curiosity about the ways of the world

Every tree tells a story at Pond Cottage

Planting a tree is to have hope for the future…

The old oak tree

The story so far. On a sunny afternoon in May a small group gathered among the trees at Pond Cottage to explore how storytelling can reconnect people with the natural world. And what we all gain when we do.

We met with Dr James Bonner, an active participant in a remarkable Strathclyde University research project, Every Tree Tells A Story  which has opened valuable insight into the strong emotional bonds between people and trees. [If you weren’t with us in May you can read more about this HERE]

It comes at a critical time. We urgently need to reconnect with nature, to protect and preserve a living environment. We can do it.

Our experimental event ended with an invitation: will you share your tree story? James left us with some of the beautifully designed postcards he had used to engage with people of all ages on his travels across Glasgow. And I’m privileged to be receiving the first beautifully crafted stories from members of the group with permission to publish.

Here begins a new chapter in Tales From Pond Cottage, with great thanks to the storytelling trail blazers for sending words and pictures of the trees in their lives. New stories will be added as they arrive.


I will look after you

Tony Heath, 28 May 2024

I often stand in our garden at Kinfauns in one particular spot because I have a vista of three particular trees which are showing at their very best at this time of year.
They are quite different to each other but each one holds some significance to our lives.

The three trees: sycamore in the background, cornus kousa in front of shed, and viburnum in foreground. 

The first one is not even in our garden but stands majestically on adjoining land belonging to a neighbour. It is an old Sycamore and was probably planted back in the 19th century in the grounds of what used to be the Manse. It has had an eventful life and more recently was struck by lightening during our time here, losing quite a large chunk of its form but not its will to survive. We have often commented that in early spring the tree looks quite naked and then, whilst our backs are turned, it seems it has suddenly come back to life and is in full leaf. The tree plays host to our local woodpecker as well as the occasional buzzard who will perch on a high branch looking for prey, and more recently we are hearing the wonderful night sound of an owl. This tree gives the impression of being a friendly and welcoming presence. It represents age and experience. We feel it is watching over us.

The other two trees were planted by us and are close to each other. One is our pride and joy, a Cornus kousa ‘Venus’, bought 14 years ago as a youngster to commemorate the birth of our first granddaughter. It has spread its ‘wings’ since then and provides us with one of our annual highlights in early summer by showing a magnificent display of cream coloured leaves which act as a canopy and wonderful contrast whether against a blue sky or dark rainy clouds. This tree represents hope for us, hope for the future and especially hope for the next generation.

Our third tree in this vista is again completely different, it is a miniature Viburnum which I dug up in a hurry before we moved out of our last house nearly 17 years ago, I was very loath to leave it behind and thank the gods every year that I didn’t. It stands about four foot tall and produces a beautiful canopy of classic white Viburnum flowers, often twice a year. This tree represents stability in our lives, and is planted close to the Cornus, to us they are distinct partners in our garden, and the tall Sycamore in the distance is looking over us all as if to say, “I will look after you.”


Say sorry to the redwoods

Mark Meredith, 5 June

A few years ago I apologised to a redwood.

I still do it today, coupled with a remorseful but cheery “hope-things-are-better” greeting when I see a Sequoia. Time to be contrite but positive.  I was pretty small compared to a big tree, a very big tree there in a Californian national park but we  humans were not treating the redwoods properly. 

My  daughter and I whispered as we wheeled our bikes into the hiker-biker campsite in a cathedral-like redwood forest at Big Sur.  Pedalling heavily-laden bikes at about 15 miles an hour down the west coast of the US was seeding respect for trees and the redwoods in particular.  I’d heard that trees pass information through their root networks so perhaps this giant would pass on my apology to its mates, mates who might suffer the indignities and disrespect that redwoods have faced. 

At one stopover we found ourselves standing beneath the largest tree in California, or perhaps the world: a wooden colossus wider than a house and high like a skyscraper. Selfie tree hugs were done and then we heard how a businessman tried to cut down this beautiful monster and use a crosscut for a dance floor.  Good sense prevailed and the tree was left to soar. 

We heard how  a hole was hacked through a redwood big enough to drive a car through for a tourist thrill.   Yes, they make wonderful hardwood timber, but they deserve respect. We found it outrageous and said sorry.


A towering larch

David Gow, 10 June 2024

Trees are vital for the natural world’s survival, as well as for human and animal wellbeing. And for me.

Their majesty invokes awe and reverence, they can mirror our great cathedrals, mosques, and all in this regard, giving a sense of eternity.

My favourite is a towering larch overlooking our wee Perthshire bothy in its woodland setting: sturdy, solid, with delicate leaves, it is now home to three bat nesting boxes.


An old oak tree

Pauline Cobbold, 30 June 2024

The oak tree had sat on land in front of our house for over a hundred years. First in a field as part of a farm, then looking on as the farm buildings became houses. I lived in the old dairy, about twenty feet away. Battered by time, it had started to lose branches, one broke off with such a crack one evening we thought we were under attack.

What tales it could tell. At least four squirrels had made it their home; in spring they would madly chase each other round, jumping from branch to branch. They had taken several of our bird feeders, not just the food, and probably hung them in their cosy home in the tree.

For me it marked the passing of the seasons as it stood there dressed first in soft green, then brown and finally leafless through the winter. I loved its shape and, snow-covered one winter, I made its image into a Christmas card.

Etched in snow

I loved to collect its acorns, as did the squirrels. I would often find them buried in my pots. I grew young oak trees.

Two of those young trees are now as tall as me. How do I know? I loved my garden in Sussex and brought many cuttings, divisions and plants to, hopefully, thrive in a new garden in Scotland. Sadly, they are still in pots but next year they will have a permanent home in my field where once again I will see them from my house. A piece of my past growing and living for the future and for families who will come after me. Planting a tree is to have hope for the future.

As for the past and present. That old tree is still watching over everything. Last night I dreamed a digger had reversed into it. The field has become a building site and most of the other trees have been ripped out. Soon the oak will have twenty houses surrounding it. But it is safe. Protected by a Tree Preservation Order, it has a protective fence around it. I checked with an old neighbour this morning. My dream has no substance. The tree is alive, strong, silent and holding its many secrets. One day I will go back and visit it once more – with photos of its children in their new home surrounded by beautiful Scottish hills.


Trees choose life when we let them

Fay Young, 3 July 2024

The decision whether to pollard or coppice is the woodman’s; the decision whether to sprout, sucker or die is the trees.

Woodlands, Oliver Rackham

Trees pull off some amazing tricks to defy death. Wandering through the woodland this summer (well, it’s meant to be summer) I am marvelling at the heroic survival of some wind-felled specimens clearly not ready to rot.

Here’s a young rowan, almost totally floored by Storm Jocelyn in February, lying on the ground close to our grandson’s treehouse. It wasn’t a pretty sight, roots exposed, branches broken; Ray tried to pull it upright but it was firmly flattened. Kind bluebells clothed it in May and we almost forgot about it.

Now look! Roots still showing, trunk horizontal but branches proudly bearing fine green leaves. One branch pitching to be the new leader. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Most uprooted trees have survived even historically destructive storms according to Oliver Rackham in his marvellous weighty book Woodlands. ‘They call in question the assumption that the ‘normal’ state of the tree is upright.’

Pitching to be the new leader, branch (bottom left) with healthy green leaves

Just a day or two before Jocelyn, Storm Isha left larches near the cottage standing but snapped one of them in two opening a gap in the tree shelter we planted almost thirty years ago. Among a mix of conifers, birches and hollies protecting us from the prevailing south-westerlies, the larches had grown fastest, a favourite lookout for blackbirds, red squirrels and pigeons. But it’s a tough position, the front line. Twisted by the wind, the larches developed split trunks. Isha found a weak spot. Our tallest larch gave way.

For a while there was the sad sight of a cone-littered lawn with tiny rose flowers blooming on broken branches. They shrivelled but the tree, still firmly rooted, is definitely not giving up. Fresh green growth sprouts from the severed twin trunks. From certain angles the larch presents a Victory V.

Isha found the weak spot but the larch is not giving up

Trees are designed to grow old. If humans let them. Giant redwoods can live 3,000 years. Yews are not really ancient until they reach 900. Our beeches at Pond Cottage are middle aged at around 200. The ash might be doing well to live that long even without disease. Now their natural span is threatened by the fungal ‘dieback’ and you can see the signs on many trees at Pond Cottage. Yet even here our trees are showing a perverse tendency to resist.

Two fine old ash on either side of the pond were dropping branches on the path. Instead of felling them, a brilliant young tree surgeon turned them into ‘bat hotels’ (or wildlife monoliths). Martin’s carefully crafted openings in the trunk offer habitat for birds, bats and insects. Last year the smaller tree was a happy home to noisy, nesting jackdaws. This year the tree is thrusting out strong young branches. For now, at least, the ash is choosing life.

The ‘bat hotel’ or wildlife monolith skillfully crafted by Martin Nimmo. A fitting memorial to a brilliant young tree surgeon and conservationist who died in February 2024, far too young.


2 Comments

  1. fay

    Thank you Donald, I’ve also been thinking recently how much we can learn from trees. Their resilience and stamina, in particular.
    Encouraging signs this year, I’m finding young ash tree seedlings growing in the beechwood. And lots of oak seedlings everywhere. I think we can thank the jays and red squirrels for the oak trees!

  2. Donald McPhillimy

    Love these tree stories. Many people have a deep connection with trees and see them as guides and protectors. As a forester myself, I love to see young trees starting their journey, then thriving, then standing still and eventually subsiding. They have much to teach us.

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