Up a tree again

I just spent forty minutes up a tree on Streatham Common.

I headed out of the house with no particular thought in mind, other than it was a nice evening and would be a shame to waste it cooped up in my room staring at a screen.

I crossed the A23 and headed up the common. It was half eight at night, but still gorgeous and bright. Some kids were playing “see how high in the sky can we kick this football”, like England defenders of old.

I walked up to where the open grass meets a woodland at the top of the hill. It’s where I go when I want to see stars or meteors, as lying on the ground in a small clearing surrounded by trees cuts down the light pollution.

I came across an oak tree with quite strikingly spaghetti-like lower branches.

I hauled myself up into the tree and began to climb, testing each branch with my weight to make sure I wasn’t able to come tumbling embarrassingly down. But climbing trees is childhood muscle memory, like riding a bike or hiding behind a sofa. Soon enough I was amid the top branches, and rested my bottom on a handy fork, and locked one of my arms around the back of the bough for balance.

All of a sudden the wind picked up, and I could hear the tree groaning and straining in the breeze – and under my weight, I suppose. But it felt very secure, and as I became used to the movement of the branches I felt like a cabin boy in the crow’s nest, if cabin boys were ever trusted with such a crucial lookout.

My phone, by this point, mercifully dead in my pocket, I had no distraction from simply gazing, and listening, and thinking. The tree was far enough away from the path for my presence to go unnoticed, assuming anyone was likely to scour the trees for murderers in the first place. Not that I am a murderer, you understand – just society has taught me to be wary of exhibiting any eccentric behaviour, like being up a tree for no reason.

From my vantage point, I could see dog walkers battle to separate their charges, a courting couple lie side by side in the grass, and an eastern European man in a Hawaiian shirt wander amid the trees having a passionate phone conversation.

Looking further, I could see the lines of cars and buses on the A23, streaming up towards London; an enormous digital advertising screen, growing in light as the sun began to fade.

And lifting my eyes up above Immanuel and St Andrew’s church towards the horizon, I could see gas works, houses, and an uncountable number of trees.

And above that, an empty, impossibly enormous summer evening sky.

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