Recently I saw a sad report on the BBC website. It concerned sequoias, the biggest, oldest trees on the planet.

Recent fires in California have devastated the more famous stands of sequoias, threatening even the largest of these magnificent trees. Thus a tree which was old before Jesus was born might perish, not just in my lifetime, but maybe this year or next.

The BBC article made me weep. In 1973 I visited the Californian redwoods national parks and state parks and saw the very trees described. There I hugged my first tree, in the days when tree hugging was not particularly fashionable, and Americans who got out of their cars to walk in the open air were a rarity.

In Sequoia National Park, I saw a host of redwoods, including the greatest: General Sherman. Some of them had been hollowed out by one of the countless forest fires these giants have endured in the past. Such hollows are known as goose-pens, that being what they were once used for.

I stood in the goose-pen of one of the larger specimens, determine to meditate and, if possible, commune with the tree. I was prepared to give it an hour or so, but everybody had to be out of the national park by sundown so I had one eye on my wristwatch.

I tried speaking to it in my mind, and in my mind it spoke back. It gave me to understand that if I was hoping to learn something to my advantage I was going to have to stand there a lot longer than I was planning.

Fancy that: being put down by a tree.

But I must have taken away something from that humbling encounter. Back in the 1970s I was a jet-setting plunderer of the Earth, commuting weekly across the Atlantic to help design yet one more blue box. I referred to rainforests as “jungle”, cloud forests like the sequoia stands I visited as “woods”, and trees that hadn’t been planted by human hand as “wooden weeds”. But from then on, the notion of Nature took root in my mind as a being, not just an interconnected mishmash of organisms.

A being that merited my calling it Mother.