A book called Beechcombings didn’t hold instant appeal for me. The title sounded whimsical; so did the idea of trees having a narrative. I took against being reminded that it was exactly twenty years since the biggest storm for three centuries had flattened fifteen million trees across southern England. Was Richard Mabey going soft in later years? Why would he want to write a cute book of tree stories to mark an anniversary that needs no celebration?
I should have known better. Mabey doesn’t do cute. When he reaches the storm, in place of the ritual genuflexions of dismay and woe he recalls the excitement, the sense of chaos triumphant. The trees came down, in Mabey’s words, like infantry before a cavalry charge; the spectacle was as exhilarating as the reek of plundered earth. Writing like an artist, he comments that the entire landscape seemed ‘sprung’.
Beeches, contrary in their nature as always, declined to follow a pattern. Hundreds of thousands fell like toppled pillars, but those in Mabey’s own patch of woodland gripped onto sliding earth with the muscular tentacles of their shallow roots – and stayed triumphantly in place. Trying to make hard and