Meetings with Remarkable Trees

The indifference towards old trees makes a mockery of our supposed new respect for the environment. (Thomas Pakenham)

There isn’t much that is as beautiful and majestic as a big old tree. Their huge crowns house birds and insects, the foliage gives shade in summer. In autumn they delight us with their changing colours. In winter the large naked branches look so eerie against the grey sky. Some are fragrant like the acacia or the lime trees that are in bloom right now. And nothing compares to the sound of a large tree. The rustling of the leaves in the wind; the drops on the foliage when it rains. And all those other sounds coming from trees— the buzz of the insects and bees; bird song and the chirping of the young ones in their nests.

Trees are some of the most remarkable living beings on this planet. Every time when we have a storm, I fear for them. It’s such a heart-breaking sight to see such an old living being destroyed. But what’s even more heart-breaking is when they are chopped down for commercial reasons, for their wood or to make room for a building. Some of you who follow me on Twitter saw me tweet about the loss of the Oak that was growing near my childhood home. It was such a massive tree, far over 200 years old. It was struck by lightning once but survived. It only lost a branch. To me, as child, looking up into the vastness of its branches and dense foliage it looked indestructible. There was a bench under that tree and my mother used to sit on that bench, smoking a cigarette, playing with her dogs and talking to passers-by. I stood under that tree, the last time I went out with my dog before she had to be put to sleep that afternoon. I have so many memories tied to that tree and, foolishly, I thought it would survive me. But it didn’t. It was felled at the beginning of the year to make room for a huge underground parking. The trunk was chopped up and placed in a nearby deer park.

I often go for walks in the deer park and had noticed the trunks. They appeared right after a storm so I assumed, naively, a tree had been knocked down by the storm. I had a bad feeling looking at it, as I’d never seen any tree as big as this one nearby. So I went to my old childhood home, not too far away from the deer park and saw the massive hole. At that time I still believed, it might have been knocked down by the storm. The Oaks here in Switzerland are slowly dying because of the hot summers. The climate change doesn’t agree with them. The heat weakens them and many have to be felled for safety reasons. I can’t really describe the mix of feelings when I finally found out that this one hadn’t been in danger at all, but that some real estate agency decided to have it chopped down.

Thomas Pakenham had similar experiences. One when some giant beech trees were uprooted by a storm in his native Ireland. The other when he noticed the lack of big trees in Tibet. All but one very big tree had been felled for its timber. These experineces made him look at big trees in a new way and appreciate their beauty and majesty even more. The result is Meetings with Remarkable Trees, a book about 60 giant trees that you can find in Britain.

The sixty trees Pakenham chose for his book are remarkable for their size, age, shape or history.

He looks at trees that have been imported. Trees that have become sacred. Trees that have been turned into dwellings.

The tree below is a massive Yew tree. It looks like the oldest trees in England are Yews.

The trees are mostly grouped by themes. The tree below is another Yew that stands at Much Marcle.

Here’s an example of a huge Oak. The tree near my childhood home looked very different. It didn’t have any low branches at all. It had a huge trunk and a massive crown.

The tree below is a massive Ash.

Thomas Pakenham writes about these trees like they were people with their own personalities. Looking at all the pictures in the book you can see how different trees are, even when they are from the same species. That makes it even more heart-breaking when they die or are felled. Something beautiful and irreplaceable is gone forever.

16 thoughts on “Meetings with Remarkable Trees

  1. Like you, I’m a bit of a tree hugger and I hate it when they’re cut down for no reason – particularly the old ones. The pines in my garden are very old and despite the mess they make with needles and cones, I protect them fiercely (unlike my neighbour). This sounds like a wonderful book and I hope all those trees are protected and survive for hundreds more years.

    • I’m still not over the loss of the oak. I loved it so much. Don’t even want to think about how many birds and squirrels lost their habitats and food source.
      From what he writes, overall trees a better protected in the UK than in France for examp,e. It sounds like some of these trees are among the oldest in Europe.

      • That’s good to know, My pines have a tree protection order so you can’t do anything without applying to the local council (which my damn neighbour obviously did….) We’ve grown some small trees in the back garden and had five squirrels of various sizes and ages flinging themselves about in them today – it was wonderful!

        • That’s lovely. I love squirrels. Trees are so important for animals.
          Our trees are protected too and in theory one could have opposed the cutting if the oak but they published it in such a sky way, most people didn’t know. Now they want to add something to the law so something like this can’t happen anymore.

  2. Sad to hear about your lovely oak. I don’t share your fondness for squirrels, however; the ones that live in next door’s huge lime regularly trash my bird feeders, and dug up and ate all my crocuses this spring. When I remonstrate with them, they sit on the fence, or on a tree branch, flounce their tails at me and chatter squirrel abuse.

  3. I feel a lump in my throat, Caroline. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, and I am sorry about the oak tree. All my life, I have lived in flats and lanes, and I didn’t get any opportunity to be with trees and observe them. It’s my dream to make a garden and live close to trees. This post, and the tweet that you shared the other day fill me with grief. This book sounds like a balm to the souls wounded by the loss of trees. Thank you for this beautiful blog!

    • Thank you so much, Deepika. I’ve always lived in flats too but in very leafy neighborhoods. Like now, the garden at the back is full if lush big trees. Finding out the oak had been cut down made me so sad. Not just because of the memories but because he can’t be replaced. He was beautiful and unique and withstood so many storms.
      It’s a lovely book. A tribute to these old trees.

  4. Beautiful post, Caroline! This looks like a beautiful book! Loved all the pictures you shared and your descriptions of the trees. I remember you writing about the oak tree near your childhood home. It was heartbreaking to read. That Ash tree in the picture looks massive! One of my favourite Russian songs (from the movie ‘Irony of Fate’) starts with the line ‘I asked the Ash tree’. The biggest trees we had near our home when I was a child were banyans. They were cut down and houses were built in that land. It was sad. It is sad that humans keep destroying nature and bringing these beautiful tree beings to the ground. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thank you Vishy. Sorry for the late reply. I thought I had answered. Yes, it is sad how humans destroy nature. I’m very sorry to hear about your banyans. They are so beautiful.
      The Ash in the book is massive. Such an amazing tree. I haven’t seen Irony of Fate nor heard that song. I’ll have to look it up. I would have liked to see your banyans.

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