Winter, and I had a window seat on the train to work. Along a quarter mile or so where the rails run near the river it was plain that some trees were not infested with ivy but with mistletoe, not yet enough for a commercial harvest – unlike these trees in Oxford. Has the University or the College considered such an income stream? There was one small clump in a tree above the railway cutting, close enough to warrant a kiss – but Mrs Turnstone was five miles away in the supermarket.
We had an appointment in Canterbury city centre and were almost there when we spotted something white in the tree downstream. Stop. Stare. Stare again. It was not witches britches – air-borne plastic impaled in the branches – but a little egret, shining in the sun. Not long ago a rare visitor to Kent, now almost a familiar friend.
By the time we’d done snapping with our phones, a small crowd had gathered. I hope the sight lifted hearts a little.
We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.
‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.
Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.
That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.
This particular rainbow over Mrs O’s house occurred a few years ago.
We’ve had the first significant frosts this week, bringing red sunrise and sunset and another hint of autumn. I walked down Abbot’s Hill, admiring the remaining red berries and – a welcome promise of spring every year – the lambs’ tails of the hazel beside the ditch.
But at the bottom of the hill I was startled to see a leaf dancing its way to earth. Of course I looked down, to find the path littered with hazel leaves, still green, but released from their parent tree as the low sun reached the upper branches. There were more to come, but the catkins on this tree were still tight, nowhere near ready to begin their own tango with the wind. I guess the leaves need to fall before the flowers can open.
The railway companies are pilloried for delays blamed on the ‘wrong kind of snow’, ‘the wrong kind of ‘sunshine’, and so on. Let’s hope they know the right kind of leaves. There is a bank between the line and the main road, not far south of Ashford. The men have finished planting it with trees, all cosy in their rabbit-proof plastic tubes. I am all for more trees. I just hope these will not be cut down in fifteen years’ time, when they are tall and leafy and lovely, because they have the wrong kind of leaves.
Plato talked of prisoners watching shadows on a wall and picturing the outside world from what they saw projected there. Not picturing it very clearly.
This afternoon, a low sun was shining through the birch tree, casting intricate shadows upon the gable end of next door. Two shadows were more mobile than the rest. Up and across the wall they went, tails flicking. Magpies, instantly recognisable even in monochrome. I could picture them very clearly indeed!
It was raining when I visited Miss Turnstone’s class of four and five year olds to talk about trees and plant a couple.
Talking about trees was really enjoyed by the children and by me. I don’t know that, aged 5, I’d have dared put my hand up to say, ‘We’ve got a pear tree at home, Mr Turnstone.’ It showed that the child was making connections, but in my time in primary school it would have been about the right connections, as defined by teacher.
Still, we talked about roots and shoots and nuts and fruit and leaves and soil and plant food (bone meal being porridge for trees) and worms.
Worms fascinate four year olds; I don’t think one of the twenty or so who came out to plant trees in the rain did not pick up a worm and have a good look. We had to be reminded that they live in the ground and help the trees grow!
The children are excellent at taking turns, or we could not have planted the trees safely; three people with hand forks and trowels is enough at any one hole at a time! But the holes were dug, thanks to someone’s ten year old big brother who came to help with the heavy work; the soil at the bottom was loosened and bone meal worked in; the trees, a hazel and a peach, were planted; muddy boots were taken off and muddy hands washed, ready for home time.
And something for everyone to talk about over tea: a lovely afternoon we had, despite the rain!