The Wood for the Trees

15/5/2021 I suffer from a peculiar problem. I frequently feel a bit stupid after opening my mouth. Usually in the context of trying to communicate or explain something emotionally laden, whether in speech or by text message or email.

Where does this come from? One friend thought it must come from somewhere as opposed to nowhere, but I haven’t yet managed to locate its origin. There is little mystery in the recent spate of stupidity attacks, however: attempting to communicate pain, even to friends, is not an easy business, and talking to doctors is almost guaranteed to make you feel stupid. Whether intentional or not, doctors who don’t make you feel this way seem to be in the minority.

While trying to think of a possible source for this feeling, and the contexts in which I might have originally experienced it, I remembered something that happened when I was fifteen or sixteen. I was walking with a friend to a rehearsal on an orchestra course – somewhere in the Malverns, I believe – when I exclaimed, ‘Wow, look at that tree!’

My friend responded: ‘Yal, it’s just a tree.’

I should have learned my lesson by that age, several years into teenagehood. I should have learnt to keep my mouth shut. I felt stupid, and I felt upset.

Now, of course, I know the problem didn’t lie with me. Now I know I need to pick my audience if I want to say such things. Or – increasingly – I can choose to say them anyway, and simply take mischievous delight in any blank looks or comments I receive in return, knowing that it’s not my world which is lacking in colour. But all I knew as a teenager was that I didn’t fit in, and if I didn’t want to add feeling stupid to my list of troubles, I needed to keep my mouth shut when it came to topics I felt strongly about.

I know plenty of people, now, who would agree enthusiastically if I uttered such words: from this perspective at least, the risk of feeling stupid is much reduced. Still, it doesn’t often happen that someone says to me the sort of thing I used to get myself in trouble for saying. Something that takes me wholly by surprise. Last weekend a friend did, however, and it made quite an impression – on me, a person I don’t usually consider deficient in the nature-observation-and-appreciation department.

It was a cold, wet afternoon, thoroughly deserving of an open fire despite a whole week of May having passed. Extricating myself from the task of bringing in firewood with the excuse of lingering Covid vaccination side effects, my friend Rachel went out to do it. She was gone so long, we all wondered where she’d got to. Sam, her husband, suggested the children check the bedroom, but I was sure she’d gone out as I’d seen her fetch the keys to the barn.

Eventually she returned. She’d been sitting among the wood, she said, examining its grain up close and inhaling its fragrance. Unable to tear herself away from the miracle.

Perhaps, living in the countryside for almost a decade now, I’ve started to take a few things for granted that I really shouldn’t. Take note, I thought to myself. I picked up a piece of wood, looked at it and sniffed it before adding it to the fire.

At the same time, I thought: I am in the right place and I have the right people in my life. How grateful I am to have ended up here.


Firewood Fire

(Photos and video by Rachel Chaplin, who commented: ‘I’m a nutcase! But glad you are too!’)