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, BBC Sounds, some podcast an Audible book. 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. You need to look closely to find it.
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 begin to 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.
And writing. And poetry.
It’s all to do with fractals. I love the madness of fractals. Trees exhibit some of the qualities of fractals; so do Jackson Pollock paintings, those drip creations, splodgy irregular 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 cartoon formats.
Trees in my park, a wonderful esoteric painter, maths, some of the best animation in the last twenty years and the inspiration for a poem. It was worth stopping for a coffee and giving thanks for the silent splendour of those trees.
I found fractals dripping
from a tree,
lines of leaf-splods
that took shape from the chaos.
That’s what nature does,
pulls tricks right under your nose,
blinds you to Her designs.
They’re always there, always have been there,
Hidden until you learn to read a tree;
A twig is a branch by any other name,
a tree a twig grown up.
You need to see the twig-child in the man-tree
Everywhere you go, how far back you stand,
the tree is a twig on a bigger twig
on the biggest twig.
Twig, twigger, twiggest.
Fractals are everywhere,
sprouting from within to without.
Story-twigs, a word, growing to a sentence and a flash
all the way to a novel.
and the word is in the paragraph,
then the page.
Word, wordier, wordiest.
To write is to deal in fractals.
The child-word is in the man-novel,
if you look carefully.
Some still only see word-splods
unable to distinguish the essence.
You can learn, if you stand back,
give your imagination the necessary depth
and there is it, where it’s always been,
the novel you’ve always wanted to write,
only you were too close,
lost in splods.
Not that Dog cares…