Watercolour by John Dunstall, c 1660 . A Pollard Oak near West Hampstead. courtesy of The British Museum
Walking around the watercolour exhibition at the Tate, I found this jewel of a painting. I have wonderful feelings around trees, I love being around them and I imagine John Dunstall did too. The idea that this was painted so long ago adds to the wonder in some way, there is an element of magic here. And it fired recall of more contemporary artists, Stanley Spencer ,not because they paint in the same way, but because their paintings excite in me a dimension that I love. I can’t explain it, but I love it when it happens.
Am I a tree hugger then? Maybe, I don’t physically embrace my local horse chestnut, but I have been known to lean against a silver birch or two. They give me deep solace, I have no idea why that may be, but I do know I am not alone. And poets have shared this connection for ever, since humans began to put down their thoughts in language I would guess. (What was that medieval thing, The Greene Man about?, I shall go and research) .
What trees do trees do for you, apart from the fairly important provision of oxygen, and the secondary provision of shelter? For me they are not merely symbols, offering protection, and suggesting growth , new potential. They ARE those things, and are constants in a continously expanding urban landscape. Their very nature of rootedness offers a stability to my world. I will end with a piece of poetic prose from D.H. Lawrence, and he isn’t writing solely about trees here, but about the interconnectedness of everything living. I think he does it beautifully, I came across it when I was a late teenager, and it coloured my vision of the world.
“For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive. Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human soul, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my own very self, I am part of my family. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.”