December 15, 2020
Some people look at clouds—and see angels, hearts, dogs, and faces. Others recognize familiar faces and limbs in the tangle of branches and dark hollows of a nearby sapling.
“Most days,” says Julie Reid, a contributor to The Guardian, “I walk or run through the National Trust’s Hughenden Estate, near High Wycombe [outside greater London]. This was the home of 19th-century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who had a passion for trees and planted specimens from all over the world in these grounds.”
At the high point of a hill that leads to the manor house gates, alongside the mature horse chestnuts and newly planted oaks, Reid writes in The Guardian, she greets, “my stricken friend: the scream tree, who reminds me of the haunted figure in Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting The Scream. I am always pleased to see him but, at the same time, he gives me a jolt.”
“Stark and naked in the cold of winter, stripped of his leaves, the tree reaches out with his fragile left-sided limbs,” Reid says. “He seems to reflect these terrifying times with his expression of anguish and astonishment that things could ever have come to this.
When he is dressed for summer, his leaves barely soften his apparent torment, but give him an eccentric twist, as if he has had a new jaunty hairstyle, and put on his finest clothes and his bravest face for the world.
“This is an old sycamore tree, planted around 1800 and left as a veteran stump on the edge of the old carriage drive,” the Hughenden estate’s countryside manager, Neil Harris, told the news outlet recently. “Queen Victoria would have looked at that tree as she trundled past when she visited Disraeli.”
The scream tree in his prime must have been a majestic sight, towering above the landscape, Reid thinks. Now, in his declining years, he is a character—a community elder, a fellow sufferer.
His appearance may change with the seasons, but his message doesn’t. “To me, he is a constant reminder of the internal, hidden pain of others, of the need to be kind and compassionate,” Reid says. “But there is something else. From his lofty vantage point, is he also looking down and outward, shocked at the state of the world? Pointing. Pleading with us to do something.”
Research contact: @guardian