Saturday, 19 March 2016

The lightning tree

Some years ago I was studying part-time in Cambridge, which meant driving there once a week.  The 30 mile trip was along quite a dull route, nothing very picturesque or interesting about it - except for one particular thing which I looked forward to seeing every time, especially on my outbound journey when it was close and on my side of the road.  It was my lovely lightning tree.

It’s lost several branches and boughs in the interim years but it’s still there.  Now it looks like this: 


I know it probably doesn’t look very special here – it’s so much more blunt and stumpy than it used to be (that sign is new too) -  but what was marvellous about seeing it on my travels, apart from its former spikiness, was the way that it appeared so different every time.  I think it was something to do with the constantly changing nature of its backdrop.  Some early mornings the tree would loom out of the mist, its pointed fingers seeming to pierce through it.  On sunny days the bark would take on a bright, silvery sheen, creating a striking contrast to the wash of a vast blue sky.  On dark Winter mornings everything seemed to be in monochrome, an impression enhanced further by huge black crows perched on every limb.  Each variation in the light and time of day gave this tree a transitional quality, sometimes nuanced, sometimes dramatic; never the same twice.

It wasn’t just the sky backdrop which set the scene so beautifully for this central character, it was the position of the pylon behind it too. At a certain distance and angle they lined up perfectly - just for one split second - the pylon dwarfing the tree yet somehow mimicking it at the same time; their shapes not that dissimilar really.  They seemed so connected, not only visually but metaphorically too - united by electricity, signifying the death of one and the life of the other.

Ah, I loved that ever-changing picture on permanent display on the A1307.  It was the highlight of my weekly commute - so special to me that I honestly wished I could have been stuck in traffic more often.

From the other side of the road

Talking of lightning trees, remember this?

The Settlers: The Lightning Tree (theme from 'Follyfoot' 1971)


12 comments:

  1. C,
    When I looked at the top picture for the first time, the immediate impression was of a living creature, arms stretched to the sky, spikey alien head in the centre, howling "Don't leave me here!!!" Wonderful!

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    1. I see exactly what you mean, love it!

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  2. A lovely thing to break up a journey. I like your reflection on the life giving and life taking properties of electricity. As for The Settlers: one of my all time favourite tunes. Loved 'Follyfoot' (well, Dora).

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    1. It's an evocative tune, isn't it?
      Funnily enough I never really watched Follyfoot. I do remember Dora's face, though. She always looked a bit miserable for my liking but I thought she had a cool hairstyle!

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    2. Yes, she was a bit of a miserablist, I think. Her hair was perfect. Gillian Blake, where are you?

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    3. I googled her (of course!) Seems she retired from acting in 1980. She's 66 now...

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  3. When I was a student in South Wales I sometimes visited my family "Up North" and took the train along the borders. It was back in the days of compartments and on the return journey, one particularly hot and crackley afternoon, I was sat next to the window, drinking in the lovely scenery rolling past outside, when a huge streak of lightening darted out of the sky and struck a poor defenceless tree standing alone in a field quite close to the rail tracks. Of course, we passed that startling scene within seconds and I might have thought I had imagined it if it hadn't been for the fact that a middle aged man sat opposite me, who had been reading the newspaper, folded down the edges of his paper and gave me a look of incredulity. He'd obviously also been looking out of the window behind his newspaper at that exact moment too. we never spoke, just that quick exchange of glances.
    I used to feel quite proprietorial whenever the train would pass that charred tree in the following few years, but after leaving college I never really took that journey anymore, rarely took the train once I learned to drive. Then, twenty years on, I went to an interview in South Wales and decided to take the train for old times sake. Sat in one of the new long open compartments I kept being drawn back to the face of an older man sat much further up the carriage but facing my direction. We caught each other's eye a few times but I just could not place where I had seen him before. Eventually he got up and walked past me to get a drink from the buffet car but on his way back to his seat he paused and after a garbled introduction he explained that we had shared that experience of seeing the tree being struck by lightening all those years before. He explained that the tree was long gone, the surrounding fields had been a housing estate for some years... but how strange was that encounter? The odds on us seeing each other again, being in the same compartment at the same time, recognising one another after such a long time? Surely almost as daunting odds as actually witnessing the tree at the exact moment it was struck by lightening in the first place?

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    1. Yve, that is a fantastic tale! It feels as if there should be some meaning to it (I'm sure you could use it as inspiration for something semi-fictional in the Cult of Doll Almanac!) These unexpected coincidences or whatever you want to call them - moments of serendipity? kismet? - give life a little magical twist, even if they don't actually amount to anything we can understand. Wonderful!
      Who knows, at this exact oment, that man might be telling someone else about the very same experience?!

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    2. Strange, isn't it? It always felt like it SHOULD have some meaning, because our brains are always trying to unravel the world around us and impose order on random events. I suppose it's how we try to feel as though we are somehow in control and able to affect a Universe that really doesn't notice us at all.

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    3. That's exactly it; you put it so well!

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  4. A lovely post and tune (ah yes, I remember Follyfoot with great affection too) plus a quite extraordinary story from Yve - truly remarkable.

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    1. Thanks TS, yes Yve's story is fabulous.

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