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Access weekend

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iPod plugged, young Victor’s 
muttered not a word since my divorce. 
Grace is up front. She carps, 
“Dad, why d’you drive this Chelsea Tractor?” 
Thinks she’s going to save the world of course 
since reading a bit of ecology for GCSE. 
I hang a left and bark, 
“You think I never cared? You’ll see!” 

My big Land Cruiser cruises 
country lanes through blizzards of thistle-down. 
The car-park’s chock-a-block 
with college vans and bleating sixth-form students 
who can’t connect their smartphones out of town. 
And how the valley’s changed -it’s swathed in trees! 
Parked, I zap the locks 
and brashly boast, “I planted some of these.” 

Before I met their mum 
I’d worked a winter skidding down the shitty 
sheep-eroded fells, 
volunteering, overseeing some 
work-experience youths from the inner city, 
staking spindly whips in plastic tubes. 
Icy water welled 
from sour mud and squelched inside our boots. 

The worst was a lad called Tony. 
Tough nut from a rough estate, shaved head 
and manners of a primate.
“These sticks ain’t trees!” the boy was constantly moaning, 
stabbing the soil. In dull grey eyes I read 
a future of prison and drugs, sure as death. 
I talked the talk about climate, 
carbon and food-webs, aware I was wasting breath.

Fine ideals got bruised. 
I slog up the track. The littl’uns follow, puffing, 
with scowls that say I’m bonkers. 
The ridge attained I flounder, lost, confused. 
Songbirds flute in the leaves above but nothing 
marks where we’d interred our gammy trees. 
“Daaad!” blurts Vic, “You plonker!” 
And then I see. We laugh as family. 

Ambling down the hill 
we meet the students clustered round their teacher. 
It’s like he’s cast a spell: 
the kids are rapt. The man expounds with skill 
on the interdependence of trees and woodland creatures. 
This bloke loves his work. “… look at this… I’ll show you…” 
Voice rings a bell. 
I go up to the man. “Don’t I know you?”


◄ Noah was a modern man

Rhino swansong ►


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