In both Britain and Spain there is a common phrase: there was so much forest that a squirrel could have gone from the South to the North without touching the floor. Nowadays we cannot talk of a continuous forest but of landscapes dotted with woods, very few of which are ancient. But nature regenerates and renews itself, and that is the message of Beith, the first few (or letter) of the Ogham, an old Celtic alphabet, which is well known for its association with trees – though there are other lists, like birds, colours, lakes, tools and so on.
In the Tree Ogham Beith corresponds to the birch tree, which is quick to propagate and grow. Where there is no forest in North European countries, this will be the first one to establish new forest and pave the way for other species, hence its association with regeneration and renewal. But in our part of the Mediterranean there are no birch trees since it is far too dry and hot for them, leaving Beith without a tree. Enter the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), resistent to heat and dry weather, and also a tree that will quickly cover forest-less landscapes. Here, we refer to it as the “white pine” (distinguishing it from “red” and “black” varieties), further strengthening its association with the birch tree.
Spain, like many places in Europe and the world, has been subject to a lot of deforestation from the times of the Romans onwards, so only the fastest growing trees would come back, like the Aleppo pine, leaving slower growing trees struggling to recover.
I was looking one day at old aerial photographs of the valley where I live and was amazed to see that just a few decades ago there were hundreds of terraces used for hazel, olive and apple orchards. Now, all this land has become forest, and the terraces are hidden beneath a skin of Aleppo forest. The forest is regenerating!
When I came from England to live here, I didn’t appreciate this pine enough, since I was used to deciduous, broad-leafed forests with a lot more greenness and humidity – knowing what I know now, I can appreciate it more. The land has been cleared of forest, but now it has been left to its own devices, and the Forest is coming back. Long may it continue!