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A Tree-Lined Avenue - Past, Present & Future

Steven Songhurst

The nature reserve I work in is an urban nature reserve, which in a previous age used to be the prestigious grounds of a Victorian manor house and its estate, belonging to a wealthy local family. Within the reserve is a 100-metre-long avenue of trees, lined on each side with very high, 200-year-old stately lime trees, planted in soldierly rows, to provide shade from the summer heat and grandeur, as the owners walked from the house to a viewing platform at the northern end of the avenue. The following three short stories are based upon three visits to this grand avenue of trees.
Although I have titled the short stories ‘past, present and future’, they can be read in any order, their only link is to the place, the lime tree avenue, form which they were born.

I sit on a flat, wooden bench at the northern end of the avenue, viewing the scene before me. The sky is flat and grey, the air cold, cold enough for winters grip to seep into my bones. I shiver. The trees leafless forms and muted colours match the feeling of depression hanging in the air, matching the ongoing sad news from lands overseas, where the earth’s sudden movements have caused death to thousands of innocent people and misery to millions of survivors.
As I look down the avenue of trees, my mind wanders to stories of happier times of this land in the past. Times of fun and gaiety, when wealthy ladies and their chaperones walked beneath the trees before me, on a warm summer’s evening, laughing and enjoying the riches which life had bestowed upon them. The year 1852 was a good year, the master of the house had just been elected MP for the nearby town, a new gothic style wing of the house had just been built and the ‘Grand Gala Ball’ was in full swing, in celebration of the good fortune, which the family was lucky enough to enjoy.
It’s good to dream of better times and fortunes of the past, on a cold, damp and miserable day like today.

There is a dry chill in the air and upon my face, whilst the recently risen sun begins to melt the overnight frost covering the ground beneath my feet. My colleagues and I are walking towards a line of trees, full of anticipation for what we hope to find, for we are on a hunt, to find sleeping bats, tucked up inside snug wooden boxes with tiny ‘letter box’ slits and attached to the trunks of the lime trees along the avenue.
We arrive at a large, majestic, tree, a veteran of many winters past, with deep, dark grooves etched into the bark, each one a chapter in the storybook of the tree’s life. The heavy metal ladder, I have lugged along, is placed carefully against the old tree, the top rung of the ladder below a weathered bat box attached to the tree’s trunk, whilst the foot of the ladder is stoutly grounded into the softening soil beneath the tree.
The ladder creaks in protest, as I climb the steps and ascend to the small, elongated, opening, of the box above me. I shine the torch into the dark depths of the box and there, tucked right at the top of the box are three tiny, brown, furry, sleeping beauties - common pipistrelle bats.
Each little bat is no bigger than your thumb, weigh little more than a pound coin and with a heart slowed to the beat of a funeral march, these ‘three musketeers’ are huddled together for warmth and to ride out the worst of winter’s cold times; when food is scarce and energies must be conserved, until spring’s warmth returns and once again they may take to the air to forage for insects above the nearby lake.
Down below, at the foot of the ladder, there is a rush of excitement and over the next few minutes we swap places, so that we can all experience the feeling of joy, wonderment and privilege in being so close to these tiny, endangered, animals.
These shared moments, of connecting with our sleeping guests, helps us all to be in the present moment, experiencing nature together as one. After the rush of adrenaline, we leave our tiny friends to their sleep, but the warm of the wonderful encounter stays with us for a long time.

On a surprisingly warm and spring like late January day I am lying upon the damp ground, at the base of a magnificent lime tree towering above me. In front of me, a sea of brilliant white snowdrop blooms are gently fluttering in the cool winter breeze, whilst the low afternoon sun is casting a warm glow across the vision of virginal purity before me. Snowdrops, February’s fair maids, are a paradox, anchoring us in both the present cold winter temperatures and yet holding out the promise of spring and the rebirth of life to come.
For many people it is this future promise that draws us to their beauty and as I lay amongst the blooms, I am amazed and pleased to see a buff tailed bumblebee, a large queen, buzzing amongst the winter blooms. The first bumblebee I have seen this year, I am struck by the symbolism of the moment, spring’s hope of future joyful moments reaching out to clasp me in its promise.
The moment sparks an idea in my mind, what if the base of all the magnificent lime trees before me were to become a carpet of white blooms in future years, how many more bumblebees would this attract? Indeed, how many more people would flock to this historical part of the nature reserve to share the joy I have just experienced and breathe hope for their lives in the future. Maybe a gentler world, where we have understood that we belong here, in nature, for if we are not part of nature, then who are we?
The following day I write a request on the nature reserve’s Facebook page asking for donations, to be able to plant up more snowdrops along the lime tree avenue. A week later many people have shown they wish to join together and share their love of nature and we have the resources to purchase 2000 snowdrop bulbs from a supplier (who doesn’t use the nasty neonicotinoid sprays which kill bumblebees) and a day is fixed in March for everyone who has helped to donate money, to come and plant their own ‘promises to the future’ for a better, nature friendly world.
I wonder if that queen buff tailed bumble bee knew what she had started, when she flew into my world that day, amongst the white blooms of hope?

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