February, A Week Spent Quietly Among Friends.
It felt like I was last here in another life. These old friends I hadn’t given a thought to for a couple of months, I saw afresh in their mid-winter nakedness. Wide, wind blown, mossy and knobbled, these woody giants of the Cumbrian fells astound me every time I see them. And yet there is nothing particularly remarkable about them. They are just big trees. They are trees which have been, if not cherished, then at least left alone for centuries. Growing by becks, along walls or giving shelter to houses, no one has had any reason to remove them.
To have come straight from a landscape devoted to the worship of intensive agricultural production and the chasing of short term grants, where hedges come and hedges go and where trees mostly go, to this place where trees grow unmolested for hundreds of years, is profoundly moving.
And so, I spent last week visiting my favourite Cumbrian trees. I sat snugly between the roots of the enormous High Cross oak, completely sheltered from the insistent north wind while I quickly drew Black Crag and High Nook farm. It’s bare oaks are as bright as emeralds and heavy with ferns. I walked through woods of soaring beech, into old oak coppice getting smaller and more tortured until the prevailing wind puts a stop to it. Down to the exposed bay at the end of the lake where twisted thorns have braved that violent wind for years. And into woods of huge Norway spruce and European larch. I marvel at the multitudes of warts on the holly growing out of a wall, I reverently walk between ancient ash coppice hedges. And finally I shelter under a wide sycamore branch as it begins to snow.
Silently, I begin to walk home in the freezing half light, when four luminously dressed mountain bikers flash past me. I hear their yells as they hit the bog below, eight wheels cutting through years of slow grown vegetation sink into wet mud. And then they are gone.
Deep silence accompanies me as far as the Scots pine behind the house, where the soft hissing of wind through needles tells me that I’m home.