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)