Dawyk Botanic Gardens, Autumn

A day spent wandering, discoursing on Sequoias and colonial plant hunters (though the knowledge is mostly Gerry’s). A day spent in the pleasures of seeing: platelike fungi, orange and yellow and leathery brown; and bright sorbus berries, cream, vermilion, deep pink; textures of lichens and springy Sequoiadendron bark; the restless light through the leaves of the birches, that quick, flickering tree we both love. Short lived, Gerry tells me. Though some birches may stand as long as a beech, most live only 70 or 80 years. A human span.


It’s a day spent stooped under trees, looking for labels, rubbing the small dark oblongs and hearing the echo of distant places.


Between times, at lunch in the café (though we miss the mushrooms gathered from under the beeches), we talk of our families. We’ve been friends long enough to have those kinds of conversations, how children grow up and move away and become visitors. How we grow older. How we would choose to grow old. Our lives fleeting as birches.


After lunch I wander alone, find the Flaky Bark fir from the edge of the Tibetan plateau, the felted leaves of Himalayan rhododendrons, a Nippon maple from Japan’s rainy forests.


Then at the end of the day we go up to the birches again. This time, what we see is the pattern of pale straight trunks that brings to mind the north: the real north of Finnish forests and the imaginary spaces of fairy tales. Like Klimt’s paintings of birches, the imagined is also real and has a necessary existence. It shimmers, like the birches themselves.


Originally published by Gerry Loose as a guest blog on Walking with Poets.