A beech tree features in this piece of nature writing, which is the third part of a small series of pieces based on a walk, in November, along a section of the Ullswater Way between Pooley Bridge and Aira Force.
As always, this piece can be read as a stand-alone piece; however, you may wish to read parts one and two first, which are (oldest to most recent): The Dunnock: Drab or Dreamy? And A Red Campion: A Star Poised in Space.
The Beech Tree: One of Nature’s Treasures
Four hundred fieldfares feast on the fruits of a hawthorn hedgerow. Following the Ullswater Way, I am led closer and closer to the massive gathering of migrant thrushes until, suddenly, one or two take to the sky. Their disquietude is contagious and within seconds the whole flock is spooked and spills, en masse, into the heavens above.
A somewhat raucous chorus of chuckles and cackles carries far and wide from the swarm. Each bird bounces through the air along an undulatory flightpath before wheeling and then alighting in unison on another row of berry-laden bushes.
I leave the birds be so that they can alleviate their hunger pangs, pushing on, instead, through more fields lined with hedgerows.
A grounded maple leaf stands out from the green of the grass on which it lies. The abandoned, better-without, just-for-summer scrap of matter is a mishmash of lemon yellow and milk chocolate brown, conjuring up images of handsome male yellowhammers. Traces of lime green, too, remain in the leaf’s complexion; and there are also, curiously, several conspicuous black spots present which look like dabs of tarmac, but which I presume are some sort of fungal decomposer.
I soon reach a narrow country road, which, like the majority of the fields around here, is bordered by hedges—mainly hawthorn, but with the cerise fruits of wild rose integrated at irregular intervals throughout.
As I amble along the road, hedges turn to trees. To my right, I glimpse a great spotted woodpecker darting from tree trunk to tree trunk amidst a small, roadside wood. Determined to obtain an unobscured view of this charismatic creature, I keep my head turned whilst continuing walking, my eyes pursuing, as best they can, the bird’s every position amongst the trees.
Suddenly, I am distracted from the pursuit—which was, anyhow, beginning to feel futile—by a light crunch beneath my boots. I look down to see that I am treading on a sprinkling of beech mast. I look to my immediate left to see the thick, grey trunk of a beech tree. Then I look up into its canopy. In that instant, a surge of awe inundates even the deepest, most barricaded parts of my being.
Silhouetted branches spread out from the trunk, their slenderness increasing with height. Between the beech’s elaborate limbs, thousands of pieces of golden treasure blot out the pale blue sky above, forming a mosaic so ineffably mesmeric that I stand there staring until my neck is too sore to stare any more.
As I walk away, the expression ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’ springs to mind. Indeed, money does not grow on trees but rather something immeasurably more valuable—leaves; not just because they turn to gold in autumn and provide us with something pretty to look at, but because without trees and their countless leaves, life would, as it were, cease to exist as we know it.