A banner of red falls amid ranks of anaemic grey: if sentient, this tree would have to be either mortified or cocksure, cutting such a bold dash in demure company. I shamble through ankle-snagging greenery and brownery as if through stubborn snow. My steps are crisp and disturb a sweet smell.
I get to the tree. It’s magnificent: 40 metres at least. It seems all trunk, until odd, brief branches pop from its bark, lichen-greened serpents from a mythical head. Higher, and finally, the serpent branches thicken and burst with evergreen.
Spring hasn’t ignited the forest yet and the canopy is gappy, an occasional sunbeam spreading wide puddles where it reaches the floor. It hits the tree, and vibrance becomes brilliance, lighting the teased lifts of the bark like a messy fur. It’s soft, like packed fibre. Bark-slough like wood-tinkerer’s shavings heaps where the trunk thickens and twists into the ground. Downy feathers poke from it. I see a twitch of brown in nearby leaves: a rodent of some sort, too quick.
Stronghold of old tales and older oaks, Sherwood Forest is a broken rash across where, two centuries ago, it was a blush. The trees seem either sidelined or – like the Major Oak, Britain’s biggest – beleaguered by the associations of the forest’s name.
Then, there’s this red-barked giant. How and why, who knows? Perhaps a product of the Victorian trend for trophy trees from afar. Discarded, planted, windblown? Thuja plicata, the western red cedar. Giant of the Pacific north-west, a place of cloud-canopied trees. There it was called the canoe cedar, and local tribes called themselves people of the cedar, despite it not being a true cedar at all. Bark would be pulled, exposing an inner hardwood from which totem poles were cut.
And here it is in Robin Hood’s wood, living in a different mythology. It has no more natural right to be here than a tiger. Yet benign, exotic, trees such as this engender tolerance, however conspicuous they sometimes seem. An odd, pleasingly vibrant, normality.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010