by Rob Self-Pierson

I will see wonder
In mud, raindrops, fire and flood.
The charred tree holds life.

I will see wonder:
The story behind a pledge

John jogs here. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without a run every day,’ he tells me. ‘These woodlands are so important to me.’ We’ve just crunched our first leaves in Highgate Wood.

There’s strange weather in the air: close, thick, as humid as Japan and Argentina; that’s all I’ve experienced to compare to this. The café benches outside the old cricket pavilion, with its Hansel and Gretel roof, are coated in raindrops. When the sun shows, they slowly dry. Where sunlight misses them, they sit and listen to those who gather here.

The summer news is alight with trees burning. Greece, Turkey, California. Temperature highs broken every day. Sicily 48.8 Celsius, Cordoba in Spain 47.2. While the West burns, Japan and China are flooding.

Walking through Wanstead Park, East London, Fiona and I name trees. ‘Oak. Conker…’ I say. Fiona corrects me. Within an hour, rain has joined us. A downpour. Walthamstow, my home, has had a lot of downpours recently. Twice streets flooded. I’m wondering if we need stronger words. Drenching? Deluge? ‘What’s your woodlands pledge, Rob?’ asks Fiona. ‘Not sure. But something meaningful, behavioural,’ I say. ‘Something I learn from these research walks.’ We stand under the canopy created by sycamores. I place my hand on the damp, flaking bark and smile. Fiona poses on a fallen oak.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘How To Walk’ has arrived in time for my final wander. Sitting outside the Forest Gate pub beside Epping Forest, forested since the late Stone Age, I underline the following:

When we walk mindfully, our feet are massaging the Earth. We sow seeds of joy and happiness with each step. With each step, a flower blooms.

It’s muddy inside the forest. The horse chestnuts (Fiona would be proud) offer shade at every step. Watching ants march about the charred stub of a tree, I understand what George Monbiot means when he writes, ‘The very trees that foresters have tended to weed out – forked, twisted, lightning-struck, rotten, dead – are those that harbour the most life’.

There’s life all around if we look for it. There’s hope for Sicily, Cordoba, Japan and China, for all of us if we become mindful of every leaf we crunch, every swollen raindrop we see, every tree that protects us; if instead of trampling the Earth, we massage it with each step.

Beside a brook, I write my pledge. 

Read Margaret Kenna’s 26 Habitats deciduous woodland centena and essay.

Read Gemma Cantelo’s 26 Habitats deciduous woodland centena.

One thought on “Deciduous woodland

  1. Beautifully reflective Rob, thank you for the insight on ‘massaging the earth’ and for staying hopeful. I especially love the last line of your pledge referencing all the life held in charred trees.

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