This is not a conventional book about trees. It will not help you to identify them. It is a personal selection of sixty remarkable individuals…mostly very large, and mainly very ancient, and all with a strong personality. — Thomas Pakenham, Meetings with Remarkable Trees
In 1788, the famous English naturalist, the Reverend Gilbert White, wrote in The Natural History of Selborne of his churchyard yew. It seems it had the vexing habit of scattering pollen on the shoulders of parishioners. The ancient yew, older than even the church it rooted by, finally succumbed to the Great Wind of January 1990.
The Selborne yew is but one of the great trees of personality that Thomas Pakenham pays tribute to in words and photographs. Sacred trees, and the trees of poets (and of history) are all preserved here against the day when another great wind comes.
To complete the story of the Selborne yew: after the historic 1990 storm, Pakenham photographed the sad stumpy remnant. Even so, he manages to convey a notion of nature’s balance — “…the tree has been left (very sensibly) to serve as a beetle infested monument to Gilbert White, who loved beetles as much as he loved trees.”
Thomas Pakenham — historian, plant hunter, and chairman of the Irish Tree Society is also the author of Remarkable Trees of the World (pictured above), and The Remarkable Baobab.
For more on the Remarkable Gilbert White take another look at the Land Library’s earlier post on Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile. You might also want to peruse Gilbert White’s classic The Natural History of Selborne, along with a recent biography from Richard Mabey, one of England’s leading nature writers of today!