Beeches are the quintessential Hampshire tree, and, if I am honest, my favourite. Spring for me is epitomised by the sight of that first mild sunshine of April shining through the new tender leaves of beech, slightly indented at the edges and still with the fur of their birth upon them. I love the smoothness of their greeny silver trunks, and the way their roots buckle and rear out of the earth in a glorious, chaotic muddle of growth. These are the dryad trees, elegant formed and whispering secrets in the wind. If you put your nose to a beech tree it has a particular smell to it of clean sap and green lichen dust with a hint of sharp mossy wildness, and if you break open the mast in autumn you will find the three-sided nuts in their fawn-velvet beds just waiting to be cracked open and plundered for the sweetness inside.
My father's job took him to the woods and hedgerows every day, and I spent many hundreds of hours sitting in different Hampshire woods, listening to the soporific cooing of woodpigeons and watching the branches and leaves of beeches against the sky. There was one particular clump I was very fond of. It lay beside the narrow chalk-dusted road to school, a perfectly round grove on top of a small hill, and I loved to visit it. It was, for me a magical place--a tree cathedral where I felt at one with nature and the world, though I didn't put it like that at the time, of course.
Then the motorway came. The little chalk-dusted road was blocked for months, and we went round the longer way while the diggers and blasters and tarmackers did their work. I wasn't allowed to go near because of the danger of being squashed by a JCB. And then, one day it was open again. I cried and cried. My beech clump had been sliced in half for a new road, wide and shiny and black. It looked so sad, so bereft of its brothers and sisters. It was my first consciousness that Man ruled the planet, and Nature took second place to convenience--and there was nothing I could do about it. The half beech clump is still there--I have driven past it thousands of times on the way up that convenient motorway to London. I feel a pang for its violation every time.