Climbing Trees

One of the things on my wish list for this year was to climb a tree – after having had a wonderful experience last year of sitting on a branch that made a natural seat. It reminded me of great tree climbs I did as a child. A pine tree in a friend’s garden with branches like a step ladder. A U-tree in a park with every branch forming a U-shape and many perfect sitting places. (Possibly a Chamaecyparis species.) An oak with a great hollow in the side of the trunk, five feet off the ground, that we would be lifted into.

There is a lovely guardian oak a few fields from me that I have almost climbed a couple of times, balancing precariously on the top of the fence next to its crown, but not quite getting the courage up to take the leap into the tree itself, knowing that I would have to reverse the leap out again with no one to guide me. I have seen a few trees for my daughter to climb, but they haven’t appealed to me being either too low, or too spindly for an adult.

Oak tree near Skyreholme, Yorkshire

Finally in Yorkshire last week I found an oak that actually invited me to climb it, complete with dimples for feet on the way up. Oak is such a wonderful tree to climb, lending its solidity and presence to all endeavours which is very much apparent in the climbing and sitting, and with craggy bark to hold onto and very often soft moss to sit on. This one had a surprise for me as I peeked around the corner of the trunk – a split in a side branch had become home to a rowan tree.

Rowan growing out of a crack in an oak branch.
(Click to enlarge.)

It also reminded me that sitting in a tree is quite a different experience to sitting on the ground leaning against a tree, no matter how good the connection to the tree is.

This week I paid a visit to Stanton Moor (of which more next time) and wondered if I might climb the ‘climbing tree’ near the ‘cave’. Possibly fortunately, given it is not a very large tree, I took a different route that led me nowhere near that corner of the moor. However, leaving myself open to whatever experiences should come my way, I found this beauty of an oak instead. Another tree which invited me to climb, and was fairly easy even encumbered with camera and rucksack.

As I sat in the tree, I became aware of just how bizarre and atypical its shape was. Long spindly branches going off in all directions, with many small twigs growing out randomly. It covered a large area but was not particularly tall. I wondered whether another shape might be more suited to fitting in with the trees around it, that this seemed impossibly long and spindly in places. However I had the prompt answer come back at me that if it was meant to be another shape, it would have been. This is the right shape for this tree, right here, and nothing else would be as good. There was such a certainty and trust that the tree seemed completely peaceful as a result.

Oak tree on Stanton Moor


It was then pointed out to me that I generally had certainty in my own life as well, in my path, my situation, my doings. Just trust in it.

This was a good message for me right now.
I see all the things in the world that bother me where harmony with the Earth has been lost, and wonder repeatedly what more I could or should be doing. I do what small things are possible right where I am to improve my area, while always wondering if they are enough. Every so often this inner conflict leads to confusion and frustration or depression in me – and I am aware that this is exactly what makes necessary change in the world. Yet regularly I am reminded that large scale campaigning or hands-on activism are not my parts to play right now, nor is it my path to live in some sort of sustainable woodland permaculture, traffic-free utopia I might dream of for the world. Like the tree says, if I am meant to be doing those things right now, then I would be. One day this might change, but just trust in myself to know.

The other message I brought home from the moor, filled as it was with many different people each experiencing it in their own way and not all leaving it as they found it or making it easy for others, was to observe difference with love instead of criticism, and to keep celebrating the positive in order that the love may grow, on all sides. Maybe these things are needed just as much.

I now think of this as the ‘Certainty Tree’. I will try and remember its message – and continue to climb trees.

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Black Bryony

Black Bryony berries garlanding its way through the ivy.

All autumn I have been enjoying the sight of black bryony berries garlanding the hedgerows. They are of course a fairly common plant in most of England, but one I only tend to see once the bright red berries have ripened. The flowers are fairly small and insignificant.

Black Bryony in Hawthorn hedge.

I have wanted to take a picture of the berries before, but mostly I see them while cycling, along roadside hedges that are not always good places to walk with a camera. They also drape themselves so sparsely that they don’t frame well. Then this year a new cycle route was opened up to me (see earlier post, Cycle Roads) and it grew in these traffic free hedges in such profusion that I wanted to have a go. A month ago the leaves were still yellowing and showing their bindweedy shape, but now they hang brown or have dispersed into the hedge bottom to be recycled into next year’s crop. Getting camera, weather, time and leg that can be walked on all together has taken some time… (These were taken with our old compact camera – the DSLR camera I got this year would have done a better job at putting the background out of focus and letting the berries shine, but would have added an extra weight / balancing challenge I wasn’t ready for. Work in progress!)

There are two bryonies, named white and black after the colour of their roots, both looking very similar for most of the year since they each have mid-green ivy-like leaves, small insignificant greenish white male and female flowers followed by red berries, and they climb up hawthorn with abandon. However they are completely unrelated to each other. White bryony, Bryonia dioica, is a member of the curcurbitae family (ie courgettes and melons) so climbs with tendrils, and is dioecious, while Black Bryony, Tamus communis, belongs to the Dioscoreaceae family (ie yams), climbs by twining, and is monoecious. Both are poisonous in all parts.

Black Bryony berries and ivy.

Black bryony berries and juice or pulp from the root have been applied directly to the skin for bruises, strains, gout, rheumatism and hair loss because the calcium oxalate it contains as crystals irritate (or stimulate?) the skin. It has also been used to cause vomiting in careful doses, and when mixed with wine or honey, black bryony has been used for gravel or asthma. An overdose is likely to cause a painful death however. All parts also contain saponins, another poison, although one which is normally deactivated by cooking – but the young shoots are cooked and eaten like asparagus in southern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Greece.

I managed to meet Black Bryony in meditation, and found a very interesting energy which was willing to communicate with me, appearing briefly in a dark female form and very beautiful. Its element is fire, and its focus is transformation – hence is medical uses. But transformation can be destructive to some if they are not willing to change, to let some parts die down. It was used in alchemy for this purpose. [I cannot find any evidence for this as yet, although I’m not an alchemist so it may turn up…] It has been particularly active along the lane to create the transformation that I have seen this year. It has developed strong roots in the course of this work so will continue to grow well there, but doesn’t need to spread further. It also brings harmony, creating links between species. It does not help the fiery aspects of will, or of strong focus and intention.

Black Bryony makes a garland under a hawthorn branch.