Along the valley, glacier
receding beyond, icefall crack
cuts the wind whispering
the past that trodden
underbrush gives up

Larch bursts spring leaves
a spritz in the margins,
and quivers towards summer.

Autumn glow will give no winter
canopy but cones firm to the branch,
promised up for the years

And all around, your futures: cradling
windfall, or ghosted
in weathered buildings

DAVID BATY | Larch | Haute-Savoie, France

At the margins 

The colour of the Autumn forest around Mont Blanc has always drawn me, particularly the yellow-orange of the Larch. At first sight it ought to be an evergreen – tall, and slender, with spiky green leaves in the summer. But it’s all in the name: Laryx Decidua, turning leaves in the autumn and shedding its canopy for the winter. 

This species of Larch flourishes in a sweep approximating the arc of the European Alps. Its forest neighbours include a mix of Spruce, Fir and Pine, with Beech, Mountain Ash and Oak at lower altitudes. The fertile valley habitats, dotted with wood-and-stone farm buildings, eventually give out at around 2,000 metres to a landscape of scrub and rock. 

Above 1,500 metres, it’s a tough place to live – heat up to 35°C in Summer, and below -20°C in Winter. It is also changing; glaciers above these marginal landscapes illustrate the effects of a procession of hot summers, receding each year to leave a dirty grey residue of crushed rock. What this means for the flora and fauna is, as yet, unclear. 

The Larch for the moment thrives in this extreme environment. When the leaves are gone, small cones remain on the branches and in spring, clusters of bright green needles form, bunched like arrows. As summer progresses, flowers develop which in due course become the cones that then open up to spread their seeds on the winds. 

The tree I’m writing about is a relatively ancient one, tall amongst its neighbours, nurturing lichen from its older established branches. Despite its age, it still throws out new growth from its lower trunk; clusters of bright green needles that quiver in the breeze coming through the valley. 

Looking around, the lifecycle of the forest can be seen through fallen tree trunks creating their own small universe of plants and animals, and the low-rise stone buildings along the path, held up by wooden beams and covered by timber roofing shingles. Larch is a much-used building material in the area due to its natural preservatives and ability to age without protective treatment. 

As likely as not to be overlooked by travellers along the mountain path, this Larch will live brightly on through the yearly cycles, then to be reborn through seed, used to build shelter, or recycled at the centre of its own small ecosystem on the forest floor.