The biggest tree

DSC_0184.resizedWe had a little fog. I walked with a little dog.

Fog makes things look different, or it makes us look at things differently. Detail and colour is reduced, mass and shape remain, and things can look curiously two-dimensional as if painted on successive sheets of tracing paper.

It was a pleasure walking around the newly unfamiliar cemetery, learning to see it in new ways.

I noticed the trees more. There are quite a lot of conifers. I don’t have a clue what most of them are. I would call them Cupressus or Cyprus trees – medium sized, a cylinder or cone of dense foliage, not much trunk visible. The broadleaved trees include the gorgeous multi-stemmed birches in the war grave section, some huge beech trees along the northern boundary of the old part of the cemetery, and along the ridge a line of something or others with great tangles of twiggy branches in their middles. They might be beeches, but I will have to wait for the leaves to emerge to be sure.

Then there is the largest tree in the world.

DSC_0179.resizedIt’s only a baby. It can’t have been planted before the cemetery was laid out (in 1898, I think), but it is a Sequoiadendron giganteum, the largest of which are the largest of all trees. I’m not sure if it’s taller than the beeches yet, but barring lightning or storm damage is soon will be. In California there are redwoods that are more than three thousand years old. Their girth and height looks extraordinary in the photographs. Up close and personal it must be quite something.

There are two main types of redwood. The coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, grows taller, but the giant sequoia is bigger by sheer volume. You can tell them apart by looking at the leaves: Sequoiadendron are like tiny points along the stems, a bit like ling heather, whereas Sequoia look more like yew, with small but conventional, separate leaves. Or, if you’re in a hurry, you can just punch the tree. If it hurts, it’s Sequoia, if it turns out that the tree is wrapped in deep soft lagging for bark, then it’s a Sequoiadendron.

DSC_0178.resizedOurs has lovely soft, warm bark. Or cool, if the tree is caught in a forest fire, which may be the point of it.

It’s a beautiful tree, and I will try to measure it when we get a sunny day. I think it must be in the region of eighty feet high, and if it’s just over a hundred years old, it may well be growing a foot every couple of years.

The trunk is very straight, and the branches are DSC_0176.resizedstrikingly twisted. As you can see, the crown is fairly open.

Trees have dignity. Their size and their lives longer than ours are probably why. Their forms tell the stories of their growth and their lives.

Wendell Berry, American farmer, environmentalist and poet says that ‘great trees, outspreading and upright’ are ‘apostles of the living light.’

‘Receiving light and giving shade, Their life’s a benefaction made, And is a benediction said, Over the living and the dead.’

I also spotted some mistletoe.DSC_0185.resized

And the dog enjoyed the fog.DSC_0182.resized


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