For more, inspiring pictures of trees see my tree gallery.

An autumn chill creeps down my neck as I write, and across the valley the shorn fields are wearing a blanket of interweaving winter wheat and harvest stubble – nature’s tartan rug for an aging year.  The changing colours are late, but the bare bones of the trees are finally beginning to show as their leaves shrivel and drop.  I am reminded of a beautiful meditation in a recent yoga class, inspired by our teacher’s encounter with a tree’s deeply grooved and weathered trunk.  We lay and pondered the individuality of each species expressed in its bark, its life experiences etched in its grooves and callouses. In  the walks that followed I found myself stopping to say hello to my tree neighbours, noticing each one’s unique personality as well as the markers of its membership: species and history laid out in trunk and branch.

From my window I can see the trees I pass each day: leylandii, a sprawling, neglected boundary, bare bottomed and shapeless; dainty, purple acers dancing in gravelled gardens; the gold and maroon autumn leaves of elder in the hedgerows. Their speckled shining bark sparks a childhood memory of peeling scented stems –  just for fun. In the fields, the plough-damaged stag-horns of sycamore, oak and ash stand sentinel, while the staring eyes of birches follow eerily as I pass, old skin peeling to reveal gleaming silver beneath.

I am learning to love my own marks of experience and membership.  My stretchmarks are the silver stripes earned in hard labour, a badge of my motherhood;  the wrinkles around my eyes and mouth reassure me that, despite life’s hardships, I have smiled and laughed enough for these lines to fall in happy places. Across my hands and arms the marks of old rose scratches, cuts, burns and scalds attest to my sisterhood with gardeners and bakers around the world. Memories are etched in my skin – plants and fingers I have pruned, crops and knuckles I have sliced, burns from happy bonfire feasts – some are reminders of storms that I have weathered and would rather forget.

My waistline is more stately oak now than slender birch, thickening over the years like the deep rings beneath rough bark. Where is the beauty of wood without the depth of polished grain?  I am learning to see and love my own polished beauty, deep within. The callouses of old emotional wounds strengthen me and give me wisdom to share.  People I love shelter in  my woodpecker holes.

After a lifetime of being clipped and pruned into other people’s shapes I am sprouting into new wild growth and finding my own shape, abundant and exuberant water-shoots heading in new directions. This time the pruning choices are mine to make. Like a London plane, or a silver birch, my peeling bark sloughs away the encrustations of soot and moss to reveal a clear, new page beneath.  Winter may be coming, but spring is not far behind.

Are there trees that you pass regularly in your neighbourhood?  Do you know who they are?  What does their shape and texture tell you about their lives?  Are there callouses around the stubs of fallen/chopped branches?  Do they twist and grow in strange ways in response to the winds or passing traffic?  If you can't get out to meet a tree, try spending time with these images of some of my arboreal neighbours and and see if they speak to any of your own marks and idiosyncrasies.

Listen to these wonderful songs about the beauty and grace of trees:

AcornHeartwood, both from the album Spell Songs