I try to cycle in the New Forest where I live at least once or twice every week. It’s such a good thing to do, on many levels – physical exercise, out in the fresh air, and in nature; pumping the blood around the system, a change of scene away from devices and To Do lists. Always something different to take in, to catch my interest or stimulate my imagination, especially in noticing the changes through the seasons. As we entered autumn, there were just two or three weeks when fly agaric toadstools were everywhere, and never failed to surprise and delight, in their many forms, the unworldly patent-red surfaces dotted with fairytale polka-dot white markings.
I recently noticed a tree that caused me to turn back and capture it in the photograph below. Trees and forests have been very much on my mind recently as I’ve been reading Annie Proulx’s ‘Barkskins’, an incredible epic that charts the shocking story of how white settlers arrived on the east coast of Canada and began to chop down the forests, driving out the indigenous Indians and decimating their environment. Not for the faint-hearted at almost 650 pages long, its story spans several centuries and crosses continents to include New Zealand and beyond; giant towering trees that have taken thousands of years to grow, populating vast forests that white pioneers and entrepreneurs, ready to make their fortune in the lumber business, assumed would never come to an end. So much was not seen; how removing the trees and not replacing them caused steep banks to collapse from rainwater, and settlers burning land so that they could build and farm it robbed the soil of its rich nutrients, making it barren. It is a monumental charting of how the West’s greed has devastated our natural world, with dire consequences, and has caused me to look at trees, and anything built of wood, in a new way.
This tree captured my attention; growing or fallen at an angle, I was so struck by the way it’s bearing its weight on one small branch. And at some point, very naturally, the weight may become too great and it may break. Perhaps this tells us something about our lives. It certainly connects to much of the the work that I do, thinking about well-being, positive mental health and how we put so much pressure on ourselves in often unnatural or unsustainable ways. And that eventually, according to the laws of nature, something has to break.