Thing is: when you live with something, day in, day out, it’s easy to forget why it’s there.
Where I live, the trees have always been there, great tall life forms which live on a different time scale to us humans,. They write their life on the rings in their frame, chronicling hardships and good times, grave, composed.
The trees in Windsor Forest are the possessions of kings and queens, a lesson in longevity, and in patience. They are testament to the investment in a tiny sapling with a view to the long game.
I hitched the dog to a lead this evening and headed out into one of the world’s oldest managed forests. It was overwhelming today: the waft of leaf mould and pine needles and wet fertile mud, the pure poetry of this place distilled in a heady mix bound straight for the most primitive part of the brain.
And tonight, I don’t know why, I just wanted lungs full of that air.
I stood, and breathed, and breathed. It cost me nothing but the decision to step into a forest in wet twilight, and yet it was a pearl without price. And there I stood, outside my society, alone on the forest. It seems men have forgotten this seminal moment, what with their televisions and their career paths and their shopping malls.
This is life, not that other stuff.
The dog busied himself.
We walked on to the entrance to the old iron age fort. And I stood there. The leaves were falling and it was wet and a ragged place, auburn and drab brown, laced with the wise aged green of lichen.
Insanely, I had an urge to stretch my arms out and somehow take in this place. Futile. But primitive: I think woman have done this before, in this place, for other trees than these.
For forest is a heady mix. It can bring to the surface a memory which has been petrified for millennia, though I am only half a lifetime old.
Respect for the trees can be a matter of ridicule, and the tree hugger is an oddity.
Half way across the world in the Himalayas, just decades ago, war brought undreamt of changes.
The upper regions of the Himalayas had been protected from the modern world because it had no roads. But India’s 1962 war with China made the region wary, and army bases were built along India’s border with China. And with the bases came roads.
The moment someone had unlocked the door, the woodsmen came. Timber merchants and commercial foresting companies moved swiftly in to gut the region of its trees.
But: the trees were there for a reason.
They hold our earthy crust together, you see. They ground us. They stabilise us. And without the roots of the trees, and that pungent layer of leaf mould to absorb water, the upper reaches of the Himalayas began to crumble before the eyes of their inhabitants.
In July 1970, impending calamity took centre stage.
There was a cloudburst; and a landslide blocked the Alaknanda River.
Without the trees to create spongy ground, and pin the place together, there was carnage. 600 lives were lost in a 350 km stretch of the river. Villages, roads, bridges: what are they in the face of the natural might of water?
And so the local women began to hug the trees. If they surrounded them in rings, the woodsmen could not touch them.They clung to those life forms which stood between themselves and disaster.
The trees are our silent defenders. They will not voice their concerns in parliament, or broadcast them to the nation.
But it does not do to forget why they are here.