Thursday, 4 February 2016

The trees.

Yesterday I came across a file called ‘Gathering information for my NEW PLAN.’
It contained one sentence. That sentence was: ‘Look up the precise meaning of attenuation.’

I have absolutely no memory of the NEW PLAN. I made it in January, so it’s not very old, and it also must be quite particularly thrilling, since I put it in capital letters and I rarely use capital letters. So it was a recent, wildly exciting PLAN which had something to do with attenuation.

Nope. Nothing.

Actually, I’m very glad I brought up attenuation. I have just gone and looked it up and it does not mean exactly what I thought it meant. I would have said lessening or thinning. In fact it means much more than that. A reduction in the force, value or effect; a reduction in the amplitude of a signal, electric current, or other oscillation; a reduction in the virulence of a pathogenic organism or vaccine. It can also mean the gradual loss in intensity of any kind of flux through a medium (I don’t think the kind that contacts the spirit world, although I’d pay money to see that). And in physics, apparently, there is the attenuation coefficient, which  is the basic quantity used in calculations of the penetration of materials by quantum particles or other energy beams. I absolutely did not know that.

So at least I learnt something today, even if I have absolutely no memory of the NEW PLAN.

The day dawned fine and hopeful, although the sky has now clouded over and is the colour of dashed dreams. But for the morning, I had brightness and lightness. I rode the brown mare and then went and looked at the trees. I’m always banging on about the trees. I pretty much think the meaning of life is love and trees. Today I stopped for a moment and really, really looked at them. One of my great sadnesses is that trees are very difficult to photograph. They look so magnificent in life and so paltry through a lens. The only way I can show their beauty is to zoom in very close on a tiny part of a tree, or take a distant view of the treeline. I tried this morning to capture a particularly magnificent Scots pine and it simply did not work. But in a way this had its marvellous effect because I had to photograph it with my eyes. So I put the camera down and looked and looked and looked. I can see it now, seared into my retinas. I cannot show it to you, but I have its elegance and grace in the privacy of my own head.

It made me realise that whilst I talk about the trees, sometimes that is lip service. Quite often I am in such a rush, my mazy mind filled with so many thoughts (and NEW PLANS, obviously), my to do list so winding and long that I do not stop and see. I run past the trees as if they were not there. I take the trees for granted. This is a shocking dereliction. My new NEW PLAN is never, ever again to walk past a tree with my eyes closed.

One of the trees, a dear gnarly old oak, had some of its branches torn away from the recent storms. The spiked stumps of shattered arms reached up to the sky. I stared at it for a while, thinking it was a bit of a parable or an emblem. It was middle age. By this stage in life, all humans have lost a few branches to the storms. But the tree is still there, still beautiful and useful, still meaning something, still giving pleasure. I like that idea.

After the horse and the trees and walking the dogs, I ran some errands in the village. I saw something as beautiful as that oak. There were two old people, probably in their eighties, man and wife, walking together very, very slowly. The slowness of the walk was because of some physical limitation – some lameness, perhaps the aftermath of some illness, some soreness in the limbs or the joints. They were helping each other, every inch of their bodies tuned to each other, tenderness in every step. I wondered how long they had been married. Fifty years or more, I guessed. There was something about the way they walked that suggested they knew each other very, very well, and had done for so long that they could not remember or imagine not knowing everything about each other. I stood still and watched them, entranced. They were so absorbed in each other that they did not cast me a glance, so I could observe without rudeness.

Since I have an Olympic medal in forgetting (oh, that poor, lost NEW PLAN) I shall not remember those people. I shall lose the memory of the awe and wonder I felt as I watched them. That is why I have written them down. Now they shall always exist, here on the page. In year, or maybe two, I’ll stumble upon these paragraphs and that couple will return to me, as vivid and moving as they were today under the gentle Scottish sky.


  1. Happy, happy birthday to you! I'm so glad you wrote it down, and the posts following. Thank you always for sharing your trees, your rage, your beautiful herd. It's my 49th year too and I'm in slight disbelief (and quite a bit of denial) because I still don't feel like I thought a proper, functioning adult would be. But it's lovely to share this age with you. Love to you xxx

  2. And a very belated happy birthday to you - lucky to be so young, so do keep on buggering on. Its lovely to have you back and have your wonderful posts to read and enjoy. Not to mention the educational content - brilliant! "Love and trees", what more meaning to life can there be? If only we all enjoyed the trees and planted more than got cut down, then the world would be a better place. Gill (in the New Forest, where trees abound)


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