Early on in our planning of The Long View we sowed and nurtured ideas for a legacy: something that would represent the beauty of trees, the need for their protection, and the value of spending slow time outdoors in the company of trees. So, while walking to the seven trees of The Long View, through all weathers, day and night, and talking to people from the organisations that supported and became involved in the project, and to people from across the UK who are passionate about trees, our ideas evolved. We developed our thoughts and – as you’ll know if you’ve been following this blog – we came up with the design for three treefolds to embrace trees, and between them hold a poem that travels through the Cumbrian landscape.
At the beginning of The Long View we spoke about ‘tree time’ and we have always underpinned our work with the sense of time passing slowly and we have allowed ourselves to be led by the trees. So although the stone treefolds were built last year, we knew we would have to wait until now to do the planting that completes the sculptures, and celebrate the beginnings of what we hope will be a long future for the new trees.
The trees within the treefolds are all Legacy Trees – there are 800 of these in the UK, planted to mark the establishment of the Tree Charter. We were able to create the three treefolds with support from the Charter Art Residencies programme run by Common Ground, and from Forestry Commission England in Grizedale Forest (treefold:centre), the National Trust and the Lake District National Park Authority in Glencoyne Park (treefold:north) and Friends of the Lake District on Little Asby Common (treefold:east).
treefold:centre, February 12
treefold:centre was the first to be built last year, under the burning sun of a hot July week. The snow on the ground for the planting was a stark contrast but conditions were fine for placing a young aspen inside the treefold. Aspens, once abundant in this part of the UK, have seen their numbers fall in the last century. But the Forestry Commission and others are including aspens in their planting schemes. Aspens don’t reproduce easily by seed – they grow by sending suckers out through their root systems – so widespread planting will be in their favour.
Although the sun shone all morning, snow on the roads proved too much of an obstacle for those who had planned to join us for the planting. We headed up to the site with Rob Jones from the Forestry Commission team and Graham Watson from John Muir Trust.
We planted a single aspen inside the treefold, but it won’t be on its own. The ground around it has been prepared to receive 30,000 new trees later this month a mixture of species including aspen, oak, alder, sitka spruce and douglas fir. Before we left we placed nine more aspens in the ground around the treefold … leaving just 29,990 trees to go.
treefold:north, February 20
The next planting day was at treefold:north. Steve Dowson from the National Trust chose a young oak from Aira Park, just down the road. This established tree is one of many that have naturally regenerated here from acorns dropped or fallen; they carry a genetic link to the trees that have stood here and thrived for hundreds of years.
The oak was planted in the surround of children, all growing into a shared future. The children brought colour and chatter to the still surround of stone. Before planting they performed the poem they had written after their day’s walk to the Glencoyne Pine in the summer of 2016. Then the digging began and each child – some little bigger than the spade – had a go, the final six using their turn to sprinkle earth on top of the tree’s roots. The tree looks now as if it was always meant to be there – and of course it always was.
treefold:east, February 21
One of those winter mornings that feels as if it’s seeping, ever so slowly, into spring. A warm sun and a windless day with just the occasional sound of a lapwing piercing the air. We arrived early and enjoyed the calm before others joined us to complete treefold:east. Here we had decided to plant two trees: this patch of land is bereft of trees and we know that although lone trees can stand for many years, and do thrive, trees communicate with, and protect, one another. We planted an oak (the species chosen by the Little Asby commoners) and a rowan to keep it company.
Beneath the vast pale blue sky we were joined by Jan Darrall and the team of volunteer wallers from Friends of the Lake District, and by people from Orton, Little Asby, Raisbeck and Kendal, with one international visitor calling in from British Columbia – Sue Grayston is a specialist in soil and the relationship between trees and soil, and is one of the people who feature in The Long View book. For the tree planting, Sue stepped into the treefold and got digging, then teamed up with Jan to plant the oak. The rowan was planted by Bernice, from Kendal, who once shared a ‘recipe’ with me for growing on rowan seeds (very hard, and I haven’t managed it yet).
The two trees now stand, protected by the treefold, within sight of the Dowly Tree, an ancient boundary marker that is now nothing but a stump rising from the limestone land. I have heard stories from people who climbed the old Dowly tree, who photographed their grandchildren climbing it, who remember its leafy boughs where now there is only air and a rotting stump. These trees, over time, will reach out over the walls, set themselves against the changing sky, roots deep, weathering the years, taking the long view.
//Notes: After the last planting//
A raven is groaking, a black silhouette against blue sky, and the wind is gently moving the grass around my feet. Nothing really has changed. In the quiet now there are two new trees, settled and ready to get in with the business of being a tree, growing with gentle persistence, despite and against the challenges of the elements – for this spot can be brutally cold and wind battered. It’s simple, in one way, and remarkable, magical, in another. Part of me wants to jump forward ten years, then twenty, then fifty, to see these trees as they will be then. But of course that’s not possible – in their slowness and stillness they invite patience. And in this surround of stone that offers shelter from the wind, they invite company, moments of pausing in what so often feels like a race of life.