A friend once asked me whether I thought trees have agency. Whether they exert a force on our lives? This has left me wondering.
Sat beneath a giant beech tree, on the flanks of its incredible trunk, I begin to feel its enormity. I lift my eyes skyward, through the branches and the mosaic of leaves, towards its canopy to admire the architectural magnificence and beauty. From up above, the boughs sweep downwards allowing the leaves to grace the ground, gently caressing the tips of the grass. The autumnal light shimmers through the lacy network of orange, green and yellow leaves; allowing small glimpses of land and sky.
I shut my eyes and listen to the world beyond. A far-away nuthatch issues its punchy notes, whilst the gawky rooks squawk their delight as they rise and dive in the boisterous breeze: signature notes amidst the crashing waves of wind that make the leaves around me dance and the branches sway: a whooshing sound that comes in rhythmic waves. I listen, I watch and I feel. A little red spider-mite draws a circular shape on my page and a squirrel bobs and forages beyond the tree-lined curtain.
Under the boughs, a carpet of orange and brown leaves decorate the earth; creating a perfect circle around the trunk. This is a tree-house of a different kind, a hideaway, a unique micro world distinct from the land that surrounds us. Its presence a symphony of noise, shape, colour and life. It is easy to feel at one here. Beyond its nature, I can hear the roaring traffic of the bustle around us: the sounds mingling; nature and humanity co-existing, making music together.
I like it here. I like the way time has etched its story on the bark. How long has it lived? What has it seen? What stories are its leaves whispering to me, what wisdom can it beseech me? So to answer my friend, yes, trees certainly do have agency. They exert their presence on our lives, not only their beauty and size but their different moods, their architectural uniqueness and the wildlife they harbour. We get attached to them, they are like old friends and it can affect us deeply when they are culled; removed from our neighbourhoods or our commons. The light they leave behind them stolen and erroneous; leaving an ugly gap where once there was life and beauty.
This tree, however, is safe. It is fortunate to have been planted in the grounds of a Capability Brown landscape. It is at peace with the world and so am I amidst its ancient presence. So, next time you encounter a magnificent tree, take a moment to enjoy its splendour, shut your eyes and feel its powerful energies. You won’t be disappointed. Trees have agency; especially in Autumn.