Richard the anxious tree

Tank Green/ March 16, 2024/ Writing Walking

Photo of a large, leafless beech tree with very tangled boughs close to its trunk. A blue sky and other wintery trees are in the background.

Photo of a large, leafless beech tree with very tangled boughs close to its trunk. A blue sky and other wintery trees are in the background.

Richard was an over-thinker, that’s why his boughs and branches were curled erratically and so close to his trunk: he couldn’t decide on the direction of growth. His stunted appendages, all cluttered and clustered around him, obscured his view. Thus, he only ever partially grasped the goings on of the woods, and in his half-knowledge there was a darkness: he always chose the most unhelpful and fearful point of view.

It had been a long time since the people of the forest had tried to talk him down from whatever terrified drama he was riding on. They had exhausted their capacity for trying to make him see sense. Nowadays, they observed him from a distance, and resigned to accept him as chaotic and panic-ridden. There goes Richard, they’d say, talking up the devil from the deep.

Richard was alone in his unhappy corner of the forest, and only the young and optimistic of each generation went forth under his tangled canopy and attempted to coax out some joy. In every generation there was at least one fox and 32 rabbits who were certain they had the insight necessary to help Richard come to terms with his torture-making self. Only the badgers and owls were born wise enough to know that Richard was who he was: trying to talk him down from whatever fear he was currently carried away with, was a futile quest. Just look at the birds who shared his space in the sky, they’d say, all of them neurotic and fearful to a one.

Richard was the type of tree where, if he spied a human with a saw or a large knife, he would sound all of the alarm bells down every single mycorrhizal ally, convinced that his time was coming to an end. No matter what the deer or the crows said about watching the human carve seats into fallen trees, Richard was adamant that he would be next. Harm was always imminent; it was a sorry way to live. Richard’s life was a series of ‘what if’s?’ and ‘oh no’s!’, and a blinding certainty of impending maleficence.

Fundamentally, Richard was always catastrophising. There wasn’t a worry in the world that he hadn’t considered. He had visualised every axe and every stroke, and every gust of wind brought with it the promise of hoards of Xylococculus betulae insects or spores of Petrakia liobae fungi ready to do him in. Every group of walkers were town planners mapping where they were going to put the new roads, or architects deciding where to put the houses. Nothing the forest people said about the National Trust mattered to Richard: life was ripe for a betrayal.

Close up photo of a leafless beech tree with very tangled boughs close to its trunk. A blue sky is in the background.

Close up photo of a leafless beech tree with very tangled boughs close to its trunk. A blue sky is in the background.

One day, fourteen years after the last mycorrhiza had retreated from Richard’s bitter roots, a traveller from afar walked through that forest. A good traveller, a kind traveller, but, unbeknownst to her, a Cryptococcus fagisuga insect had hitched a ride on her rucksack. When Crispin (for that was the scale insect’s name) spied Richard, she dropped down from the traveller’s bag, and scurried her way over to him. Richard looked especially nourishing to her fagisuga eyes; somehow she sensed he was as alone in root and bark as he was in mind.

Three days after feasting on Richard’s bitter but nutritious wood-flesh, Crispin lay four eggs, thereafter she promptly expired. Those four eggs eventually became her heirs who ate, laid more eggs, and also expired, until eventually, a whole colony of Cryptococcus fagisuga were sampling Richard’s fine beech wood-flesh, laying eggs, and dying in a short, but deadly, circle of life. And so this time, this time when the wind blew in some Nectria coccinea spores, the fungi found open tree-wounds on which to gain purchase.

Thirteen thousand lifecycles AC (After Crispin), Richard suddenly realised that the discomfort he was feeling was not an imagined future or past, but very much due to the present moment. He gingerly searched about his trunk and branches, until he found the festering colony of Crispin’s progeny and the ever multiplying fungi.

Richard howled and Richard cried, and all of the forest people heard him. The robins and the magpies went to look first, swiftly followed by the wood mice and the rats. All shook their sorry heads and recognised the disaster. Try as they might, there was no time for Richard’s siblings to reconnect the mycorrhizal network: he was alone in his fight, much to the fungi’s delectation and delight.

And so one day, in a future far, far away, Richard, under the weight of all those Crispins and coccineas, slowly fell down to the ground. The moral of this story is, dear reader, that it is best not to let your mind take control – it’s genuinely nowhere near as clever or prescient as it thinks it is. Truly, it is best not to see the world in ‘half-empty’ terms. Sincerely, it is best not to swim in seas of anxiety amidst reefs of ‘what if’s?’, because, in the end, as every cyclist knows, we always go in the direction we look.