Bare birch

Bare birch

There’s a silver birch at the bottom of our garden. We planted it 4 or 5 years ago, I think. Maybe it’s longer than that given how fast the years fly by. It’s like remembering the ages of friends’ grandchildren. Really? That old? Add a couple of years to the first number that comes into my head then I’d be nearer the mark.

In any case, the birch is just a few years old. It fills a void left by the demise of an old laburnum in the garden that backs onto ours. The laburnum used to droop lazily in the summer months like a dishevelled blonde hippie, its delicate tresses of golden blossom cascading over our fence. It was lovely. Briefly. The rest of the year, it didn’t amount to much. The blossom faded to a charmless beige, the leaves languished, and the bark was dull.

One stormy night just after New Year, whatever the year, it breathed its last. By morning it was a sagging heap of broken branches. Its fall demolished a fence that had been up a matter of weeks, carefully constructed to accommodate the goitre that the poor old laburnum had developed on its trunk and that protruded into our garden. The neighbours replaced the fence but not the tree. The garden looked as if it was in mourning.

I’d never bought a tree before. A long-term investment, it felt like almost as big a decision as buying a house. In my limited experience of house-buying (once) I was incredibly decisive. Saw four one Saturday afternoon; bought one.  Not so with choosing a tree. I scrutinised gardens as I walked past them sizing up the specimens; googled and researched height, spread, soil type, growing conditions, aftercare; contemplated; procrastinated. Finally, after doing the rounds of all the options, I chose the one I had had in mind at the start.

I’ve always loved the silver birch. It’s a tree for all seasons. At my desk up in the loft I look down on the garden and see our birch standing below like a gangly youth with her arms stretched up above her head, reaching for the sky. This year it had the longest of summers. When I left to go north in the middle of November, it was still in full leaf, and still green. On my return 10 days later, it was transformed into a shimmering shard of yellow. Two weeks on, and it’s bare save for a few tenacious leaves clinging to the tips of the topmost branches. Such a strangely short autumn.

A bare birch is still a joy. The silver trunk turns almost white, the stouter branches too. Slimmer branches are a luscious shade, the colour of dark chocolate mixed with plums. And they gleam, polished dark against the pale trunk.

Something about this silver birch of mine makes me feel calm. It’s upright and straight but yields to any breeze. It’s a young tree yet already it seems constant and wise. It responds to the weather’s moods with an easy sway as if it knows not to make things too complicated. Go with the flow. Don’t resist too much but don’t give in.

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