In Flann O’Brien’s famous, surreal novel The Third Policeman, Irish locals and their bicycles merge:
“People who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.”
That’s fiction (although some keenies, welded as they are to their bikes, might disagree). But here’s reality. British broadsheets have been copying each other to report on a Scottish tree which has absorbed a bicycle. The coverage started on 22nd May in The Telegraph, with The Times and The Guardian following up on the story, and then the story appeared on the CTC Newsnet email newsletter on Friday.
The source material was gleaned from the ‘heritage trees’ part of the Forestry Commission website.
Brig o’Turk…is home to one of Scotland’s arboricultural curiosities – the Bicycle Tree (also known as the ‘Iron Tree’ – bigger pic here). This century-old sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) has almost swallowed up what was once an anchor, and a bicycle.
There is a story about a villager conscripted to the Great War who left his bicycle over a branch. Perhaps he never returned, or perhaps on his return he found that the tree had claimed the bicycle as its own.
The tree can be found on the west side of the Glen Finglas road about half a mile north of Brig O’ Turk. The village is on the A821, 9 miles west of Callander.
But the Scottish bike-eating tree is not the only one. There are others in the world, including one on Vashon Island, Washington. This one has eaten an early, Schwinn-style child’s Cruiser. It can be found off Vashon Highway, which runs between the Seattle and Tacoma ferry ports on either end of the island, on the northeast corner of the SW 204 St. intersection.
This tree appears in a classic children’s Christmas novel, Red Ranger Came Calling, by US cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, best known for Bloom County, a 1980s cartoon-comic strip starring Bill the Cat and Opus the Penguin.
Red Ranger Came Calling is set in 1939 and is about a boy who didn’t quite believe in Santa Claus, but who wanted to because he was lusting after a bicycle he knew his folks couldn’t afford:
“My prize eluded me: an Official Buck Tweed Two-Speed Crime-Stopper Star Hopper bicycle. It sat there gleaming in the Vashon Hardware Store window, tantalising earthlings with its spine-tingling glamour. The Red Ranger of Mars â€“ me â€“ visited this place daily, like a cow returning to a salt lick. There I would loiter, miserable in bicycle poverty…”
The bicycle-eating tree featured in the book is the one at Mount Vashon. (Not to be confused with the American BMX builder Tree Bicycle Co.)
Amazon.com reviewer C. L. Magendanz of Seattle, WA, said of Red Ranger:
“With both a fascinating story and incredible illustrations, Red Ranger is the hands-down favorite in our house for both children and adults. We frequently give copies to friends as gifts. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, I also encourage a follow-up field trip to Vashon Island. While the bike is not as complete as it is in the story, there’s clear astonishment on everyone’s faces when they see that the story is ‘real’.”