Finding pleasure in the detail

Victim of lock-down hair?

My tree identification course is finally bearing fruit. The beginnings weren’t that promising, scrutinising lots of twigs at weekly evening classes one winter, more than ten years ago now, at the local Botanical Gardens. But gazing at the sticks eventually taught me to tell the differences between aspen, wych elm, hazel, goat willow, rowan and elder. By hunting for subtle botanical clues based on colour (shades of brown), bendiness, curvature and leaf nodules – opposite or alternate?


This is embarrassing, but I’ve got to admit, as you may have already guessed, that I wasn’t very good at tree ‘idents’, as the experts call it. Still, at least the course is now proving useful, it’s allowing me to identify some, though not all, of the local trees I see on my daily walks with Mark and Zim.

Like the palm of a hand

The palmate leaves of horse chestnut splay out like the fingers of a hand, so they’re easy to identify. The smooth white trunks of silver birch are another give-away. Battle-hardened sycamores are obvious too; they’re doughty survivors and pioneers.

Before we were married, me and Mark, we used to go on mountain walks together. We’d stride out every morning across the Pyrénées, walking through to late afternoon.

Close to the earth

I loved those times. Loved the scent of pine resin in my nostrils. Loved the freedom and liberation of camping. Loved being so close to the earth and the sky, unmediated by anything else. The authenticity, the simplicity of those days…

Maybe I was stupid, thinking life’d be like that forever. Or maybe all of us think that way. Until something happens, until we don’t.

Is it an oak?

One good thing about disability – yes, there are a few – is being forced to appreciate life’s details. These days we have fun taking pictures of different foliage and identifying it later back home. Okay, sorry, maybe that’s sounds dull. Maybe it is dull. We enjoy it.

Jagged leaf edges

The other day we even took a small cutting of a tree (we thought that was probably okay under lockdown) so we could identify it at home later. Eventually, we agreed it was probably from a cherry tree, based on the serrated and jagged leaf edges.

Admittedly, I’m just a beginner at tree ‘idents’, plus I probably haven’t manage to walk more than half a mile in total since these expeditions started. It’s a relief, though, to discover we can still enjoy the outdoors together.

The experience is just a little different to how it used to be. Slower. Quieter. Gentler. Still fun.

Cow parsley lightening some nettles


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