For centuries, trees have served humankind in countless useful ways; but our relationship with these silent companions has many dimensions beyond mere practicality. In celebration of this diverse species – and to show our support of the Tree Charter – we are sharing a short excerpt from The Long, Long Life of Trees by Oxford University professor Fiona Stafford. Here Fiona tells us her own Tree Story, recalling a memory of a particular birch tree in her grandparents’ garden.
A Tree Story by Fiona Stafford
Extract from The Long, Long Life of Trees
My grandparents’ garden was a paradise of bright flowers and seemingly endless sunshine. What made it all the more magical was being hidden away behind a high wall, so that anyone walking past along the street had no inkling of how close they were to another world. In the autumn, the graceful upper branches of the mature birch tree standing guard over the perimeter wall did scatter hints onto the wet pavement, but they turned almost instantly from gold to brown and then disappeared. Safely cocooned within heavenly scented shrubs and warm, herbaceous borders, we were oblivious to the rhythms of the working day and would play hide and seek, make castles from empty cream cartons, or take turns on the rocking horse, until we had had enough of the fresh air and each other. I was not very old, though, when I scrambled onto the big pile of logs by the wall and up into the birch tree. Just as I was climbing high enough to see out into the street, my foot slipped on a smooth, damp branch and, catching at the top of the wall to stop myself from falling, I saw the black, spiked fist of barbed wire which ran along the top an instant before it scored my arm. For the rest of the day, sore, shaken and ashamed, I took dubious comfort from showing off the biggest plaster in the box. The cut healed, of course, but it left a long red line running down from my wrist, which very gradually faded into a smooth, white thread of a scar. It is still there, lightening in the summer as the surrounding skin goes brown. The little accident left a permanent portrait of the birch – a white, gently curving reminder of unheeded warnings and unexpected admonishment.
Fiona Stafford is professor of English language and literature, University of Oxford. She is author and presenter of two highly acclaimed series for BBC Radio 3 titled The Meaning of Trees.
The Woodland Trust is leading a call for a Charter for Trees, Woods and People that will ensure the true value of trees to society is recognised, celebrated and protected for the future. Trees and woods in the UK are at crisis point, facing more threats than ever before and yet being prioritised and protected less than ever. We face a future without trees if we do not act now.
The Tree Charter will be launched in November 2017, on the 800th anniversary of the historic 1217 Charter of the Forest.
We need your help to help shape the charter. You could tell us about a tree that has special significance to you, something you enjoy doing that wouldn’t be possible without trees and woods, or simply tell us why you think trees matter. The themes of the charter will be based on the stories collected across the UK between now and February 2017, and will show politicians and society as a whole how much people value the trees in their lives and landscapes. Share your story here.