We used to have two May trees (Crataegus mongyna) in our front garden each with flowers of a slightly different pink. Over the past several years, the smaller of the two, the one with flowers of duskier pink, was clearly ailing. Pieces of bark were falling off revealing holes in the trunk, and parts of the tree refused to bear either blossom or leaves. Our gardener was loathe to let anything die so he rigged up a support structure of wooden poles, making it look like an old lady with a walking frame. When the gardener moved away last Fall we took the opportunity to put it out of its misery and had it felled by a troupe of jobbing gardeners led by a formidable lady named Cath.
For the first time this Spring has seen a lonely Hawthorn in the garden. These trees grow to a great age and I have no difficulty in believing that this tree is as old as the house; close to ninety years. It is gnarled and twisted, with a tightly packed jungle of branches and twigs, all equipped with sharp and rigid thorns. It is also infected with wood pigeons. These fat doves with their distinctive coloring and flask of white at the neck are eating something in the trees. It may be an insect, but I suspect it is the flower bud that attracts them. When we were young we used to call the Whitethorn (the same tree has many names; Quickthorn and Haegthorn are others) the bread-and-butter tree and we used to pick the fresh flower buds to chew on them. The pigeons clamber clumsily over the branches making them quiver but, unaware of their precarious balance, they munch steadily at their floral feast.
Appearing on our drives comes Timmie, the ginger Tom from up the street. He is a seldom visitor yet he stalks the place as if his own domain. Now he spots the three wood pigeons in the tree. He saunters on to the lawn and looks lazily up at the birds. The first branch is five feet up and I say to myself, "Bad luck, Timmie, those birds are too tall for you."
He stays watching them munch for several minutes, then suddenly he takes one bound against the trunk and jumps up into the branches. Squirming between the thorns he emerges mid-tree. The pigeons are aware of his presence and off they fly. Timmie disappears and then from among the foliage an orange face appears and lick his lips. Cheshire-like he grins at me before disappearing. It must have been an incident like this that inspired Charles Dodgson, the mathematician.