Trees Please

We’ve peaked.  We’re sliding towards bare branches, denuded winter trees, skeletal frames that you’ll soon believe will never have leaves again.  Yes, the intensity of autumn’s colour blast looks like it’s been run through too hot a wash; its vibrancy has been siphoned off, insipid now, like an 18thCentury patient drooping from bloodletting.

I walked through Waverley Gardens earlier this week and watched a man with a leaf blower battle the wind in a pointless pursuit of herding golden dried out shards into a corner where gusts made them fidget with St Vitus Dance. Eventually he changed direction and worked with the wind, although it occasionally broke the rules and swirled unpredictably against him.  But even this week, as the leaves came tumbling, there were remnants of an incredible display that would put a Farrow and Ball colour chart to shame.  Pelt; churlish green; lichen: those natural, tasteful, muted tones of house paint, said to be inspired by nature but whose hues are stupefyingly dull and lifeless when compared to what October’s trees have to offer.

“You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky,”so said Ameila Earhart.  I’m not sure.  I think there is enough wonder to be had from standing on a hill looking across at mixed deciduous woodland on the banks of the river Tweed, or walking the grounds of an old Selkirk estate with ancient Yew and hulking Beech and colossal Redwood whose umber bark is as spongy as a mattress.  There is dizzying joy in pressing yourself into a trunk, like the archetypal tree hugger, and gazing upwards to see if the ghost of Amelia Erhart is gazing back down.

This time of year is nature’s equivalent of Liberty’s haberdashery department: ridiculously sumptuous and ostentatious.  City parks and countryside forests turn into a huge, comforting patchwork throws, shades that compose a staggering concoction of sangria and cinnamon, avocado and lime, Dijon mustard, cider and butterscotch, plum and pumpkin.

Autumn has none of the subtlety of spring nor does it possess the childish, fresh energy of summer.  Autumn is the mature woman; the seasoned songstress who wears her slick of Russian Red lipstick, rouge noir on her nails.  She commands the stage in a leopard print stole, burgundy velvet heels, and in her hair – Carmen Miranda style – a garland of berries, russet apples and the last of the roses.  Her fingers are bejewelled, rubies, garnets, emeralds and a Russian wedding ring intricately twisted in three shades of gold: honey, egg yolk, melting sun.  She holds the audience in the palm of her hand.  She is a smear of cherry jam on a cocoa macaroon and a guzzle of Chateau Margaux at the end of a magnificent feast.  Autumn makes one final, classy bow.  She is glorious, and she knows it.

In times like these, there is great comfort to be had in simply walking amongst trees as they shed their cloaks and rest for the winter.  When so much madness and unpredictability abounds in this world, retreating into the comfort of trees feels safe and solid and lasting. They pre-date us, they will post-date us.  They are hanging up their costume right now, and whilst in times like these, we don’t know what the future holds, we do know, come spring, the trees will bud.

What Kind of Times Are These, by Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill

and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows

near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted

who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled

this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,

our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,

its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods

meeting the unmarked strip of light—

ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:

I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you

anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these

to have you listen at all, it’s necessary

to talk about trees.

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