I walk a lot. Mostly with Dog, come rain or shine. Sometimes I let my thoughts run free, more a mental ramble really. At others I have the radio on, Radio Four mostly. And occasionally it is music. I watch the sky – cloud patterns fascinate me, as I anthropomorphise them if I can, finding stories amongst the vapour. Other walkers are another focus for my attention; if they are walking towards me I smile, just a little, more a smirk and add a bit of a nod. If they make eye contact I’ll ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’ them as appropriate. I haven’t studied the results but most people react a little, usually positively. I don’t expect them to – why should they feel any compulsion to make any connection with me, a total stranger, even if Dog seems to minimise my weirdo status a fraction. Why is that? Is it a British thing with our supposed love of our pets that changes the dynamic: fifty year old man walking alone = weirdo/paedo/social inadequate; same man with dog = sweet old cove/social animal/harmless on day release.
What I often fail to notice are the trees. I’m lucky to live in an area full of trees so I suppose it is the familiarity. Like a good mattress. Never notice until it’s gone. I’m very aware of the sick trees; we have a particularly virulent if not fatal Horse Chestnut leaf drop that clears the leaves off our Chestnuts by the end of September rather than about now; so I watch with a mix of sadness and concern each time the schools go back as the trees expose the conkers much earlier than nature intended. It’s a little caterpillar that eats the soft middle between the outside skin of each leaf.
But the healthy ones are just there for the bulk of the year, pretty much unchanging in terms of size and shape, giving a solid natural architecture to the background, softening the otherwise harsh horizons of suburban south London. This time of year, of course, the trees lose that invisibility cloak and share their striptease with us, casting their tired weeds into crunchy piles and mouldering puddings on the flowerbeds and paths, sticking to our shoes.
Today, in warm sun, I sat with a coffee and realised how lucky I was to have such phenomenally beautiful and complex structures around me, home to a myriad of small essential creatures.
I even thought about mathematics, equally fascinating.
Fractals. I love the madness of fractals. Trees exhibit some of the qualities of fractals; so do Jackson Pollock paintings, those drip, splodgy things. What’s a fractal?
A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.
Pixar, those amazing animated film people who’ve given us Toy Story and Monster, Inc amongst others can trace some of their success to employing fractal concepts in their animation – that’s what makes them so life-like and less wooden than previous formats.
Trees in my park, a wonderful esoteric painter and some of the best animation in the last twenty years. It was a good cup of coffee. This is what I saw.