12 years ago, I used to looked up into this mature willow, drawn by a hollow percussive rattle. 40 feet up, when the black woodpecker wasn’t there, the bored holes held his promise to return.
Those branches were cut out in a major clearance of dead or splitting wood, and there was no more rattling, after the chainsaws.
The tree trunk remained, hollow within, a shelter for creatures against the elements. For a few months, a man lived in it, with a tarpaulin covering the space outside it, and footfall paths through the waist high nettles to his den.
When he left there was some work clearing tins and other things, and the tree was used occasionally by human visitors. Someone had a bonfire inside it, and the wood caught fire. The shell blackened inside. It keeled over, bit by bit, until one side stood like a broken tooth and the other side curled over like ribbed woolen jumper, staying up by its knitted strength without a wearer to support it.
It has become nourishment for other trees around it. An elder grows out of it, and a mass of Old Man’s Beard goes green, then hairy in late summer. It nourishes me with the memory of the sound of its long gone branches. Its stance anchors me to my own past. The brook it grew up by is now mud, nettles and ivy. The ponds dried up too, but but people with bulldozers dug a channel from the river Cam to feed a new watercourse nearby. The Cam itself is kept alive by water pumped from underground aquifers, taps to keep the river flowing, catching the sunlight on the ripples made by the dog swimming though it.