Thoughts and opinion from the wards
I am a tree hugger!
Well, it's Sping again. The daffodils are out, the lambs are gamboling, wee "teddy bear" Highland calves are hiding behind their exhausted mothers. I love Spring, the bringer of new life and new beginnings. I love nature but there are two natural things I love more than any other. Don't get me wrong, I love flowers and birds and insects (especiallly dragonflies) and animals; I love watching clouds chase each other across the sky or waves fall over each other onto a beach.
But nothing gives me more pleasure than trees and waterfalls. Last weekend I was able to combine the two when I visited the hills above Beauly, near Inverness. It was an eventful week all round. One night it snowed so heavily we were completely snowed in the next day with thigh deep snow and chest high drifts. But within 48hrs it was all gone again leaving rivers in spate - an ideal time for waterfalls. So we went to visit Plodda Falls, at the foot of Glen Affric, one of Scotland's most beautiful glens:
They were just fantastic and they were surrounded by amazingly tall trees. But not as tall as the one we visited a few miles down the road at Reelag. This is Dughall Mor, standing at over 210 feet making it one of the tallest trees in Europe but still only the second tallest in Scotland (at least according to the Forestry Commission):
It's name is Gaelic for "tall, dark stranger"!
I don't know where my love of trees came from - it's just aways been there. And it's an elemental part of the human condition. Sacred groves and sacred trees abound in almost every human culture past and present. I know I am nowhere happier than when I am in the depths of a wood or forest. It's that feeling of being surrounded by something which is living and breathing - not just the individual trees but the whole wood is alive as though it were a single organism. The pioneering conservationist, John Muir, wrote in his journal in 1875 that giant sequoias of the western Sierra Nevada in the USA were "antediluvian monuments through which we gaze in contemplation as through windows into the deeps of primeval time". Some these are as old as 3500 years and they can reach height of over 300 feet.
And it is a type of tree which is the oldest single living organism on the planet. The bristlecone pines in the south-west USA. Many years ago one of my biggest thrills was to visit the White Mountains of California and touch the oldest individual living organism on earth - Methuselah, a 5000 year old bristelcone pine. Muir used to refer to the redwoods in almost cathedral-like terms and it's not hard to see why. By the same token, it's no coincidence that Gaudi designed the columns of the nave in Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to look like a forest of trees:
I was also lucky enough to travel to the beautiful greek island of Kos when i was a medical student and touch the plane tree under whose ancestor Hippocrates taught:
In Scotland, we are blessed in having dozens of "heritage trees" and there's even a book devoted to them which I highly recommend:
Order it from your library and have a look. One of these trees, the Fortingall yew, rivals the bristle cones for longevity as it too is nearly 5000 years old perhaps. It sits in the graveyard of Fortigall church. Almost every old churchyard in the UK has at least one yew tree in it - and the same is true for much of northern France. Yews were long seen as sacred so it was easy for them to become adopted into Christian tradition to help legitamise that tradition. However, the presence of yews in so many church yards may have more prosaic origins - their poisonous fruit and foliage may have helped dissuade farmers from grazing their beasts in the chruch yards. In addition, because they were located in grave yards they were seen as consecrated and untouchable - useful if you want to protect your raw material for making long bows in the Middle Ages. And, of course, now we have yew trees to thank for a mini revolution in the treatment of breast cancer.
And Scottish folklore also has a long association with rowans. These trees were thought to protect against malevolant forces and so were often planted outside houses. Across the Highlands today almost any house of age has at least one rowan tree in the garden. My own house, which we built in 1998, has four of them - old habits die hard! In days gone by rowans were used to make druid staffs, dowsing and divining rods and runic staves, the pieces of wood onto which the ancient runic calendar would be carved.