Monday, 8 June 2009

Remembering Remarkable Trees - Part 3 - Reading Trees


Ingredients for the perfect reading tree:
1 climbable tree;
1 cushion;
1 comfortable fork with branch footstool and trunk backrest;
1 unputdownable book;
enough green leaves to hide under.

These days I prefer a slung hammock, but when I was (shall we say more agile?) climbing trees with a book was my perfect escape from weeding the strawberry beds, or lugging bales of straw and slopping buckets of water over countless fields, or any other undesirable job my parents could dream up for an idle, book-loving child.

My first climbing choice of inside the laurel clump made a springy green cave smelling of rich, rotting evergreen humus and was not terribly satisfactory as a perch, being rather unstable and drippy when it rained as well as dark and bad for the eyes. The Victoria plum tree was good in the spring and autumn but not in the summer when the wasps attacked the ripening plums and anything else in reach. It was also, latterly, near the bonfire, which meant that I read with smarting, smoke-filled eyes when the wind was in the wrong direction. The right hand of the twin chestnuts on the boundary had a wide horizontal and almost flat branch which was great for reading and also for lying and spying on the house (and on the next-door neighbours in their thatched cottage), hiding me from sight entirely. But when new neighbours moved in, less short-sighted and tolerant than old Mr and Mrs Smith, Complaints Were Made, and I was banned from climbing it on pain of dire punishment. A nosy child (I confess I did have a pair of binoculars on occasion) was not welcome, despite my protestations of innocence and the waving of books as proof.

It was the old cherry in the part of the garden where nobody went, just by the dogs' graves, which was best. That was where I stashed my rope ladder, and found a perfect snug fork just at the right angle for leaning against. It was there that I devoured R.M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island as well as Swiss Family Robinson, (the latter being especially suitable for treetop reading) among many others. The lullaby of the creaking branches, the wind, the rustle of pointed leaves, the occasional adventurous woodpigeon or little brown bird landing above my head, these were the sounds that informed my early reading life. Hammocks are good, but trees are the real thing. Climb one tomorrow plus book and see for yourself (if you are still able and lithe enough to do so). I wish I could.

5 comments:

Anne Rooney said...

A tree house is a good compromise for those of us a bit old for tree-sitting for long periods :-) When I was small I used to have a little cave inside the holly hedge - rather spikey and nowhere near as good as your tree hide-aways, Lucy. How awful it would be never to have read in a tree... I think I should evict Small Daughter from her space by the radiator and make her take her book outside and up a tree!

Lucy Coats said...

Gazelle Girl is lucky enough to have a tree house (I never did), and intends to spend the summer turning it into a teenage den with lurid psychedelic flower paintings on the walls. Remind you of anything?! I think Small Daughter would look delightful in a tree--like a glorious reading pixie. Suspect the radiator will win, though.

wildink said...

Great tree memories! Something I've been meaning to post about as well. As a kid, I use to read in a tiny tree house my brother build about 40 feet up in a broad leaf maple at the back of our yard. Our house on Vancouver Island was surrounded by big maple trees, and my bedroom under the eaves had the feel of a tree house. To this day, the sound of rustling leaves evokes the warm, safe feeling of my childhood and the worry-free imagination-filled hours spent reading and daydreaming among their branches.

Frankie Anon said...

I never had a reading tree; I guess our trees in Colorado weren't suitable. But your post was lovely and fun to imagine. (I did have my own little cave though. I would place stubby candles all along its length, but the best spot for reading was just inside the opening.)

Lucy Coats said...

wildink--glad to see a Vancouver girl posting comments here! (Have loads of family there.) 40 ft up sounds scary--don't think I ever got half that high. But it's good to find another tree-dreamer.

Frankie--a cave! I love caves, and always wanted one just like Peter Duck's in 'Swallowdale'.

 
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