love and trees in the time of corona

I cycle the length of the feeder to St Annes and drop off the lasagne and I remember when my friend went bridge swinging on New Years Eve once with climbing friends and they calculated the ropes wrong and she dropped straight in the feeder. The feeder canal runs from Netham Lock in East Bristol to the Totterdown basin by Temple Meads. I cycle past the end of the feeder at the Totterdown basin almost every day to get home from south Bristol to Easton. Motion sits on the water opposite the empty space left by the Post Office building, and a tree sits on the edge of that bluff of land and I wonder if it’ll still be there when they build the mega stadium or whatever it is that’s being planned.

Trees provide me comfort when I need it. I wonder why humans find peace or solace in nature. I remember one time I was in Palestine driving in the hills between Ramallah and Bil’in with my friend and we were descending a steep hill towards Ein Qinya and she said, look that tree over there, I like that tree, look how big it is. And I looked and there was a lone tree standing tall in the landscape of low level shrubs and rocks and olive trees. Somehow I feel comforted by how big and strong they are and how long they live, and that’s even without thinking about how they keep us alive by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They are part of the lungs of the ecosystem that we’re slowly destroying with our cars and our industrial farming. Perhaps it is that nature nudges us out of the fast-paced anxiety-inducing information overload of modern humanity with its constant scrolling and live updates and everyday emotional dramas of navigating life together, and into a different temporal range. When I go climbing and hiking I can’t get my head around geological time revealed to us by lines in the rock and I know that mountains formed when continents crashed into one another but I still can’t grasp it. Crashing, slowly. Millions of years is too much to comprehend. On the other hand you can plant a tree and it might become fully formed in our lifetimes. It’s more manageable, yet it still reveals to us the slow pace of nature that will eventually overtake us. There’s a line by Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim that goes ‘From time to time leaves let go but the trunk of the oak…’ (تتبدل الاوراق من ان لان لكن جذع السنديان). The poem’s called Eternity. Trees are comforting to me because they’re bigger and more important and slower than us, but within the life range of humanity: hundreds, maybe thousands of years, but not stretching into geological time. But then maybe they are in a way. The trees like everything else get crushed down and eventually become soil and then humans or the next being will look at in rock strata in a million years or more. And we’ll be in that rock strata somewhere and our cars will be pulverized and fossilised and we’ll be nothing more than a thin layer of the earth’s memory.

There’s so much going on in the sky at the moment. Me and my housemate sit in the garden at night and look at the satellites crossing the key. Venus is bright in the north still. I talk with my friends, and we ask, why is Venus just there all of a sudden, where’s she been all this time? My friend replies, she was there, she’s just put her light on to show up Elon Musk’s satellites so they don’t take all the attention. The satellites whizz across the sky beaming us internet somehow so we can still talk to each other. Looking up into the big expanse we talk about what we want to do after this ends and missing our friends and what we find hard or not. I sneak out at night to go to a hill and watch the sky and I feel like a fugitive in the empty streets. I see 5 or 6 shooting stars in the Lyrid meteor shower and try to find the constellation Lyra but fail as the light from Bristol is crowding her out and I think about my god daughter Lyra and whether she can see the shooting stars wherever she is but she’s a baby and she’s probably asleep.

And I’m on my delivery rounds and looking at Motion and wondering if it will open again and when we’ll feel comfortable in crowds and when we’ll stop looking at each other as potential biohazard. I’m cycling back home along the New Cut, along the feeder, along the Bristol to Bath cycle path and home. I’ve cycled so often beside water. The Rhine from dirty industrial north in Cologne to Basel in Switzerland, then seven hundred kilometres of the Danube, through days of rain, to Austria. Water was everything. Once a Portuguese woman stopped me in Switzerland and asked where I showered and I pointed at the small river beside us and she took me home for lunch and made me have a shower. After seven days of cycling constant rolling hills from south Austria to the Croatian coastline as I emerged up that last hill and saw the sea for the first time I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. And down switchbacks to a clifftop above the sea where I stopped and sat for an hour or more and took in the blue, there was so much blue I couldn’t take it all in, blue sea to horizon and blue sky and the hot sun and I was overcome with all the blue. I cycled a thousand miles along the Black Sea the length of Turkey and watched boats out to sea every night drifting slowly about. What effect this expanse has on our minds. Now I travel the length of Bristol’s waterways with pizza and lasagne and beer. I am all the waterways in Europe in one trickle of stream from the Mendip hills to the muddy locks of central Bristol.

I’m stopped next to Victoria Park and looking up at the trees and the blue sky and a man is stood at the corner of the park catching the last of the sun drinking a pint of beer in a pint glass and he asks me ‘where you looking for love?’ Nowhere, I say. Then Big Jeff walks down the road past us and he looks sad. I think about how he must be missing music and gigs. He was at the last gig I went to, the last anything I went to, at the start of March just before this all kicked off. It was Special Interest, a band from New Orleans and it was their last date before they cancelled everything, before everyone cancelled everything. I pick up waffles and milk shakes from the waterfront and take them to Knowle West and the blossom is full on the trees in front gardens and who needs to go to Japan anyway when you’ve got Bristol’s southern suburbs in full bloom. I look back at Bristol from the Northern Slopes on the edge of Knowle West and I can see Cotham and Kingsdown and the university. I’m going slowly down East Street and a man is walking towards me holding a pizza and we’ve both got our faces covered with a scarf and we look at each other and smile with our eyes. On the cycle path in Easton I pass a woman sat in the evening sun looking at her phone and crying. And the emotional dramas of life and heartbreak and loss and love go on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: