27 May 2017
Facebook was the instigator of my next short walk with Commando. For as long as I can remember there’s been a dead tree standing at the end of the shore near Abbey Hill. It must surely have been a live tree during my lifetime but I only remember it as a bleached driftwood skeleton. Perhaps it was too mundane to notice when it was alive? Whenever I walk along the shore here I stop for a moment to sit on the bench beside the dead tree, have a drink and enjoy the view across Southampton water. I always knew it would fall some day. A photograph on Facebook told me that day had come.
For most of the day we’d been enjoying the warm sun, pottering about in the garden, then sitting in the shade on the deck in our new comfy chairs. At some point I’d told Commando about the fallen tree and said how sad it was that the view had changed forever. Over the years the tree has featured in many of my photos and served as a landmark on my walks along the shore. It was hard to imagine the scene without it.
The day was crawling to an end, sunset just around the corner, when Commando said, “why don’t we go for a little drive?” We ended up at the car park at the very end of the shore. The sun was slowly setting behind the giant cruise ships in the docks. We crunched along the shingle lamenting the absence of the ice cream van but enjoying the peachy hues on the horizon, the smell of the sea and the golden light. Then I remembered the tree. Of course Commando had been thinking of it all along.
We left the stony beach and set off along the shore path. The sinking sun turned the trunks of the trees to burnished copper and made the wildflowers growing beside the path seem like a fairy tale garden. Almost at once I spied my favourite bench and the gap where the tree used to be.
When we got closer I could see the sorry stump and the body of the skeleton tree laying sadly on the shingle. Of course the tree had been dead for many years. It is a miracle it ever managed to grow at all with its roots in the sand right on the tide line and salt water always swirling about its feet. Somehow it grew to full size and flourished but it couldn’t survive the seawater indefinitely. Even in death it’s roots kept a tenacious hold and it stayed upright as a monument to the optimistic spirit of the little seed that persisted against all the odds.
Back in April 2015 a woman was taking an early morning walk along the shore when she noticed smoke coming from the trunk of the skeleton tree. When she walked closer she saw flames licking at the hollow trunk. She called the fire brigade, fearing the fire could spread to the other trees and the scrub along the path. The fire was quickly put out and the tree remained, scarred, maybe mortally wounded, but still upright.
Now we walked down onto the shingle ourselves to take a closer look at the hollow stump. The evidence of the fire was still clear to see, along with the rot in the hollow interior. Those tenacious roots, bleached by the sun and sea, their contorted grain a thing of beauty, still clasped the soil but now they had no trunk to support.
The poor trunk was stretched out on the shingle. Once it had seemed like a sentinel, standing guard over the path. Now it has been reduced to driftwood.
“Maybe they could turn it into a seat, like the ones we saw in Vancouver,” Commando suggested.
“Sadly, I think it’s too rotten,” I poked gently at the crumbling brown wood at its base. “They may just leave it here to rot or the council might come along and remove it. I hope they don’t though.”
So, with the sun sinking ever lower and the light beginning to fade, I took a few more photos. They may be my last of the tree. Sitting on my favourite bench will never be quite the same from now on.
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