THESE past months I have become obsessed with my local trees. It started because I was writing about trees, and people’s relationship with them, but then it became something else. I began by watching the cherry tree outside my window, waiting for it to blossom. Then I spotted there was another tree that I’d never noticed before, there, around 100 metres away by the high rise. But what species was it? Trees I had never noticed started to spring up all over the place. The maples on a square I would often cross, the sycamores of my local graveyard. Of course, they had always been there, quiet presences, but now they were asserting themselves. I couldn’t stop noticing them.

My daily exercise became more about trying to find trees and identify them. I was in danger of boring my kids with my endless stops to study the bark or the small budding leaves. I started to follow #treesfromwindows on social media, tried the Woodland Trust tree identification app. As the spring blossomed and budded, the tree identification became easier. Soon there were leaves. “Ah, that’s what you are,” I thought as a Purple Norway Maple spread its first dark leaves. I revisited an old tree by the Water of Leith which my kids always used to play on – an irresistible climbing tree that seems to literally grow out of the wall, branches and trunk leaning out over the river, tattooed with the initials of past visitors – and discovered it was a sycamore. Then, one day, shopping in the Kirkgate, I was brought to a standstill by some chalking on the ground, “COPPER BEECH.”

A new obsession. Who was the mystery chalker? I’d heard of these rebel botanists, chalking plant names all over the place, but I didn’t know there was one already in my neighbourhood. I put posts out on Facebook and Twitter saying how much it made my day to see the scribbled identification. It wasn’t just the words, it was the place. The Kirkgate shopping centre might smack of urban deprivation but rising up out of its brutalist concrete is this gorgeous swirl of copper leaves, and someone had noticed. A friend suggested the chalker might be another friend, Wendy Kelly. Wendy confessed she wasn’t responsible, but that she had chalked on the pavement the names of a few medical herbs she had found between the gaps: ivy-leaved toadflax and chickweed. The names alone seemed to spell out magic.

I bought some chalk. I started writing. Norway Maple. Weeping Beech. White Willow. English Oak. I could see what this was about now. It was writing a spell of hope.

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