I had spent many days cycling around the urban parks of South London, scouting for a tall thin tree to photograph for my Vertical Landscape series, but the moment I saw this lone Wild Cherry, although this tree was the wrong form for that project, I was smitten, it was everything that I was searching for and more.
It is shapely and beautiful, but not in the artificial, cosmetic manner of a catwalk model. Look closely and the blemishes become apparent: the smooth trunk defaced by wart-like burls, the slight irregularity where the boughs emerge from the torso, the lower branches snapped off by generations of children swinging from it.
It has personality - defiance above all. It stands proudly alone, unlike the huddled trees behind. It may not be perfect, but it’s not afraid to flaunt. In the spring it flirts and entices with pink-white blossom. In the early summer it drapes itself in shades of green - vivid and bright at first, but darkening and maturing as the languid days of August and September near. And then, in the autumn, comes the grand finale - the cloaks of blazing reds, golds and burnt oranges, one succeeding the other in rapid succession as if it is seeking to fend off the gathering melancholy of winter.
But it is during those lifeless, monochromatic days between December and March when it has shed its leaves and there are few passers-by pausing to admire, that I find it most alluring. It is then that its true nature is exposed. The outer form, the pleasing symmetry, remains, but now we see the complexity that it conceals. We see the thousands of riotous, tangled branches, the recalcitrant disorder within the apparent order… all those small inner tumults which behind our calm facades afflict us all.
Does it then wish for obscurity, I wonder? Stripped bare, exposed to the wind, the rain and occasional blasts of frost or snow; does it regret the splendid isolation? Does it yearn to be hidden and protected in the arboreal anonymity of a copse or wood? If so, the moment passes. As the days begin to lengthen, and the earth to gently warm, it regains its joie de vivre. The sap rises. The game begins again.
And how wonderful, I think, to find this beguiling Wild Cherry not in some bucolic, rural beauty spot, or grand country estate, but in a municipal park accompanied by the 24-hour-a-day chorus of the suburban metropolis.
For those with the eyes to see, it is so much more than just another tree. It’s a beacon of beauty, an inspiration to those caught in the daily struggle of city life, a source of solace to us all. It blossoms, flourishes, blazes and retreats. It endlessly repeats that cycle. It endures.