If a tree falls in a forest……

A few weeks ago, I was minding my own business (hanging out the washing, since you ask), when a sequence of loud cracks made me turn around in time to see half of the large beech tree on the other side of the burn slowly collapse into ruin like a demolished factory chimney.P1010880

There was not a breath of wind. The weight of its summer foliage alone had become too much for it. A tiny number of extra cells built into a leaf or a developing fruit had tipped the scales and set off the chain of destruction.

Ancient beech trees have a habit of doing this. This is because the beech is an expert in spreading its canopy as widely as it can, and, given freedom to do so, will  push out branches at almost ninety degrees to the main trunk. As these develop into heavy limbs, they become massive cantilevers, depending on the huge strength in tension that wood has to stop them splitting under the weight. You can see this engineering in what remains on the right hand side.P1010885

Beech is a short-grained wood, so it has little of the springiness of spruce or willow, depending instead on the packed bundles of its cells to reinforce itself against gravity. But where water collects in the junctions of its limbs, and eventually penetrates the bark, it is fatally at risk.P1010882

The grey wood here has been penetrated by water over the years, and the bundles of cells have swollen, rotted in places, or have split apart. Each strand that can no longer support the tension places an added burden on the rest. Eventually, it all becomes too much…P1010886

A fallen tree disturbs. It is somehow wrong to find the vertical made horizontal; to be able to explore the canopy as if one were a bird. A fallen tree is a stranded fish – out of its element – all the wonderful fractals of its twigs, branches, and limbs lying with their balance destroyed and no longer a purpose to any of them.P1010888

In geological time, the life of a beech tree barely registers. But I am reminded of the mountain, split by frost, reduced by rain, crumbling slowly to mud.P1010887

But the mountain cannot reproduce. The beech tree can.