Saturday, January 25, 2014

Deciduous Dreams

I don’t know about you, but my eyes are starved for colour. I long to see green foliage and clear blue skies. If the bleak January landscape of white on white with shades of grey is starting to play with your psyche and if you’re not about to jet away to the Caribbean any time soon, may I suggest a quick and economical alternative?
Here is a good book all about trees, so you can pull the drapes against the drabness and indulge in deciduous dreams at your leisure. Roger Deakin’s  Wildwood, A Journey Through Trees is beautifully written, each chapter weaving facts with personal anecdotes about our complex and perhaps often unexamined relationship with wood, trees, woodlands and forests. Tree huggers unite, because there is something in this marvellous book for every interest or reason for loving trees.
Take, for example, the chapter entitled “Among Jaguars.” I turned to it believing I was going to be whisked off to the emerald rainforests of Central and South America. Not so. Deakin takes us to the Jaguar factory in Coventry, England and surprises us with some interesting data about the nuances of the walnut burr, the coveted and costly part of the walnut tree that is used exclusively to trim the mechanical beast’s dash, steering wheel and gearshift knob.
My favourite chapters, however, are “Willow” and “Ash,” two exquisite paeans in prose about two very lovely trees species that grace our lives and our landscapes here too in southwestern Ontario.
In “Willow” we learn that there are more willow varieties in the world than most of us realize, but only one, a  special variety of the white willow, is used to make the world’s best cricket bats. Yet Deakin’s curiosity for facts and stories about man’s many uses of wood through the centuries reveals an underlying reverence for trees just being, well, trees.
Of the willow he writes, ”All willows abound in life and vigour, and their pliable wands give them grace.” Willow’s genus, Salix, he reminds us, stems from the Latin verb salire, which means “to leap.” And leap they do, as willow’s natural spontaneity means that new saplings will emerge easily and readily from cuttings, all on their own and with little help from us. Willows are often planted inadvertently when we simply drive a willow fencepost into the earth or if we happened to leave a green log lying on damp ground.
Nature, so glorious, no?
As for the chapter on the Ash, I can only say – just read it, for under the spell of Deakin’s pen this great tree spreads its glorious branches across your mind ― Fraxinus excelsior, a name that exquisitely evokes its majestic essencemaking you want to run immediately to the nearest woods, find a specimen for yourself and throw your arms about it.
He writes:
“I love the skin of ash, almost human in its perfect smoothness when young, with the under-glow of green. It wrinkles and creases like elephant skin at the heels and elbows of old pleachers where they have healed. It bursts out in pimples or heat bumps where the epicormic buds are about to break out into new shoots.”
Roger Deakin passed away in 2006, shortly after writing this book. But by sharing his deep and abiding love for trees and the wooded places in this world he has reminded us of how intertwined our human lives are with those splendid giants among us who have given us fuel and furniture, ornament and shelter across the ages and who sustain us still with their grace and beauty, for whose soul is not stirred with wistful delight at the memory of a leafy canopy of green above on a hot summer day.