soul until I started looking for coffee. Even in the US, the wilderness has to be protected from humans. In Australia, the humans have to be protected from the wilderness in all its glory.


Blue Neon

The first thing that you notice about the birds of Australia is the colour. There are drab, sulking sparrows here but they are relegated to the shadows. Every tree is a shop-window for cockatoos, magpies, old crows with patches of white and small pretty things with dabs of colour under their wings. Their tailoring is brilliant and efficient, garish and comely. They are sometimes as skittish as convention says that birds are supposed to be, but they are forward too. The magpies attack to defend their territories. The gulls strut and preen like glowing stormtroopers, stamping their feet like the cracks of whips. They sashey past as you drink your morning coffee or eat your evening meal. They display their wares with abandon. Their calls are sharp and melodic, piercing the trees. They shout their shrill songs, or whisper comely ballads to you as you pass by. Their eyes do not avoid, they fix you calmly.  They perform acrobatics against tall branches, swivelling to watch you with hungry eyes, looking for threats and loot at the same time, backed by song and soft, green rustling. There are natives and imports and it is often hard to separate the two. They patrol the innermost heart of the city, pecking and exploring, pulling morsels from between the cracks, looking for trouble and finding it. But all is not well. The imports look beaten and scurry aside when approached away from their nests. Their feathers though bright have seen better days. Beyond the brightness, their eyes and beaks are rough and fierce. They have conquered man's nature, but not without cost.





Sleeper, escaped from the Earth

On walking through an old graveyard we came upon a fallen tombstone shouldered under a blanket of finely maintained grass. A century of freezing and thawing has allowed the earth to take a grip on the giant slab. Endless cycles of hard Yorkshire rain has shivered the stone into the grass, deeper and deeper. Now, the stone is part sunken in these immaculately tended grounds. Overhanging the fallen stone is a tree and I imagined the occupant of the grave, long dissolved in the Earth, drawn into the fine roots of this young tree, bone becoming wood, flesh becoming leaves, weatherings of her own gravestone powdering her cheeks. Her blood has become sap and the delicate tint of cherry blossom in the spring, overlooking her own grave, escaped from the Earth, watching the slow cycle of the years. Does she shed blossom like confetti, wedded to her rest, or does she shed bitter cherries like tears?

Is she restless? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I would be content to rest in such a place.


Unknown Regrets

There are things that you don't miss until you experience them, and afterwards you cannot bear to be without them. Sex is the most obvious example. Or hearing KD Lang singing Helpless, live, and trying not to cry like a small child.

We have four days of immersive music coming up. The line-up has a few stars but we know from many years of experience that it's the lower part of the bill which is the most engaging. We've been going to this particular festival for twelve years on and off. I cannot count the artists that I listen to every day who I first heard in a soggy tent surrounded by pissed-up middle-aged folkies. If it hadn't been for that first visit, my music collection would still be dominated by progressive rock and electric guitars. Now I'm a middle-aged folkie myself and by 18:00 on Friday I'll also be beered-bearded and smiling.

I suddenly felt a chill. What other experiences in life have I missed? If the universe really is infinite, then technically, I missed an infinity of riches. Such a thing should make me sad, but then I imagine that I am craving ownership of every diamond buried in the secret Earth, and that wouldn't be fair now would it. So I'm off to pick a few cherries from the trees, and perhaps I'll leave most of them for the birds.


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