One time in some trees near me I found a stick with the wool of a hardy upland sheep attached to it and took the stick home. The wool had attached to itself to the stick as a result of sheer chance and possible sheep itch but the way it was coiled around the wood looked quite artful. It reminded me of a stick with some sheep’s wool attached to it that my parents had once received for Christmas from some earthy friends who were very enthusiastic about organic craftspersonship. But unlike the stick with some sheep’s wool attached to it sourced by my parents’ friends, my stick with some sheep’s wool attached to it had not cost any money. I stuck the stick in the ground near my garden pond and, in an ensuing series of autumn storms, a lot of the wool was untangled from it and blew away. Then I forgot about the stick and the wool then, a few weeks later, when the year had turned, I realised they were both gone.
One time in some trees near me that separated my mum and dad’s house from the M1 motorway I read a book in winking sunlight and experienced a great birdsong peace that I was only dimly aware of, due to an urban yearning inside of me and the thick coat of unawareness we often wear when we are nineteen and a bit. The book was written by Joan Didion in the late 1960s and was much better than more cultish posturing books written in the late 1960s that people were telling me to read at that point in my life. Later the same summer armed robbers hid in the woods, as police helicopters circled above. Long after that would I wonder if, on the second or third day of hiding out in the woods, the armed robbers who escaped into them began to relax and experience a similar form of peace to the one I had. I sometimes mentally combine these armed robbers with the other armed robbers who tied our neighbours to chairs, beat them with baseball bats and sprayed mace in their pet greyhound’s eyes, but this is a case of memory playing tricks on me: they were definitely different armed robbers.
One time in some trees near me I saw Dave, my tree surgeon friend, hanging upside down. He was working on the remaining limbs of a three century-old holm oak that had fallen on my phone line. Dave had told me that when a big tree like this comes down in a storm, it’s often not just the work of the wind. In this case there had been several other factors at play: the build-up of catkins at the top of the tree, several days of heavy rainfall leading to accumulated moisture and heaviness in the catkins. Squirrels, Dave said, were also a problem, as they weakened trees with their incessant scraping and chewing of bark. An hour or so after the holm oak fell, just as I was becoming cognizant of the fact that it had taken out all the modern forms of communication available to me, a policeman had knocked on my front door to say a 999 call from my property had been recorded. I said that was impossible, as I had no working phone, but he asked to come in anyway, presumably just to check I didn’t have anyone tied up at gunpoint in my cellar. He seemed satisfied and left, especially having realised I didn’t have a cellar. I later found out that when phone lines earth they often automatically send a call to the emergency services, but I preferred to believe that the call was made by the holm oak, in a desperate plea for help as it breathed its last. When the policeman left, I walked to the top of the hill past the holm oak, where I could get mobile reception, and called BT. “A tree’s come down on my phone line,” I told BT. “Ok. First we have to check if there’s a fault on the line,” BT told me. “There is. It has a huge tree on it,” I told BT. As can so often happen when you’re dealing with telephone and Internet companies, I soon became trapped in a labyrinth of bureaucratic computer-says-no nonsense and a farce developed, raging on for a lengthy and precious period of my life. I was informed on a couple of occasions by BT that their engineer was on site fixing the problem but, being on site as well myself, I was able to confirm that this was untrue. I wandered back up to where the holm oak had crashed down and parted some large nettles and fronds surrounding it but did not find the BT engineer hiding beneath them. When the engineer did finally arrive, many many days later, and he fixed the fault, he told me the fallen tree was something of a moot point. “Your line had already been chewed to ribbons by all the squirrels you’ve got around here,” he explained.
One time in some trees near me I lost a golf ball. The golf ball had not dropped out of my pocket or bag; I was playing golf at the time, on a golf course. I only had one other golf ball left, and did not have any money in my wallet or yet own a debit card, so I searched hard for the golf ball. Upon heading further into the trees, I chanced upon a small man-made wall of dead branches and corrugated iron. I climbed over the branches and corrugated iron and crouch-walked into a small clearing – a clearing of a size you might get in a forest solely occupied by Hobbits – where I found my golf ball and three others, all still gleaming white with a hardly-used look. The clearing and its protecting wall had been made, apparently after some research into logistics, at the optimum landing spot for tee shots misdirected to the left by players on the eighteenth tee. Their architect was Fred, one of the course’s greenkeepers, who, as an extra form of income, was known to sell balls back to the club professional for profit.
One time in some trees near me at the end of a daytrip for my BTEC National Diploma course I got lost with a girl I liked called Kate. Everyone else had gone home and as the sun hurtled down Kate and I hurried through the trees, in what we instinctively decided was the correct direction, a little giddy, chuckling, hoping to find the way out but also slightly hoping not to, then when we reached a clearing expressing relief in the exaggerated way you do when what you feel is more complex and somewhat contradictory to relief. I am stretching the truth here: We were not in some trees; we were in the Victoria Centre shopping mall in Nottingham, which nobody in their right mind called a mall back then. The clearing was the pedestrian crossing on Lower Parliament Street and the sun was the electric lights in the shops, being turned off, one by one, beginning with those in Mothercare. But we did almost get locked in overnight, and there no doubt were some trees there, at one point.
One time in some trees near me I caught a whiff of woodsmoke: an invisible cloud of promise in the dead chill, cutting through the air, reminding me of a woodier place that we all come from. I was on top of a hill and the smell was initially confusing, as there is no house within a quarter of a mile of the hill’s summit, and it took me a few moments to realise that the woodsmoke was in fact coming from one of the bandsaws in the woodyard at the foot of the hill. I’d walked past the woodyard numerous times and been dying to find out what went on in there. I only had to look through the gates at the giant logpiles and headlightless old vans to want to write a vast, epic work of fiction set within its boundaries. But you never knew with a woodyard: you might pop your head inside and get a cheery welcome in a cloud of sawdust, or it might contain a dog who will bite off one or both of your testicles. Fortunately, when I finally got the chance to visit the woodyard – through Dave the tree surgeon, who in a bit of serendipity, or perhaps mere logic in a world where woodsmen tend to stick together, was friends with its owner, Alan – it turned out to be a warm delightful place. I asked Alan, who is seventy, what it was he did here on an average day. “Just playworking, really,” he replied, grinning from ear to ear. “I love it.” When I arrived, he’d been on top of his tallest logpile, doing something I’d assumed to be very important and which I worried about interrupting. Now it occurred to me he was probably just enjoying the unalloyed pleasure of picking up and holding logs, as people have done since time immemorial for reasons they can’t fully explain. Alan told me he would continue to work until he dropped dead. He did still hope to go away to Portugal at some point, but mainly to see the old sawmills they had out there. When Alan used to get home from the woodyard, his wife, who died six years ago, would be able to take one sniff of him and detect exactly which kinds of trees he’d been working with. Douglas fir was always a dead giveaway. He told me I had to keep an eye on the time for him as he was scheduled to go what he called “rock’n’rolling” that night in Newton Abbot. He said he was not good with time, did not let the concept of it trouble him much: a position which had historically made him a deficient capitalist but been beneficial to his stress levels. As he showed me around the yard he looked a little wobbly around the shoulders, but I sensed that if you ran at him from a great distance, he’d stay vertical on impact: solid, immovable. “Alan is a tree,” I thought. “You’re a tree,” I said to Alan. “I am,” Alan confirmed.
One time in some trees near me I saw all of the three kittens I’d recently adopted and a crow. The crow, who was not in my care, was just sitting there, looking world-weary and nonchalant, but the kittens were climbing, higher and higher, far too high for kittens to climb, right up to a vantage point that no doubt seemed infinitely higher if you were merely a kitten: what probably would have worked out, if you measured it by kittens standing on top of one another, as the height of well over a hundred kittens. I had prided myself on my ability to climb trees in the past but this one was dying and very inconveniently shaped, and I couldn’t have climbed it even if I’d used all the tree climbing expertise I’d accrued in my youth, so all I could do was wait for the kittens to come down. When they did, they had an epic sleep, in a triple-decker kitten pile (not an intimidatingly high pile of kittens but an impressive one all the same) until I woke the top kitten on the pile by pressing it and causing it to make a really cool noise – which is of course one of the real reasons people choose to adopt cats. One of the kittens was a victim of his own pioneering spirit and the shittiness of humans with fast cars and never got chance to become a full cat, another lived a happy and long and opinionated life and the third is still with me, almost sixteen years later. He only very occasionally climbs trees now, and not tall ones, but still bounds around with an energy contradictory to his senior citizen status then has an epic sleep, at which point I sometimes press him and am reassured to find he still makes a really cool noise.
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10 thoughts on “One Time In Some Trees Near Me”
My older cat is incredibly superior, and usually silent. I always feel amused and a little ashamed if I can make him make the very cool noise.
"One time in some trees near me" is a fabulous start to any writing, in much the same way that a second sentence of "And then the murders began" improves any book. Try it.
A wonderful read, as always. Alan may well be a tree, but you are also definitely, at least, part tree.
I love how much you love trees. As a kid, I used to spend a lot of the holidays playing in the woods near our house with my brother and sister. I remember feeling terrified a lot of the time, because of an argument my brother and sister had. My brother maintained that mad axe murders would always jump out and "get" the person at the front, my sister said that they would sneakily "get" the person at the back. To this day, I always have to be the one to walk in the middle.
Deep truth about woodyards, sawmills and the likelihood of very large fierce dogs, usually Alsatians. (Am I allowed to call them Alsatians these days..?) Architectural salvage centres have them too. They appear silently, padding from behind a gargantuan pile of stuff which no one would have big enough muscles to move, never mind run off with.
Lovely piece of writing Tom, reminds me of when I was little and we used to go and climb trees in our local park. We had names for many of them, looking at them now they seem tiny. Had some epic bruises from regularly falling off them
Lovely read Tom
I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree, past the trunk and up into the branches. It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree. ~Georgia O'Keeffe
What a wonderful piece Tom, as always. Makes me yearn to look at a tree – i'll head off and do it right now!
As a kid, I could often be found sitting on a small rural traffic island in the middle of the road which ran past the bottom of our cottage. The traffic island had two amazing trees on it – one wrinkled Elm tree, and one gnarly old Ash tree, and I could while away hours just gazing up at the canopy and watching the interplay of the wind and sun in the leaves, and the insects and birds who populated the bark and the branches. Back in the 60's – by and large – kids could sit on traffic islands looking at trees without being squished or abducted. We were lucky, then.
One of my cats makes that very cool sound at every available opportunity and not just when pressed. If you throw treats for her, she will make the sound every time she passes you.
Nice piece, Tom. It takes me back to spending time in woods as a kid, with dogs, bikes, other kids …
If you wrote the story about the sheep wool on a stick in capitals, you'd sound like your dad. 🙂
Love trees- love your words