From tiny seeds do mighty giants grow

Bank Holiday delivered me the opportunity to ride in the evening, the sun was still hazy in the sky, and the roads were damp from earlier half-hearted showers. Meandering out of the village I breathed in the scent of dank roadside foliage; cow parsley, oilseed and dandelion combined to create a rich heady fug, redolent of late Spring. Easing the racing bike onto the thrumming tarmac of the main road, I felt relaxed and at ease, content to turn the cranks and let the bike take me where it wanted. So pleasing was the atmosphere, that I was not daunted when the bike decided we should climb Black Dog Hill again, even the cars seemed somehow laconic in the evening warmth, unhurried as they overtook me on the slopes. At the top I turned left towards a sign for bedding plants, and found another ghost road leading to a farm. This was the old main road, with dandelions growing where once cats-eyes kept motorists in the right lane.

Ghost Road - Dead Maids

Back at the junction, a huge rat lay smashed across the tarmac after an ill-timed sortie onto the road. I headed for Warminster, then swung right at through drifts of dandelion seed onto the bypass. Not much traffic around, so I was easily able to get into the right hand lane at Cley Hill roundabout and start the depressing faux-plat that leads to Longleat, it wasn’t too bad this time, and pretty soon I was heading up the hill towards Longleat Forest. Last time I was here, I found the atmosphere quite oppressive, but here on the left hand side of the road the woods were much more open. This was the Center Parcs side. Mixed woodland, dominated by evergreens and pines, but opened out, laced with beech and carpeted with green. There was a hint of the cycling utopia inside Center Parcs’ chainlink fence here, a little track into the forest that I took. Parallel with the road, but much more pleasant, weaving in and out of the trees before depositing me at the gate to Longleat.

Me and the Redwood, Longleat Forest

A little way into Longleat’s grounds stands a mighty redwood, regular readers of my blog will note that this is probably my favourite type of tree, though they are of course not native to Britain. I pulled the bike up next to the, very tall but still a relative baby, tree and took a quick snap. I’m not sure why it is that I love these trees so much. I have been captivated by them since reading Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory- which has a long chapter dedicated to them. Over in this country they are but saplings compared to their American brethren, and often councils will chop them down, citing disease and the danger of falling branches for their reasons. I think they are daunted by the sheer size of these titans. Most in this country are around a century or so old, yet they tower over most other trees in their vicinity, indeed here in the village there is a grove of them, visible for miles around, even from the Wingfield straight. Recently a council on Trowbridge cut down two in a residential area, much to the disappointment of the residents, who demanded that replacements be planted. Center Parcs has a grove of quite old ones surrounded by a boardwalk. When my youngest was a mere babe, I woke early and top him with me to visit them before anyone else was up and about. It was one of my most favourite moments from that holiday, the forest alive with early morning birdsong, my son, awed by the majesty of these trees.

Redwood cones

Back to now, I gathered up a pocket full of redwood cones and head back to the house. On arriving home I had gone twenty one miles, not too shabby. Later on as my eldest son watched from his bedroom (instead of going to sleep), I shook out the tiny seeds from the cone and planted them in a seed tray. I understand it’s very hard to get redwoods to germinate, so we’ll see what happens, but at the moment I have fantasies of pots of redwoods being grown on in my garden…

Winter into Spring

Tuesday the 12th of February saw me take to the bike for a forty minute ride in a desperate attempt to blast away the cobwebs and force some oxygen into my stalled brain. Work has been hectic of late, which for a self-employed person is of course brilliant, but it does mean my riding time is sparce, right at the point when my waistline indicates it should not be.

redwood tree and bikeAs I pedalled out of the village I attempted to formulate some sort of plan for riding. A time trial? An attempt on my personal best average speed? A pootle? Of course, the pootle won out, though I threw in a couple of sprints in an attempt to convince myself I was getting fitter. Leaving the chill in my wake I hit the A36 at speed, hands on the drops, high gears, the wind whistling through the vents of the helmet and roaring in my ears. By the time I turned off to Dilton Marsh I had reached the point where it was too late to go back and get my wallet in case I needed food to stave off the dreaded ‘bonk’. No matter, with the sprint out of the way I could take the rest of the ride at a leisurely pace and a sensible cadence.

The light was absolutley beautiful, bright and clear, but somehow slow. The sun, preparing itself for Spring, stretched out and gently flung its beams across the earth, sending light dawdling across the landscape, almost rolling over itself as it happened upon hedges and furrows in the frost-cracked fields, wrapping itself slowly around shattered elms at the roadside. The ferocity of the winter storms collapsing with a sigh into the outstretched arms of Spring. Again the hedges were alive with birds, their chatter swelling through the lukewarm air, forcing life into the ice-rimmed road shadows still claimed by Winter.

This was a day made for cycling to lift the spirits. It seemed to me that the earth itself turned beneath the tyres, compelled by the revolution of my cranks to continue its slow tumble through space, guiding the earth’s orbit towards the waiting, welcoming sun. This is why I ride.

At Southwick I pulled into the chruchyard to examine a young redwood, at its mighty base the first flowers of Spring had emerged. Redwoods are, I think, my favourite type of tree. I do not know why this is, perphaps it is their sheer size juxtapozed with their soft bark and relative fragility that I find so pleasing. Even this giant sleeps through Winter, the sap reduced to a sluggish crawl. But now this behemoth, though small for his species, was shaking off the frost to begin another year of incredibly fast growth, for though he towers above all other trees in his vicinity, he can be not much more than one hundred years old.  If left untouched and unchecked he will keep growing, perhaps for another 2,900 years or so. Then, even he must succomb to his winter.

The wheels keep turning.

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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