Thursday, 12 January 2012
This is the view from the huge floor to ceiling square window in Cairnoch Lodge, a little holiday cottage where I spent the week between Christmas and New Year, far from the maddening crowd. The thing I want to draw your attention to is the right hand branch of the left hand tree. Does it strike you as odd? It strikes me as eccentric but I’m not sure you can call a tree eccentric. I’m not keen on stories in which animals take on human characteristics and it seems three times worse to do it to trees, even if I’m only suggesting a tree might be eccentric. It does seems a peculiarly human thing to be. Though of course cats are too. All cats are eccentric, in my opinion, which makes eccentricity normal in the cat species and it makes cats, as a species, eccentric amongst animals. But I digress. You’ll no doubt have felt my confusion.
Perhaps what I’m saying is that the natural world is wonderfully varied, even in our own backyard or the backyard I borrowed, as in this case. As a resident of Scotland I find Scotland beautiful but not exotic or unusual. It's too familiar. But it is varied and this tree seems somehow extra alive with that strange ‘arm’ stretching upwards in a peculiarly rhythmic shape, like the movements of a dancer or the line of flight of a small bird.
Winter is the perfect time to examine our trees for eccentricities. The gush and splendour of new leaves in spring (see earlier post) has not yet arrived to cover up their strange and twisting bodies. And here I’m reminded of the artist who photographed ordinary people in little or no clothing in simple settings. Without the homogenising effect of clothes we are all distinct and beautiful. These portraits made everyone look oddly vulnerable. And eccentric. Eccentricity is a good thing I think. I wish I could remember the artist’s name. There was an exhibition going round about eight years ago I think. A brief search on the internet was as dodgy as you would imagine it to be.
On a bus journey this week from Inverary to Glasgow I was treated to still more oddities of the tree world: five deciduous adult trees clustered so close together their roots must have formed a woven blanket (close-knit family?); trees growing out of the floodwaters of Loch Lomond like reeds in a river; branches the width of elephant legs snapped in two by the ferocity of recent storms; a fallen giant amidst an army of giants, the others all still standing tall; two men with chainsaws beside a stack of thick discs sliced from a trunk, like a pile of cakes two foot wide; twigs, sticks, branches of all shapes and sizes littering every field and grass, only the roads being cleared.
Meanwhile, of course, the human population is feeling a little stripped back to its roots by the ‘recession’ and by the austerities of January after the excesses of Christmas. But some of it is deliberate because of RESOLUTIONS. The idea of resolutions is surely to strip ourselves back and get more focussed on what matters, to behave better, give up things which harm us, make this the year all the right things happen. Done the right way we strip ourselves back to our own special core and build from there, perhaps growing in new directions with the elegance of a small bird's flight, or the quiet strength of a tree or even the ferocity of a winter gale.
Meanwhile, in a dark room near you, I am sitting here creating a whole new structure for the life of Lenny Gillespie of Mavis’s Shoe fame. To begin with it looked like the five tree cluster with the various characters all standing round one another, but now some of them are being thrown about by the wind, all of them are growing before my very eyes and one of them falls in a place no-one sees.
This is the same time of year I began Mavis’s Shoe. There is much I don’t know about the history and background of the period I’m writing about. Mavis’s Shoe was written in a frenzy of researching and writing and writing and researching. It looks like writing the sequel is becoming a similar process and in the absence of time to do anything but write, I too am like the trees stripped back to their essential peculiar selves.