One doom-laden London day, I found my gaze drawn from a window I could only see into, my office computer, to the big bay of forbidden glass behind my colleague’s head, an opening from which I could look out across the road and beyond to the allusive Eden of Regent’s Park.
A single plain tree erupts from the tarmac three floors beneath our window and sends branches arching over cars and lampposts, across the opposite pavement, falling just short of the park’s green verge. This lonely arbor always seems cast adrift, with row on row of its kin beckoning from behind the park rails but remaining out of reach. In springtime, when new buds breach the tree’s bark and push a fraction further outward, you can almost feel it stretching, as if every new season might reunite it with the lost kingdom beyond the fence.
Jaded by the typeset of a thousand unanswered emails, my eyes habitually strayed to the horizon when I looked out of the window and never noticed the tree’s slow encroachment in the opposite direction, climbing up the office and the window sill, almost into the room itself. It took a surge of autumnal wind to finally bring my attention to the plant invasion happening under my nose, blowing the tree’s extended branch against the panes with a demanding tap. While my colleagues remained trapped in the steady necrosis of office life, I awoke, as if for the first time that week, and stepped across to the window. There, beneath the ledge, the final finger of an enormous branch wavered in the breeze, itching the lattice white chin, enticing it to break from its frame and follow a path of bark down into the bowl of the tree.
Perhaps I could follow that same road? The branch thickened a yard’s jump from the window and began a gentle decline almost to the base of the trunk. Connecting branches offered alternate passage, up and over the street and the traffic. A similar leap at the end of the furthest of these would land me in the park, green at the shins but free from the death grip of digital life, clicking interminably in the office behind me.
The sudden apparition of this floating causeway brought to my mind one of the great escapist heroes of literature – Cosimo Piovasco Di Rondò - otherwise known as The Baron in the Trees. Conjured by the pen of Italo Calvino, Cosimo is a kind of Renaissance tarzan, an Italian noblemen disaffected with the cloistered routine of his upbringing who, one fateful moonlit evening, steps out of his father’s dining room and climb’s into the oak tree that overshadows it. Despite the pleas of his family and friends, Cosimo does not return to earth, charting an airborne passage across the park’s mature trees and into the wood beyond. Set in an imagined European past when our great forests covered more than lay bare, Cosimo is able to roam for miles in every direction, sustained by the density and variety of the forest giants that surround him. The rest of the novel charts a lifetime of adventure in these lofty heights, where our hero finds ample provision to live and to thrive.
Back in the reality of this claustrophobic century and the isolation of my office, the trees of Regent’s park, beautiful though they were, did not rise in such abundance as to permit me to follow one branch onto another until I should reach some distant zenith, playing out my days as a would-be Simeon. But the prospect they presented remained irresistible, as if every trunk contained a bar magnet and I stood routed to their common pole.