I grew up in a home with a garden where there were two great hawthorn trees as markers of the seasons. Though not just as things of beauty to watch and enjoy but physical objects of practical and playful use. They were fixtures for a home-made swing, and for the household washing line. In my childhood dreams of escaping gravity, I wondered what it might be like to climb high in the branches, but was too scared to try.  One of my favourite story scenes was the wild wood from Wind in the Willows – the beautiful forest that becomes a twisted landscape of horror as Mole stumbles through this place disguised by winter weather. That fear of being lost and then the relief of rescue and being found.

We are a nation still entranced and enchanted by trees and woods, aren’t we?

In the news is the horror of another threat to our native trees. The Chalara fraxinea fungus which causes a virulent form of ash dieback has been found for the first time in ancient forests in East Anglia. It seems that a careless approach to importing ash, for convenience’s sake, is going to have a devastating effect on our woodlands, which have a value beyond the practical and financial. <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/30/ash-tree-crisis-dieback-disease.

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So can we find a way to be more careful in our relationships with the trees that are part of the story and reality of our national identity? According to Norse mythology Yggdrasil was an enormous ash tree that harboured all the life in the universe. From our Anglo-Saxon roots, we are a people of woodland and forest.  We need to pay proper attention to our trees, to acknowledge their importance to our health and wellbeing and that of other creatures that live in the habitats they create. We need to pay attention to the stories that remind us of the deep relationship between  landscape, including forest, and who we are as people who live among this landscape – and how we might continue to live together with respect for one another. 

Sara Maitland addresses this in her latest book Gossip from the Forest: a search for the hidden roots of our fairytales

I’m off to revise my limited knowledge and identification of British trees and remember inspiring stories and words.

from American poet Mary Oliver and her poem When I am Among the Trees:

When I am among the trees… they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It ‘s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

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