“This is the most beautiful walk in the world!” She yelped.
Her six year old eyes were fresh. And it was the same for me because I’d not had the energy to walk further than our garden in months. We followed a gentle stream cutting a level path into a steep sided valley in The Quantocks hills. It was magic. The rippling liquid chanted over mini waterfalls, gurgled as it dropped into pools of calm and eased its way over pebbles and tiny sandbanks clear beneath the passing water. The trees and sky were reflected surface. With no wind, the near silence was underwritten by the waters which sounded like a sting of gentle conversations bubbling and gushing, swashing and swishing.
That the trees had stood there for centuries made the walk enchanting. The extraordinary Kenyan tribe I grew up alongside saw ancient trees as sacred spots where the ancestors whisper to you in the dead of night. My friend Kipchebet and I one walked for hours across the savannah, waving at tribesmen protecting cattle from big cats; eventually we dipped into a densely forested valley. Mindful of python looped upon branches above our tiny figures, laughing at monkeys darting through the canopy, we wandered along a well trodden path to the revered tree. Kipchebet lit a protective fire and we slept the night beneath its massive form.
You would have thought that ancient trees would be treasured everywhere, but in the USA they still log them, in the entirety of France ancient trees number less than the collection in London’s Richmond Park, which are but a few of the hundreds of such wonders scattered across England. Not only is the Amazon being raped, but virtually every primal forest everywhere in the world is being denuded. Swelling populations account for land-grabbing, but abject consumerism is worse - mindless devastation by logging companies, palm oil companies and governments carving roads through virgin jungle.
I lay beside the stream, gazed up at the myriad of fresh greens which spring produces. The convoluted leaves of the oak already sturdy, the wavy pointed ones of the beach with tiny furry under surfaces, the compound shape of mountain ash. The day’s heat generated a breeze which rippled through the canopy, whooshing and growing to a distant roar swelling from far up the valley, erasing all birdsong. Then it was almost silent again, just the soothing brook, the tweeting birds; nothing else.
I drowsed but deep sleep was discouraged by the pain of muscles so weaked from months of inactivity that my knee-bones grate, bone on bone, with each step. Yet I let my mind rise above myself. We can all do this, but we have to really want to. My want is pragmatic, I want to make the most of every hour for life is incredibly short, (as I’ve graphically rediscovered twice recently). I’ve heard about an army man compiling the intensity of pain from insect bites; he ignores pain by distracting his mind, even when bitten by the world’s worst sting - the giant centipede. We had those in Kenya, a monster almost as long and as fat as your forearm scurrying with a flickering skirt of bright red legs carrying an armoured black body and an alert head with those dangerous fangs to the fore.
On my birthday last year we picnicked beneath an ancient English oak, the previous year we visited a 4,000 year old yew brooding in a churchyard in Dorset. It’s a shame that when I was in Sweden I never saw perhaps the world’s oldest tree, a 10,000 year old pine, but I have slept beneath the ancient redwoods in Muir Park near San Francisco. And today I have a tiny oak, the fifth small tree we’ve planted in our 20x8 metre garden.
Even if people have no outside space they can all plant a tree. My oak, along with a Himalayan deodar, will live in a pot until it grows so big I will have to give each away. Try it! Prisoners who are given a plant to tend grow softer, more empathetic, they gain hope. To plant trees also gives a little help to the planet, so it’s win-win-win! Tree hee hee!