A Tree Fell in the Forest.
I was in the stable when the force of our second named storm, Barney, impacted. The lights in the houses across the field flickered and there was a wrenching shriek of tearing, rendered wood, a dull thump and a thrashing like waves crashing on a shingle beach. The hairs on my arms stood up and I steadied the pony. A tree must have gone down in Redwoods. I peered out over the half door as an explosion of a hundred or so woodpigeons wheeled out into the dusk.
Days later, I located the tree. It wasn’t one I suspected: not those long dead, nor any that were split, or compromised by fungus or rot. In the storm named Abigail, an ash hollowed by rot had snapped like a pencil and fallen into the arms of an oak, twice its girth and perhaps age. It held it, rocking and swaying for a week. Until, unable to cope after all, it toppled with a breaking of branches and crown.
It lay over the ash, great splits opened into the healthy heartwood with a terrible force. I squeezed a hand in as if to feel for a pulse. The wood, warmer than the air. The towering cartwheel of a root plate had already left a pond in its wake. As if to brace the fall, the tree’s limbs had ploughed into the earth like the heel of a hand or a skinned wrist put out, hopelessly, to save it. Great gouged molehills of earth presented little pale lightbulbs: bluebells, luminous as the skinned hearts of onions, sprouting for March.
My youngest tree-climbs horizontally, fascinated and awed; exploring a canopy she would never otherwise have reached. At the other end, goldcrests and a wren inspect it too. The scent of rendered wood and bruised dog’s mercury lingers.
The crash sheared off a branch from a neighbouring oak, leaving a white wound I will mistake for a barn owl for weeks. A hazel has been bent and pinned into an arc of frightening tension; a slingshot for hazelnuts. Another tree still holding onto its leaves has been caught and torn up by its roots, too. Its oval, pointed leaves are rough to touch, saw-edged. I think it is an ironwood, a hornbeam; or a wych elm? I pocket some leaves to take home.
The golden-brown leaves on the stricken oak have been flung off, the light gone out. I am sad for the loss of such a mighty, healthy tree. But strangely relieved that the sound that evening was a tree going down, and not a rent in the fabric of the world, which is what it sounded like.
We leave the wood to settle as the familiar, but newly unsettling crump and rumble of guns on Salisbury Plain reaches us; along with gunshot from a neighbouring estate. A tree fell in the forest and I alone heard it.