If You Had Eyes

the bumpy texture of old stump pith

If you had eyes, you would stare slowly, very slowly, upwards at the many shades of green and the single blue. Even without eyes, you sense the blue and reach towards it. You expand in the warmth and drink in air and light. These are days you remember, stretched out by the myriad tiny events of living: the tastes of soil, damper deep down but chemically richer near the surface; the humidity held in by thickening foliage above you; the encouraging smells of vegetative success all around you, tempered only by the occasional pheromonal warning of insect and fungal hazard.

Days of greyness and cold pass quickly, elided by the slowing of your senses. Those days and nights bring welcome rain, after all, while stormy winds flex and thicken your fibres. In the long, deep sleep of deciduous wintering, denuded of leaves, you suspend the will to grow and stand dormant in sensation as well as appearance.

For many years your sibling saplings dwindle, attenuated by poorer light, weakened by caterpillar or beetle, nipped off by grazing deer, too often waterlogged or once in a while too dry. Blind chance has favoured you—dropping you into safe soil, arching thin protective brambles over you while you grow tall and strong. When you reach your own light at last, you are alone. Your parent tree, if it still lives, stands far out of sensory contact, for a sycamore seeds itself widely on the wind.

If you could speak, you would tell of all your times—over three hundred summers of leaf and light—as one single fabric looped together, repetitive but whole. The time of reaching upwards and the time of spreading outwards. The time the forest receded before vibrating machinery, and smells of tar and diesel drowned out the faint messages between plants and animals. The spring of heavy storms, when whole branches, larger than tall trees themselves, cracked and fell on all below you. The times when coal, burnt in furnace, kiln and hearth, gave carbon into the air for your enjoyment but also besmirched the rain with sulphur. The time you first split the shell of your seed, and the time when your life will slowly recede, choking its own sap with deadwood and fungal incursion.

Those who knew you will smooth your already hollowing stump and count your rings. “This tree was alive before the Union of the Kingdoms,” they will say.

Those who own the ground you stand on will finally be free to turn the land to profit.

©2018 by Fiona Jones


Fiona lives within a few hundred yards from the locally famous Crossford Sycamore. Her children played round its massive trunk, mourned when it was condemned and rejoiced when it gained legal protection a few years ago.

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