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Lost - and found - in the forest

The first thing on entering the forest is the sunlight falling through the freshly-opened leaves of a sycamore tree, waving languorously in front of a darker, many-stemmed bole of a fir tree. Stunning contrasts, and a suggestion of how variety can achieve a sense of harmony which is missing when all things are uniform.

Moving further from the path – drawn by the beauty in the shade, and impelled to investigate its components more closely – one treads over a carpet of ivy, crunchy twigs and curled brown leaves from an adjacent oak. The dense, feathered foliage of the evergreen permits no light to fall through individual leaves, in stark contrast to the translucent sycamore. And the fine fronds of the fir seem to catch less wind, making this tree appear more sober and calm - in contrast to the dancing broadleaf nearby.

Stranded, intertwining parts of the trunk are woven together, and each has a series of ridges, scratches and ripples: in the bright sunlight, the effect is that of a river frozen in time, with all the eddy-currents, rills and ripples made permanent and held up for inspection. A soft covering of bright green moss invites touch, and seeks to coat the places on the surface of the bark where passing deer have nibbled at the trunk.

Solidity, expanse of time and continuity are all expressed by such an amazing tree-trunk as this, but what resonates most for me, stepping in to the shade, is the wonder and indulgence of being able to see in detail the myriad aspects of this one fellow organism, and to have time to revel in the beauty of its details, and celebrate them.

Modern life so often encourages us to be itinerant grazers of our environment, browsing superficially, then quickly passing on: trees represent the antithesis of this. They are immobile, shaped by the environment and the history experienced during its growth, and both static and part of a continuum, generating a fluctuating micro-ecosystem for other plants and animals. Here, part of the root system is exposed above the ground – strands weave and cross and coalesce at the base of the tree, from above looking much like the criss-cross of footpaths on a map, which merge and cross at the local parish church. Do roots flow from the tree in to the ground, or does the tree emanate from the roots upwards, converting the unseen constituents of soil which we so often cover with tarmac or paving in to a visible, living form? Such a wonderful symphony of bark, wood, tree, bulk and time.

A tree such as this is an object of wonder, an expression of solidity, acceptance and endurance. As the light changes - for I have stood here in contemplation for a while – new niches and abrasions become illuminated by the arcing sun, and the very shape of the trunk seems to morph. All my impetus to rush in to the forest has dissipated and I find myself still poised at the edge of its expanse, contemplating this single tree, simultaneously lost and found.

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