If I had to name my favourite type of organism it would be a very tight contest, but all things considered, I think trees would take the number one spot. Sure, I love tigers – magnificent jungle assassins – and whales – peaceful leviathan lords of the great oceanic expanses. Birds also feature pretty high on my list, marvels of colour and flight that they are, but for me the best has got to be the trees.
There is something about trees that fills me with awe and delight. Again, as with so many of my life’s passions, I think my love of trees began as a child. I was fortunate enough to grow up in Dorset, a county covered with vast tracts of woodland. As a kid, trees were a constant source of adventure. Whether it was climbing in the gnarled limbs of an oak or exploring the shadowy, needle-cushioned silence of a pine forest, there was always fun to be had around trees. I love all trees. I love the oak for its majesty and heritage – at one time in England oak was worth more than gold! I love ash for its golden bark and beautiful canopy. I love baobabs and eucalypts, kauris and ginkgo, beech and maple, but I think my favourite tree of all is the mighty Redwood.
My love of redwoods began when I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time. (Once again Star Wars shows itself as the great influencer of my formative years!) Of all the environments featured in that movie the one that most captured my imagination was the forest moon of Endor. Naturally, I loved the action sequences, the speeder bike chases, the Ewoks’ battle to bring down the Deathstar’s defensive shield, but I was also blown away by the sheer size of the enormous redwoods that provided the backdrop to such adventure. I remember asking my dad if the trunks were really that big or if they were models. When I learned that these uber-trees were real I was hooked.
And so it was that I first learnt about Redwoods, the mightiest organisms on earth, living things with lifespans that straddle centuries, vast growths with trunks taller than buildings and boles wide enough to accommodate rooms and buses. Trees so huge that they can sustain mini-forests in their gargantuan crowns. Some of these mist-drinking, fire-retardant, gravity-busting, three hundred and fifty foot super-plants took root when the Roman Empire still flourished. They have lived through the Dark Ages, they have been silent witnesses to the birth of Islam, to the Renaissance, the industrial revolution and two world wars. What other organism can lay claim to such feats of living? They are truly vast and ancient. Truely beautiful.
So, what kick-started this little outburst of tree love you might ask? Well, the catalyst for this little arboreal excursion was the cover feature of a National Geographic, a fantastic article concerning Mike Fay’s fight to preserve the ancient Redwood forests of America’s Pacific Coast. The article is really inspiring and surprisingly optimistic and, as always, backed up with some brilliant photographs and illustrations.
As far as my writing is concerned, my love of trees has definitely made its way into my work. In Etherwheel trees are everywhere, from the jungle world of Zeggadat to the magnificent tree-lined avenues of Unis Prime, not to mention the Kingtree, a six hundred foot titan, mutated by the exotic properties of the Gift. In my first novel, the Hag Tree, a tree plays a leading role (as the title might suggest) and a real tree served as the catalyst for the story. So trees…yep, I ,love ‘em and I would say to anyone looking for inspiration or a sense of reality, go take a walk in the woods, or sit under a large tree in a park, it touches something deep within.