Patterns in the sky

Have you noticed the shapes of winter trees recently? Their dark twigs and branches are standing out against the Shropshire skyline in the clear winter days. I can see lots of trees from my windows, and I look, as Oscar Wilde wrote, at that ‘tent of blue’ patterned by trees. We have all to a greater or lesser extent become prisoners in our homes. So, every window is important to me with its view of trees against the blue sky.

My mother loved trees without their leaves. I did not ask her why; we never do ask our parents enough and we always wish we had found out more. But I am beginning to understand now. She was an embroiderer and often used twig shapes in her work. We lived on a farm so each morning she got up early to help with milking the cows. The whole time before ‘dinner’ (at midday) was taken up with farm work. Then, after the meal was cleared and pots washed, she got changed and began her intricate patterned embroidery.

When I was a schoolgirl, I knew all the trees in our fields. I recognised them in winter by their shapes and their trunks, and in the summer by their leaves. When, at college, we were asked to do a tree study – it was all so easy for me (not like some of the other work in physics and chemistry) and I had ready examples for the photographs we had to include.

In those days we had lots of elm trees and of course ash which is now being threatened by die-back. We had huge horse chestnuts at the front of the house, but they are becoming victims of bleeding canker now. Recently we had to cut down one of our trees because of leaf miner attack. Our larch tree is in danger too because of the blight, Phytophthora, which means plant destroyer.

But why are all these trees from my childhood under threat? It is probably because we are used to travelling. These days plants and goods are transported around the world bringing with them the spread of disease. Nowhere is safe as we have found out in our pandemic.

To leave our ‘prison-like’ existence, on a beautiful blue morning this week we drove to Stiperstones. The road winds up and up until you are so remote and above the tree line. When we first arrived, there was no one there. We had it all to ourselves, with the freedom of blue sky, orange bracken and bright yellow gorse. Surely this isolated place was safe? But when we left the car park was full.

  (Taken from my column in the Shropshire Star)


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