Another Green World

I’ve never understood that hyper-realist school of painting. Delineating exactly every distant minor detail is just not how the world appears to my eyes. Have you ever noticed that when viewed from more than a short distance, the leaves of trees disappear, as our vision summarises detail, merging individual leaves into an abstracted visual texture. In the deciduous forests of northwestern Europe, each species of tree has a distinctive texture.

This foliage texture, derived from the shape of individual leaves and the spatial arrangement of their attachment to the branch tips. Silver birches and willows both have graceful weeping foliage quite distinct from the horizontal texture of beeches. However, the leaves of the willow tree are long and narrow accentuating the vertical grain, whereas the birches have a rounded leaf, and a very different texture. If a gentle breeze flirts with the leaves, this texture becomes dynamic.

I am struck once again by this tapestry of textures as I travel through France and Holland near the end of spring, when the new spring leaves have reached full size but are yet to lose their vibrant spring green tones. Along with characteristic textures, each species of deciduous tree, oak, beech, ash, birch, lime, chestnut and so on, also has its own distinctive shade of fresh spring bright green. All the greens in the Derwent 72 pencil pack does not cover this range of green, so easy on the eye.

But this tonal variation is a transient phenomenon. As spring progresses into summer the different shades of bright green rapidly disappear as the warming sun blends the lot into the uniform shade of midsummer deep green. Perhaps this transience explains why it is so little remarked on. Or maybe c’est normale, so ordinary and unremarkable it doesn’t warrant mentioning. But as the unaccustomed visitor, I find it mesmerising, utterly beautiful. Look at the foliage textural variation in this garden on Normandy in May.

In the brief period before spring progresses too far, to look at any stand of mixed deciduous trees, any forest edge, or even a motorway screening plantation, is to be confronted with the most glorious vision, endless variations of dynamic green texture and tone all mottled together, at once richly stimulating and deeply soothing. How can that be? I don’t know, but I can’t stop drinking deeply of this pleasing green brew, and can’t quite fathom why nobody else appears to be similarly entranced.

Beneath a green roof

Is it unAustralian of me, a betrayal of my ground home to be so moved by the Greenwood, to prefer it to the burnished and bleached colours of the island continent? Perhaps. But I can’t deny my spontaneous emotional response to this place. I guess I see it as a rare instance of my Celtic (Irish and Welsh) roots surfacing. Those Celtic ancestors were a right bunch of tree worshippers quite at home in these damp squelchy green forests. And there’s the rub! All this green-greenery needs lots and lots of rain, which comes courtesy of the Gulf Stream swinging by western Europe on its way north. It is a wet part of the world here.

It seems like whenever I come here it’s raining, well, flooding actually this time. The rain killed off our cycling tour of the Loire. It has been so wet, foggy and miserable,  I haven’t even been able to get a decent photograph to clearly illustrate these wondrous green variations. I had to resort to a photograph from a previous trip when I visited Selbourne Forest where in the eighteenth century local pastor and ecologist Gilbert White observed forest life and introduced the concept of ecosystem complexity to the Western understanding of Nature. Even then soon after I took that photograph, the rain set in for days. Much as I love this growing green, I doubt I could ever live full-time in the cold damp.


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