it's not (just) about a tree
why the Sycamore Gap tree is far, far more than the sum of its parts
as you might have heard by now, an iconic Sycamore tree was felled by act of vandalism in the North of England last week… and a lot of people are very upset about it.
there are so many layers to this story - the solitary tree’s location next to the remains of Hadrian’s Wall (the largest Roman architectural feature in Britain); its global fame from inclusion in the movie ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’; the shock of the first arrest being a 16 year old boy; and the news of the most recent arrest being a local man in his 60s (who is rumoured to have been evicted from his home and may have done this as an act of retaliation). then there’s timing - this action took place in the same week as the State of Nature’s latest report and yet another rollback of Tory promises on Climate Action alongside the likelihood that the HS2’s northern section might be cancelled, despite the devastation to ancient woodlands and natural habitats that has already been wreaked across its pencilled path. and all this coming only a month after the successful Right to Roam court appeal against a wealthy landowner’s attempt to restrict wild camping on Dartmoor.
this tree isn’t just a tree. it’s a moment in time.
our ‘leaders’ have been ringbarking humanity for generations, and it’s time to stop.
Thanks for reading unfeesable! Read this for free now, or subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
i’ve been retraining in coppicing and green woodworking for the last year, although my love of trees is vast and lifelong. this news initially left me incapable of forming words; my rage and sadness was intense and overwhelming. i’ve since shared a few words about this (mine and other people’s) on social media, but what i want to focus on here doesn’t yet seem to be a big part of the conversation. i think it needs to be.
i keep seeing people saying "why all the outpouring of grief about this one tree when no one cares about all of our ancient woodlands and natural habitats that have been decimated by HS2?" (which might now be cancelled anyway).
i agree, and i also disagree.
yes it feels paradoxical to anyone who is deeply connected with nature that we might treat one tree differently to all of the others. i mean... it's a *Sycamore*; they're considered 'non native' so we generally don't hold as much respect for that whole species in this country. i love Sycamores because i love all trees (and each have their own unique qualities to offer the ecosystem), but most people view the world through hierarchies, where the lowly Sycamore doesn't get much of a look in. neither do entire forests, if you have no connection with them.
so why do we care so much about this one lowly Sycamore?
the stories being shared about this tree are rooted in the shared experiences and connections which that specific tree represents. a shared hike to climb the hills and absorb the views from its location by locals and tourists alike; the shared histories of Hadrian's Wall and what it stands for; the scattered ashes of loved ones; the weddings (and their photographs, precious captures of a moment in time, gilded in frames and sent to friends and family unable to attend in person). these are the human connections made around this specific tree, wherein the tree holds morphogenetic resonance; it becomes a symbol. more than the sum of its parts.
when someone you love shares their experience of grief, you connect with that grief through your love of that person. people are sharing stories about their connection to this tree, and other people are sharing those stories of the tree AND its connection to the people they love. it's accumulative.
when i tell most people i have a relationship with a particular tree, i tend to receive a gaze which says "well, ok, you're clearly a bit nuts". if i said i cared deeply for a tree because i got married there, those same people would overlay their own emotional experiences about weddings, or marriage, or family, or shared ceremony onto that tree. those stories matter. connection matters. and we're in desperate lacking of meaningful connection nowadays. this tree, and what it symbolises for so many people, is made even more important *because of* the stories which exist around it.
there will be a ripple to this. there are so many layers to its stories, and what this act of vandalism says about who and what we are as a species in our own right.
stories make culture, and culture makes humanity. this one story - with all its myriad retellings - is bringing attention to the human connection we so desperately need, which reveals the disconnection we are all suffering from. so while i am devastated that this has happened, this tree will live on as a coppiced multi-stem, and it will become an even greater symbol of the connections we need in order to survive and thrive, individually and collectively.
our societies have demonised 'feelings' over decades of social conditioning; emotions are not conducive to coercion. the more a population feels, the more we heal. the more we heal the less we accept being on the receiving end of harm. the less harm we receive, the stronger we become, the more we fight for our right to thrive, and the less threatened we feel about others. the less threatened we feel, the more generous we become and the less harm (intentional or otherwise) we inflict on others. and so it continues. i don’t enjoy feeling rage and despair, but i know all too well that if i don’t allow myself to feel whatever feelings emerge in me, i am only causing myself more harm. so i embrace the rage and despair, and i compassionately celebrate the grief rippling through the ether, because it shows that there is still some humanity left in this country.
it's too late to repair the harms done by HS2, and those who have valiantly fought against it for so many years will feel even more bereft by this and the attention it's getting. but it's possible that this one tree might be the much-needed catalyst to more people paying more attention to the trees around them (which means they will receive more healing coregulation with those trees, and with nature as a whole). and maybe through this senseless act of vandalism, more of those people will start to recognise that something needs to be done to protect all of them… and all of us with it x
* image description and credit:
a colour photograph of the iconic Sycamore of Sycamore Gap at Hadrian's Wall, taken from a distance so it shows the tree nestled between the hills and the stunning landscape of hills, fields, trees and woodlands beyond. i chose this because it reflects both the details and the big picture going on here.
photo by Ben Ponsford, shared with a CC: BY-NC-SA licence, via flickr.
Thanks for reading unfeesable! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.