The hamlet of Puigmoltó lies about a kilometre to the south-west of my home in Sant Pere de Ribes, and it is easily reached within fifteen minutes along a stony path that cuts through fields that have been planted to the east with carob orchards. Beyond Puigmoltó lies a scraggy woodland dominated by Aleppo pine and mastic bushes, and for the last two years I have been exploring the network of trails that open a way through these trees and shrubs. As I entered the woods last Tuesday afternoon I was drawn from my reverie by a flash of red up ahead. My first thought was that I had caught a glimpse of a bird passing from shade into light, but as I moved closer I realized that what I had seen was a remnant from the previous weekend’s adventure. I had forgotten. Once a year the local cycling club organizes an off-road event that takes full advantage of the wood’s gnarly trails, and what I had caught sight of was one of the coloured tapes the organizers hang from the trees and bushes as waymarks.
As I walked on up through the wood I saw many more of these markers, and I started to get a sense of the route that the competitors would have followed. If there was something melancholic about these tapes two days after the event, then I think it was because they reminded me of the still-worn wristbands of festival goers who are sad to let go.
We depend on trees for many things. Beyond their taking up carbon dioxide and providing a source of timber, they are also places where we can leave our mark. In her poem The Wishing Tree, Kathleen Jamie movingly describes a tree into whose bark have been pressed who knows how many coins, a tree, she tells us, that is now “choking on the small change of human hope”. Were I to come across such a tree in these woods, would I take a coin from my pocket and add my own wish? Possibly, since there are days when it is hard to know how to ease the longing. Maybe that is why we linger when the time comes to remove the remnants of a time well spent.