Bonsai

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Many of you who follow the Burren Perfumery will have been to the Burren, perhaps many times. You’ve seen what it looks like from a distance: hills of bare rock, huge expanses of limestone, sometimes as flat as a city street, sometimes carved and serrated into pinnacles and edges more reminiscent of icicles or breaking waves. For 364 days of the year it is drenched in freezing rain and lashed by howling westerly winds. (Okay, maybe some very slight exaggeration there, but not much…)

It’s pretty inhospitable. Yet walk across it, even at the tail end of winter, the lowest ebb of nature’s tide, and you find life everywhere. I love it. It always strikes me, every time I’m out and about, the profusion and tenacity and sheer stubbornness of life in the Burren.

Walk a few paces in any direction across the bare limestone and I guarantee you will find a crack in the rock with a tree trying to grow out of it. It may only be 6 inches tall and it might be that every time it manages to poke up out of the shelter the wind burns its new leaves, but it keeps trying. Blackthorn bushes, those great invaders, sculpt themselves into bonsai shapes that mirror solution curves in the rock. Juniper trees 4m wide but not 10cm high creep outwards from some crevice with a bare handful of wet earth.

You can see lichens that have spent a 100 years slowly spreading across a slab of rock. Tiny ferns growing on tiny ledges, just out of the wind. Hawthorns pruned into fractal complexes by the west wind and merged symbiotically with the stone wall  that supports them.

If you drive to Black Head and walk down the path to the lighthouse, look to the right after the steps. There’s a pyramid-shaped rock there, maybe a foot high. Directly behind it, in its wind shadow is a tiny blackthorn bush. It is perfectly triangular behind the rock, no branch or twig protruding beyond the stone’s shelter. Downwind it tapers down to a point, again precisely delimited by aerodynamics. I noticed it probably 25 years or more ago. When I was back at the lighthouse last year I looked for it again. It’s still there. No bigger, no smaller. Still thriving despite the salt wind.
Sadie Chowen
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