Friday, 8 March 2013

Summer trees

It was a very silly idea to look at trees through the year as I should have realised before I started. They are fine in spring as the buds grow and burst, the new foliage in softest greens and pinks appears and flowering varieties delight eyes tired of winter greys. They are lovely in autumn as the leaves turn – not as gaudy as the maples in Canada although, oddly, our native “maple”, the sycamore, treats autumn with contempt: its leaves shrivel, turn a dull and dirty brown and fall to the ground to lie mourned by none but the busy worms who will shred them and take them underground to fertilise the soil – for nature is never wasteful. Then comes winter when they bare their bones and, standing stark against the sky, weave intricate patterns of light and shade.

That leaves summer: the next one I should consider and, frankly, the time of the year when trees are at their least attractive and especially so at midday when the sun is high in the sky. Thus, as I have just realised, I rarely bother to take their portraits during the months of June, July and August – so rarely that I can find only two images taken in summer where I have chosen to photograph a tree simply for its own sake.

Those who were brought up on Puck of Pooks Hill by Rudyard Kipling will remember, I am sure, Puck’s words to the children when they first met (if that is the right word). “I came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too,” he says and it is, of course, true that these three are among the first to return to Britain after the ice age. This means that they support a huge variety of wild life.

The oak, of which we have two species, plays host to nearly three hundred different insects which, in turn, provide food for birds. Their acorns feed jays and squirrels, who, by carrying them off and burying them, help the species to spread. Bats roost in the crevices and hollows: great spotted woodpeckers, spotted flycatchers, nuthatches and treecreepers nest in holes they find or make in the trees. Sadly, I can find no good photograph of an oak taken in the summer so we must move on.

The same comment really applies to the ash but since it is one of the latest to come into leaf I shall cheat a little. This picture was taken on the twenty-second of May so almost qualifies as a summer portrait. It stands in the lane a few yards from our old house and we fear that it will soon be lost: ash die back is sweeping the country and it is believed that within a couple of years we shall lose at least eighty percent of all our ash trees.

This hawthorn, standing alone on Brendon Common up on Exmoor where it has to withstand the full force of the westerly gales that sweep across the tops, is not exactly the in the sort of place that Puck would have had in mind. It stands beside a small car park in which we would stop to have lunch or whatever when we were exploring for the Exmoor books. So it was that on the last day in May in 2007 after we had eaten lunch (guessing but the picture is time stamped 13.47) I took its picture.

The Horse Chestnut was introduced here in the seventeenth century: simply because it is a really splendid tree. Since it has been here but the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, it has yet to attract any serious inhabitants and so does little for our wildlife – other than small boys who do battle with its fruit called conkers (despite attempts to stop them made by folks who use “health and safety” to end much that gives fun and pleasure to life).

This week's butterfly is the Peacock, Inachis io. I regret that the butterfly photos are not that good, really. All have been taken 'in passing' when there happened to be a butterfly and I happened to have a camera in my hand. Still, it's a nice picture of the buddleia.

This week's blog dog is called George and he is uncannily like our old rescued lab, Max.