….if I were this birch
….my back would form a knot

….from leaning into rock
….and I would write my place
….my self a page of high sky white
….my skin in flakes and curls

….I’d scribe lines of boulder-grey
….letters of mud and wet-stone blue
….I’d write in lichen bronze and midnight dark
….weave in some herdwick hue
….ask a peregrine for steely sheen
….a wheatear for its beige
….burnish the text with the drama of sun
….then wash with wind and rain

….as it is with trees this birch
….can write nothing but the truth
….tells it just as it is

….barked body as a book
….scrawl of seasons
….ease and growth
….all struggles set as scars


I knew I wanted to write a poem about the bark of this magnificent birch, and asked Rob to photograph it as well. We walked in, up the Langstrath Valley, on a cold and wet winter’s day. The rain on the bark made it shine. This visit, I think, was the one that brought me closest to the tree. In becoming immersed in its smallest details, I felt a strong affinity with its delicacy and strength. With the rain soaking me and the wind nagging at my hat, it was easy to imagine the long history of this tree, exposed, isolated and beautiful beside a raging river.

This poem has been performed twice beside the tree; once to a group of postgraduate students of Environment and Climate Change, and once to the school children from Rosthwaite School. It feels great to speak words inspired by the tree to the accompaniment of the river’s roar.