As is becoming customary, I had been looking forward to my monthly tree climb for a while. I was curious about this visit. Look one way, and spring is here – neon green hedgerows and clouds of frothy pink cherry blossom. But the tree outside my shed that measures my years still does not have a single bud. I looked at the photos of this woodland tree that I took in January, February and March, and they are virtually identical. But this month, perhaps, would be different. April mixes memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.
By one clear measure, spring has certainly sprung: birdsong. The volume is rising. Now that I am learning to notice nature more, I am hearing how many of the songs I do not recognise. I am a little ashamed at sleepwalking unaware of the world for so long. But I am much more enthralled by how interesting everything and everywhere becomes when you begin learning to notice.
Up in the branches there is clearly a filling-up of the woodland all around me. A greenness. The first three months of the year was like looking at an empty colouring book: the outlines all laid out but nothing filled in. Now the negative space and the gaps everywhere are fringed neatly and crisply with green. The tiny stream beneath my tree has more flow and burble and sparkle this month. I am eagerly anticipating a sudden explosion of colour and volume in next month’s visit, like when a kid tires of carefully sticking to the lines, grabs the fattest, greenest felt pen she can find, and lets rip with filling the page.
But not yet. Not yet. There are only the very faintest first beginnings of brown buds on the tips of my tree’s twigs as I pull myself upwards, worrying for the fourth time about the final heeeeave up to the fork where I stand for my monthly selfie. It’s a big pull and a brief moment of balance, enough to give me pause each time that falling would really, really hurt and to give my heart a juicy squeeze of adrenalin.
In the same way that spring is surging into activity, so too is my own year. For the first time since beginning this thrice-a-season little pilgrimage (can I bring myself to utter the word #micropilgrimage? No!) I felt almost too busy to bother this morning. I’m finishing off the final details of one book (the cover design, the photo inserts, the whopping iceberg depths of figuring out how to actually get anyone to buy my three years of labour) and also getting caught up with the surging busy-ness of getting going with my next book. Writing books is like the life of a wood: tiny seeds of ideas lie all around. Some of them germinate and sprout shoots and twist around searching for sunshine and nourishment. Few take hold for long. But the best one does now begin to grow. What follows is boring and awkward, far too slow to see any progress. Nothing happens, nothing happens. But at last one day you look up and realise that the tree is mature now: it’s actually a tree. It’s actually a finished book. And all you can do from then onwards is hope that the roots are deep enough for it to last a good long time, that sufficient sunlight shines on it to nourish it, and that the seeds that form haphazardly upon its branches might grow into something new and good as well.
To my surprise, for in my head I’d thought “April… Clocks Forward… Spring…”, I look up at the sky and get a feeling that it’s going to start snowing. There’s that dropping of temperature and the smell of coldness. I’m shivering and my toes are numb. It’s time to head down. I’m looking forward to whichever month I first climb this tree in shorts and a t-shirt.