08 May 2014

The last weekend of April sprung us out of our houses. With the sunshine, neighbours who had been barely-glimpsed, hunched against April’s sleety days, appeared back in our lives. Boxes of eggs were left on doorsteps; conversations lingered over fences and gates as seedlings or news were exchanged.
In this flush of generosity, parties of tree-planters, fencers, dry-stone-dykers climbed onto the hill at Dùn Coillich to help coax this special place, owned by the community, into something richly alive.
tree planter dun coillichWebMoving gradually up a sun-stroked hillside with a spade, a sack of ‘whips’ or young trees, a collection of stakes and protective plastic tubes, even the less-experienced tree-planters amongst us established a rhythm. A rhythm that, like a long walk, encourages individual meditations. But as we bent and dug and stamped and then moved on to the next planting spot, a stretch upright brought into view the whole hillside dotted with others doing the same. It brought to mind images of peopled agriculture, still glimpsed at in gatherings for the hay harvest in the Swiss Alps. Part of the pleasure of this day was being involved in joint endeavour, our individual plantings of oak or ash or alder – young trees donated to the Trust by Willie Shorthouse or at the ‘Tree Day’ in late March – were contributing to a wider mosaic. It was also a good time to enjoy the trees that have established in the last ten years of community work here on a once over-grazed hillside, flushed in their first showy green brilliance.
As well as Dùn Coillich members and trustees from the local area, our work party that day was joined by a group from the John Muir Trust, by Scottish and Southern Energy staff on their ‘Community at Heart’ scheme, and by fencing experts from Murphys, the Beauly-Denny line contractors. Travelling from Edinburgh, Linlithgow, the Black Isle, even as far away as Wick, the volunteers had escaped from desks, social work, accountancy figures, to get soil engrained in their hands and a satisfying muscle stiffness at the end of the day. Some were drawn to our hill for the view down the valley; some to learn new skills in establishing native woodland; some to simply be outdoors doing something meaningful or work alongside a different social group. But hearing the chat and laughter tumbling up and down the hillside with the thump and chime of the fencers’ tools it was obvious that this day was also about conviviality.
Planting a tree is an act of hope; a wish for the future, especially when they resemble only hairy twigs. It means waiting for something to flourish. Fathers worked alongside sons and daughters that day, celebrating Spring in their inter-generational step. And as each tiny new tree was embedded, protected and the earth around its stamped firm, the planters perhaps pondered being drawn here again by the Spring spirit in 30 years’ time and craning necks to see the buds and lettuce-fresh greenery over their heads.
The Highland Perthshire Community Land Trust welcomes new members, contributors, and volunteers. Please see http://www.rannoch.net/HPCLT/  Next tree-planting/fencing work-party Saturday May 26th. Meet at the Dun Coillich Car Park near Glengoulandie at 10.00 a.m.

Linda Cracknell


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