Being Ancient is fun. Particularly, because when you are old you are allowed to be a bit quirky, even controversial.
It is a time when you can reflect on ideas. Interestingly, on ones you had assumed were settled for good.
Recently I met someone who made me do a serious rethink. It was in Orkney. She was an old lady who was the guardian of a historic croft building, a black house, and had lived on Orkney all her life. I was the only visitor, and we began chatting. Someone had planted baby trees in the cottage yard and I commented. ” Hmm ” she snorted, “ Its that English curator’s idea. They’ll soon die”. She shook her head and prodded the peat fire.
And she was probably right. Orkney is virtually treeless…. The constant strong winds get them. Once their heads pokes above the garden wall, that would be it. Trees were literally not on her horizon. “That’s a pity”. I said.
What she said next quite shook me. “No” she said” Can’t stand them.” and carried on” I went down south once ” she said, confidingly ” You couldn’t see anything for trees. Couldnt see the Loch or the Bens. Hate them!”
That was some revelation! I had never ever heard anyone say that before! Have you?
We currently accept that trees are a good thing. Who would argue? Who would dare argue!
It made me think. And the more I thought the clearer came the realisation that it hasn’t always been that way. Not at all. In the past the old lady would have had good company!
If you climb the knoll behind Port Appin in Argyllshire you will find yourself with a superb panorama. Islands, headlands and sea lochs shimmering their way out to a distant ocean.
You get all dreamy and imaginative in places like that don’t you? I remembered being there on that kind of day. I had found myself building a picture of early peoples travelling these sheltered waters. They must have come across the Channel, post Ice Age, passed Cornwall, wandered along the coast of Wales, round the Isle of Man, and on a good day ventured to Ireland.Simple boats, but in calm weather paddling steadily from island to island, beaching in a cove like this, exploring, settling, trading.
It had never occurred to me before, but slowly it dawned. For them, the sheltered waterways of the Irish Sea were the equivalent of our motorways. Wandering along a sea coast was relatively easy..pull into a service station cove for water, shellfish supper, a fire and bed. There I was standing looking at a Neolithic Ml !
It clicked. For them, the sea wasn’t a barrier, the land was!
Love it when you get that kind of revelation. Don’t you? Began imagining their thinking. Would you have made that journey by land? The country at that time was rough, mostly forested or boggy, with no real tracks and full of wild animals.
Their view of trees must have been so different! Trees were useful for fruit, nuts and certainly for fuel and timber, but on the whole they must have been regarded as a nuisance. Certainly those early settler farmers must have thought so as they burnt and slashed through tree roots to make fields.
Exploring the woods in New England today you come across the stone walls of early settlers. Now they lie buried in trees and poison ivy…. Such effort, but soon abandoned when to the West the prairies were opened up…..Treeless!
Why had I never realised? People hadn’t always loved trees…..
Hadn’t thought about it before, but once it had been said I found I also had to confess, I am not entirely keen on them sometimes! Our garden is in a Victorian suburb and is surrounded by trees, and for half the year I see them unhappily. It was a requirement of the builder in 1860 that lime trees should be planted around the edge of each plot. A hundred and fifty yrs later they are over 100 feet tall, protected giants that we are not allowed to cut. The poor roses straggle upward seeking sun….so do I. No evening sun cocktails here……
The old lady was right, trees do block light and views. Have you ever tried taking visitors on a tour of Scotland’s Lochs in the summer? You can drive miles through gorgeous mountain and water scenery and see nothing but trees.
What are the Tourist people thinking of, letting that happen? They sell scenery!
It isn’t clear whether The Tourist Industry hasn’t noticed, or whether tree lovers won’t allow it. Maybe it is a cash problem. But that trees grow, wherever they can, very successfully and out of control is actually a problem. But one never talked about.
Today, cutting down a tree is almost a moral sin. And much of the time is illegal…..
And it isn’t just a Scottish problem. Many UK motorways are suffering from similar issues. Much of the time you could be anywhere. Worse still, Landowners in the last 80 years have planted millions of trees and they produced some of the most boring landscapes ever ..Conifer plantations. Grey green shadowless sterility….
The lovely sensual curves of skylines and open skies, lift your spirits Don’t you think that there is an inspiring endless feel in all of these long views which calms and yet thrills? Shouldn’t they be cherished?
Yes, of course we must plant trees. In themselves they are beautiful. An Autumn Woodland walk is delicious, a Spring bluebell wood, heaven. And, yes, we need them to control carbon levels, but would it be possible to plant them judiciously?
Does every single seedling have to be allowed to turn into full grown tree? Could we have judicious pruning and felling so that we have vista creation and preservation as well?
Why nowadays do we think that all trees must be unthinkingly protected?
There! Down with trees! An Ancient reactionary enjoying stirring it.
Why do you think I decided to write this?
Nothing to do with trees actually! Just that the Orkney lady and her very strong statement generated some serious thought. How what is so clear to one generation, the obvious truth etc becomes another generations bete noir.
Perhaps a better example might have been that beloved cure of all Drs two hundred years or so ago: blood letting. They had no doubts it was right.
Which brings me to the final question.
Which of today’s truisms will be seen in the future as the equivalent of tree clearance and bloodletting in this century?