Living With Trees by Biddy Vousden
Living With Trees
In winter the trees withdraw, sap sinking down into the roots. They drop their leaves, divest their cells of water, alert to the danger of bursting through freezing. Deep underground the root tips retract, holding themselves apart, preserving their integrity, latent and uncommunicative.
We are walking in the forest. The child beside me wants to break the silence, finding questions to ask: why is it cold? when are we going back? But the trees are Gods and they want quiet. I don’t answer. The child wades in his rubber boots through layers of detritus, sticks and leaves and dirt. The ground is hard as stone.
Even the stream is still, caught by the freeze. I show him icicles at the edge of the bank. I want him to be filled with wonder at their fragility, but he hits them with his hand, laughing, and they shatter and fall. I take off his woolly mitten so he can feel the coldness of the frosty filagree ferns, feel them brush his hand. But he pulls it away and starts to cry. His cheeks are red and his nose is streaming.
In a matter of weeks, a light wind, filled with drizzle and spores, is playing with the grass at the edge of the forest. And where it has touched, there is gold. Aconites, bright as sunshine, march in under the trees and swathes of snowdrops mark the spaces around the beech trunks. Soon the trees will be lightly brushed with green. The paths are muddy and the child is content, splashing in puddles. The voice of the stream, freed from its grip of iron, reaches as far as our garden.
Slowly the trees begin to stretch their limbs. Hear them, drinking after their long sleep, feel the strength coursing through them, listen to their whispering, dancing with the breeze that teases their topmost branches. Root tips reach out again, soaking up nutrients, fattening the leaf buds. In the soft earth, white fibrous ligaments touch.
We are in the garden, listening to the sounds from the forest just the other side of the fence, inhaling a potpourri of wet earth, wood, fungus, growth. I’m raking the vegetable bed and the child wanders out through the gate. When I look up, he is standing under a tall birch on the forest fringe. He has a small heap of stones and he is standing with his back to me looking up, golden curls around his shoulders, arms raised in the air towards the trailing hair of the drooping branches. And he is chanting.
I move closer to hear the words and he half turns, aware of me, and smiles. He is holding a stone up to the tree like an offering, and chanting: Trees-a, take-a, Trees-a, take-a. He drops the stone at the foot of the tree and offers up the next, still chanting. He picks up another, moves closer. Closer. He stumbles, tries to right himself but can’t, sways a bit and then falls onto his knees and lands on his side. His voice when it comes is breathless, but more surprised than upset: ‘I…I fell over’ he says. As if unable to comprehend the sudden and absurd end to his worship ritual.
I go and take his hand and lead him back into the garden. When I ask him what he was doing, he ignores me and runs off to do something else. The trees shiver under a spatter of rain.