We are always talking about looking and seeing, here at Will Turnstone. When we took Abel out to the woods yesterday we found this invitation to look at Betula, the Lady of the Woods. Isn’t she lovely? Find one of her sisters near you and enjoy the sight.
Here is something I’ve been saving till the right picture turned up. This one is good enough to accompany this passage from Nan Shepherd’s ‘The Living Mountain’. A writer may reveal what the reader more than half knows, awakening joyful recognition in her audience. I was reading to learn about the Scottish Highlands, but I discovered something all-but known about the birch I see as I open the curtains or come home: the birch. Here is Shepherd on p53:
Birch … that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour. It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it. Acting through the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.
It’s always good to return home even from a quick walk to the shops. There is magic in fingering the keys as I approach under the lime trees – trees that may not flourish on Cairngorm but here share their bee-sung, scented glory every summer. Birch is wind-pollinated, needing no nectar, but its fresh-air scent, which I barely register even in wet weather, is part of coming home. I never realised till Nan Shepherd told me! And the blackbirds sing louder in the rain.
We occasionally berate the birch for its scattered seedlings, which occupy any bare earth and even take root in garden walls. As Rome fell away from Britain no-one removed the young trees, and the towns crumbled.
Not far from here at the derelict mine, a birch forest has sprung up on the spoil. Silver birch, I called it as a child – but it is pure gold in Autumn.
Do seek out Nan Shepherd’s book and see, hear, smell, feel with her.