HAVE you experienced solastalgia?

The cutting down of the famous sycamore tree at Sycamore Gap at Hadrian’s Wall last week resulted in an outpouring of solastalgia. I felt it too, as I knew the tree well, even before its worldwide fame in a Robin Hood movie.

The word solastalgia was created in 2005 to describe the emotion people feel when a part of nature they feel personally connected to has been lost. It’s a bit like nostalgia, which is a yearning for past good times, but solastalgia is when we personally miss a lost aspect of nature.

To be honest, I don’t really like the word solastalgia. It sounds too clinical. But that said, I’m glad there is now a word to acknowledge the existence of this emotion, which is both real and powerful. It feels like grief and that’s what it is.

I have felt this emotion many times, even before there was a word to describe it. One example was when I discovered the loss of an orchard in the village where my grandmother used to live.

READ MORE: Why is Sycamore Gap also known as the Robin Hood tree?

I had stayed with her there for a year when I was in my late teens. There was a wood and orchard near her cottage. I would walk my gran’s dog every day, through the orchard and then into the wood, down to the river and back again.

Days upon days were spent, just me and Jessica the collie, walking and exploring the countryside. The first part of the walk was always through the orchard, as its path gave access to the wood of old native trees beyond. The orchard itself had a wonderful atmosphere, some of its trees were too aged to bear fruit but others did. A wildflower meadow bordered it which teemed with butterflies.

Often I’d pause at the orchard on my way back and sit under an old apple tree, just me and the dog. It was my way of making the walk last longer, but the apple tree, which I named Cider, became a confidante to my feelings.

Just the beauty of the place used to uplift me.

Then life happened. A stint in the army, college, then university, then work. But one day, when I was visiting other relatives, I was close to my gran’s old cottage and realised I hadn’t visited the walk which had been such an important part of my life 10 years before.

East Lothian Courier: The Norway maple tree outside Preston Tower Primary School in PrestonpansThe Norway maple tree outside Preston Tower Primary School in Prestonpans

So on a beautiful summer’s day, I decided to walk that old path once again.

I arrived at the village and parked outside my gran’s old cottage. She no longer lived there but I followed my teenage footsteps to the gate that led to the orchard.

Then I stood still, literally in shock. My heart sank and I felt almost sick in my stomach.

The orchard was completely gone, replaced by a busy road. There was no gate but behind the fence I could make out a short section of where the path used to be, a ghostly reminder of what once was there. All the trees were gone, including Cider.

I stood for ages, trying to see in my mind’s eye what used to be there. I chastised myself for not visiting earlier but was glad I didn’t see the destruction; it would have been unbearable to watch. The word didn’t exist then but I was feeling a deep sense of solastalgia.

READ MORE: Hadrian’s Wall ‘damaged in felling of landmark Sycamore Gap tree’

The cutting down of the famous sycamore at Sycamore Gap has had the same reaction for many people. So many stories have emerged as to why people felt a connection to the 300-year-old tree. The senselessness of its felling has added to both the grief and anger. I feel it too.

Yet if anything good can come out of this vindictive act against nature, it could be the public recognition that trees are important to us, at least to many of us. That the sycamore was loved is evident from people’s reactions. The outcry has shown that we can and do have a relationship with trees, that we can love them and recognise they enrich our lives. They make our world beautiful; they stand witness to our ceremonies and listen to our emotions. They are in themselves a mini universe of life, and science tells us we need them, and lots more of them. Trees are, in the real sense of the word, sacred. The unnecessary felling of that sycamore was therefore a desecration and so many of us felt it.

East Lothian Courier: Tim PorteusTim Porteus

Yet I know many will also laugh at this. “It was just a tree,” some will say. I’ve been told this already. Therein lies our cultural challenge, because the root cause of this act is not just an individual’s spite but a wider cultural disconnection from nature which has caused the crisis.

The State of Nature report out this week reveals a decimation of wildlife, with one in six native species facing potential extinction. The UK is the most nature-depleted country in Europe. The less nature there is, the less we will experience it, and the less we will miss it. It’s a cycle that needs reversed.

It can feel hopeless but we can all play a small part by teaching ourselves and our children to become lovers of nature, which at the simplest level is noticing and appreciating trees and nature around us.

There is a beautiful Norway maple opposite my son’s classroom and there is a towering oak outside another school where I tell stories, and I’ve included the tree in the tales. Ross Hamilton, a musician from Port Seton, wrote a beautiful song called Seton Fields in which he poetically describes the loss of a natural landscape which had his childhood memories.

We can find our own ways to bring nature back into our consciousness, into our hearts. That’s the antidote for the desecration at Sycamore Gap.