As I approach the impressive shape of a horse chestnut I am not looking at the canopy, with its leaves already on the turn, instead my eyes are drawn to the debris below – green and cream and brown. Sitting through the prickly green cases is a real autumnal treat – prising apart the armour to reveal the thin white membrane, like the pith of an orange, and below – the prize.
Holding the fresh new conker in my hand like a talisman, I press so tight that I pretend to feel the pulse of the nut in my hand. I know it to be my own heartbeat, but rational thinking doesn’t really have a place when you are gripped by the love of a natural object like this.
Brushing the bits of earth and dirt off the surface reveals the delicate, intricate patterns, like the growth rings of a tree. How like nature to replicate the pattern that is yet to form on the very nut that will produce it.
It’s not a native tree (it was introduced from Turkey in the 16th Century) but it has a place in the national identity – from games to folk lore this tree has firmly established itself in the British psyche. Like many well loved trees it isn’t doing all that well at the moment. It is under siege from a moth, a fungi, a scale insect and a bacteria at the moment. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would miss this tree if it were to disappear.