Writing about trees

A new planning application has been submitted by New City Vision, who want to build 100 “owner-occupied units” on what is currently the North Kelvin Meadow. This is a very upsetting prospect–one that has informed much of my writing here to date–but one that had, until this re-submission, been indefinitely delayed. At the same, the Children’s Wood has submitted an alternative proposal to retain the space as a community woodland, which provides a concrete, infinitely more hopeful vision of ‘development’. While the period for submitting formal representations to the Glasgow City Council has passed, it is not too late to write to politicians. More information about the campaign to save the meadow can be found at the following two addresses.



In the process of writing my objection to NCV’s application, I was struck by how my feelings about plants and trees do not really count in the course of such decisions. You can write about about biodiversity, and the health benefits of having access to open green space, but you can’t say “It makes me happy and hopeful to walk down my street and hear birds singing.” Or at least, it is hard to imagine this getting discussed in the course of the City Council’s deliberations.

Nonetheless, I think the way plants make us feel can tell us a lot about the places we live, and our ways of being together in the city. So I have been experimenting with other ways of writing about plants, trying to make them, and my feelings about them, speak of larger questions and circumstances. This is an excerpt from a larger piece, in process, about trees in the city.

Five moments in the life of an abandoned playing field

Briefly, a pond. A homemade, old-carpet-lined pond: about five metres long, kidney-shaped and ringed by salvaged concrete, bricks and rocks. A pond of murky water that kids threw rocks and dirt into, and which kept draining out. An invitation for self-righteous grumbling by parents of small children; an attestation to the lack of consensus. A modestly audacious, some say misguided, but most importantly, unselfconscious experiment in urban design.

An empty, debris-filled, old-carpet-lined hole where there used to be a pond. An argument for oversight, better communication. A large, or at least, quite visible mistake.

A partial re-filling of the hole. No more carpet, rocks or bricks.  A somewhat magical, somewhat upsetting transplantation not of saplings, but juvenile trees—birch trees, ash and a small oak tree, dug out from other locations around the meadow and arranged in a friendly, slightly haphazard cluster, as if by a giant child playing at forest-making.

The trees drop yellowed leaves. They stand, nearly bare, in and around the partially filled hole where the pond was, markers for a graveyard of foolish intentions. “What a waste.” The trees here are born of neglect, and suffer both experimental violence (by young boys) and the threat of future violence (by development). We both mourn and resent the loss of these ones, neither broken nor burned.

But spring brings a surprise so profound it takes a while to fully register: buds, and then leaves on three of the trees. There they stand, amongst the grasses that have taken over the old pond hole, bolstered by little mounds of protective rocks at the base, so thin and vulnerable and yet alive, undeniably green. It seems a small miracle, but it is better than that: the gift of being wrong, of discovering that the world has more to offer than you supposed. These trees, once signs of naivety and recklessness, now speak in a much more mysterious way.

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#northkelvinmeadow #urbanmeadow #openhearts

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