The Memory of Trees

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Theirishscouter is once again putting pen to paper, after a near twelve-month, offspring driven hiatus that has seen the Flynn-Higgins clan gain a 33% increase in hugs.

It was walking through woods near Enniskerry in County Wicklow over the Christmas holidays, young Andrew bounding excitedly through thickets, baby Laoise clinging to Mummy’s back in a harness, gazing around in delighted wonder at this place filled with greenery and interesting rustling noises, that the inspiration came to re-engage with the blue screen and in doing so seek to capture the thoughts of that special morning and a few others like it during December and early January, finally came.

Of course, most of us who are scouters are no stranger to the woods, the forests and the hills of which we have more than a fair share on our island home. But it was listening to the musician Enya the other evening that helped fuse it all together.

Homesick is not something I’ve felt since working in the UK, early in my career. Even then it was more a case of simply missing friends, family and Scouting – the latter in which I was particularly immersed at the time. These days, I don’t so much even miss Ireland – I am fortunate to get home regularly and for decent periods of duration. Rather, I think I have acquired a true appreciation for the place – one I am not sure I had to this extent when living permanently there.

Like most people who have grown up through childhood and adulthood in Scouting, my love of the outdoors and the mystery and beauty of the forest, the mountains, lakes, rivers and the vast heather strewn wilderness of places like Wicklow, shapes my emotional connections with Ireland.

The adventures we all share with others, from the mundane to the sublime, the blissful and the forgettable, those from long ago and those from more recent chapters, all take place amidst unique and beautiful scenery that we can sometimes be oblivious to. Of course, herding forty cub scouts across the hills or slogging up slopes with 50kg on one’s back in the company of annoyingly fit Venture Scouts, can sometimes er, cloud the appreciation. 

The people too, a key ingredient in forging recollections that years later can be as sharp as if you are right there, even if you are on another continent when the recollection hits you. And because the landscape and we change constantly, no two experiences are ever quite the same, even if we set out to replicate it.

In the woods in Wicklow over December and January, I found myself wondering if it was just us who remember. It was strange therefore that the other evening, in my study in a chilly Riyadh, when the fancy took me to listen to some Enya, that the first piece that played was entitled ‘The memory of trees’.

Did those trees in that wood remember me. The introverted ten year old, the determined teenager, the ‘not supposed to be an actual leader’ seventeen year old with my young charges. Did they take in each visit in the coming years, as I went from being an inexperienced but endlessly enthusiastic Cub Scout Leader, though my Scout Leader years. Did they notice my absence when I spent more time around tables in the Millenium Room in Larch Hill, talking about Scouting as opposed to doing it. Did they pick up on my cynicism when I returned a few years later as a Venture Scout Leader and then Rover Crew Facilitator?

Is it faintly ridiculous to imagine that trees and boulders and forest trails can remember anything? Most likely it is. Perhaps the woods and the forests, the mountains and the trails through them are the grooves on a giant record of our Scouting lives. Dark and silent until we return, our hiking boots the needles that unlock the recording within, a recording that only we can hear and see.

This time, the trees saw my little girl for the first time and my little boy once again maybe reflecting as they did so a bit like me, on how fast he is growing. Maybe in me, the trees saw someone getting, if not wiser then perhaps in danger of mellowing slightly. (Only slightly, mind you…)

The woods were calm and inviting that day. A shelter from the biting wind out on the exposed hillside. The strong scent of pine heavy on the air after a storm had ripped branches from trees and scattered fresh cones across the forest floor.

Some actual scouts (with rucksacks and neckerchiefs) passed by on a bisecting trail ahead. Did I miss it? Yes, I think you always miss it, when apart from it for a while. But there is probably a romance to recollections too.


5 thoughts on “The Memory of Trees”

  1. That is a wonderful piece of writing. The imagery of a giant record of memories being brought to life by our hiking boots is exceptionally evocative. Well done Garrett.
    I don’t know if our paths have ever crossed in real like but I am sure we have walked the same trails.

  2. Lovely piece of writing Garrett. Thanks for that and hope all is well. Hope you get to walk around our new campsite in Glencree when you are next home. 43 acres and two hostels and lots more improvements on the way.

  3. A truely romantic yet practical as well, pulling together of the threads of connectedness …. beautifully shared, Garrett.
    I was standing beside Deirdre Brennan in a small, former church in Bunbeg when she received a phonecall from her sister Enya to congratulate her and wish her luck on her new art exhibition. She came back in tears, telling of how her somewhat estranged sister told her that she had just launched a new album called Memories of Trees. We all understand her emotion as we looked around and wondered what inspired their naming without knowing. Deirdre’s exhibition was called Remembrance of Trees.
    And at the risk of being formally certified …. I recall that about the same time, I had gone to Ards Forest to get a new flagpole … an item which has attracted much publicity over the years since. After picking ‘my perfect pole’ and paying the forester, who told me come back to the same spot next morning where I’d find it cut and trimmed for collection, I went for a wee walk and sat by Lough Lily to meditate. What occurred to me, was my arrogance … ending that young tree’s life for my selfish purpose, so I went back to the tree to explain myself. I put my hand on the tree and rested my forehead against the back of my hand and made my short speech to the tree, explaining why I chose that particularly straight, slender one. I have no idea where the voice was but the reply was crystal clear… “But I chose you!”

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