Just re-reading John Fowles' The Tree with whining chainsaws and the clattering of a wood chipper in the background. My house at Stow has had a line of cypress trees close to the eastern wall ever since I moved in: they were big then, now they tower above the house and they give me nightmares.
There was a similar line of trees to the west which had to go when I extended the house some years ago. My brother-in-law and I cleared them, bringing down the telephone line and nearly causing a neighbourhood feud. We burned the felled trees in the back garden as we took them down; the smoke was so dense that I was completely unaware of the visit by my enraged neighbour and of his angry castigation of my poor, innocent brother-in-law.
This time, for various reasons, I have employed professionals and am hoping for an end to my nightmares. Imagine waking up in the early hours to a strange slithering sound which you cannot identify but your half-awake mind exaggerates into the worst of horrors. Realising that the sound was simply the brushing of the branches of those trees against the roof helped a little, but also reminded me that their roots were undermining the house itself.
I love trees and destroying them pains me, but these had passed the line. Twice, I discovered that they had blocked my storm drains. Their roots had broken into the pipes and extended five metres into the weepers! Finally, they managed to topple the retaining wall beside them thus sealing their fate. Sad, but there we are.
If he were still around, I think that John Fowles would be quite happy with their demise: too regular, unnatural. He remains one of my favourite authors and a man I would have liked to have met. Exploring the Undercliff near Lyme Regis recently reminded of him and it was there that I took this strange photo of my son Rafe and my friend Robert Twigger. Fowles loved the wildness of nature and you can easily imagine him puzzling over the events that produced the distorted wonder that the two men are sitting on: they look like leprechaun out to enjoy themselves. In The Tree, John Fowles tries to describe his philosophy which itself underscores his wonderful novels (French Lieutenant's Woman, The Magus, etc). He believed that science and learning fetter our ability to enjoy nature. In labelling, describing, cataloguing we bury the immense joy that can be felt in finding a new flower or shrub or forest. Nature is wild and by categorising it we box it in, we curtail it: He was not a fan of Linnaeus.
When I write novels, I have only the vaguest notions of plot and ending. This gives me great enjoyment. Locked within my own creation, I often cannot wait to get back to it and to see what happens next. Reading The Tree, I was humbled and pleased to learn that my favourite author wrote in the same way. I wonder if they encourage this in "creative writing" courses. Meanwhile, though I very rarely read a book twice, I might descend once more into Fowles' magical worlds by re-reading The Magus. That's if I can get it cheaply on Kindle; I do find it hard to read a "proper" book nowadays.