I began this year the way I begin most years: with a winter tree walk. I was staying at my parents’ house in Birmingham over the New Year, and during a brief dry spell (of rain, not alcohol), I took a stroll around the neighbourhood, assorted family members in tow.
We walked a way I’ve walked many times before —along the old railway line turned nature reserve, past the duck pond, down tree-lined streets whose names bear echoes of the woods which once stood there (Ravenhurst Road, Lordswood Road, Margaret Grove) and around the overgrown playing fields behind the house. Last year the ground glittered with frost; this year it was sodden and slippery with leaf mulch.
My favourite part of the walk is when we pass through a gap in a thicket from one field into the next. When I was little I used to imagine that the gap led into faraway realm, that by stepping through it I would travel back in time to a time when the fields were an ancient wood. Habits die hard and I still find myself imagining things, even in my thirties.
As we walked the conversation turned to New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t know what you think about resolutions or whether you’ve made any for this year, but among my usual pledges to be thinner and fitter and nicer, I have one that is a bit more unusual: in 2016 I’m going to strive to lead a more tree-filled life.
Let me explain. In 2015 a family friend passed away and left me a stack of books — all on woods, trees and wildflowers— because, she said, she remembered how much I had always loved trees. She was right, I have, but it’s only during these annual winter tree walks that I seem to remember this fact about myself. Then once the year gets started up again, I get caught up with the everyday business of living and I forget all about how much I love trees…
But not this year; this year I’m going back to my roots.
I’m going to learn more about trees, the benefits they bring and the threats they face, and I’m going to get better at identifying them. I think I’ll start by getting to know some of the trees in my neck of the woods: on my street, in my local parks and nature reserves and in my local ancient woods —believe it or not, we have these in North London— and I’m going to get to know them in all seasons.
I’m going to spend more time in different treescapes —woods, wood pastures, copses, spinneys, chases, thickets, groves, hursts, hedgerows, and also parks, commons, plantations, arboretums, gardens, glasshouses and urban forests. (I’m not entirely sure what all of these terms mean, but fear not, I shall find out.)
But by getting to know trees better, I won’t be forgetting about people. I shall seek out and converse with Britain’s tree champions: its conservationists, botanists, arborists, woodsmen, foresters, horticulturalists and, especially, its Tree Wardens — a national force of volunteers, coordinated by The Tree Council, who grow, plant, care for, protect and stand up for the trees in their neighbourhoods.
Oh and one more thing, this year I’m going to do something I haven’t done for ages: I’m going to climb a tree.
I don’t think that this resolution of mine will be particularly hard to keep. Already, my diary is getting booked up with winter tree ID walks, tree planting days and woodland management workshops and I already know plenty of tree champions.
So in 2016 I’ll be embarking on a journey through trees; I’ll be going on an arboreal adventure, stepping through the gap in the thicket, perhaps not back in time, but perhaps into a world that’s a bit greener and wilder than my current one.
Will you come with me?