I am trying to coax a new book out of the ground. Some days the words shoot out of my hands and on to the page. Others I dig away and nothing but specks of dust float out. On days such as these I usually give up the writing and choose to walk instead. I go down to the sea and, if the tides and the waves will have me, I plunge in, shouting at the water which gets colder with every day that passes. If the sea is not in a mood to welcome me, I carry on walking – up to the cliffs, higher and higher, feeling my blood swirl, my heart pound, my muscles stretch. I follow my dog who leaps ahead of me, making light work of the steep, mossy ground as she chases after squirrels who dart up trees and sit above her head, swearing and taunting.

I make my way to my favourite oak at the top of the cliff. She is a Turkey oak, her leaves longer and more elegantly elongated than those of her sturdy English cousin. She leans out over the precipice beneath her, her branches stretching towards the sea. Her body language is one of yearning. She leans away from the wind, longing for the light, her bows spreading over tumbling walls and the smaller saplings that she seems to be protecting, taking them under her wing.

Some days I go straight to her and put my arms around her, resting my cheek on her moss-soft bark. I breathe in time to her wind-rocked movement – if I close my eyes it is as if we are breathing together. We are, of course, I know that; it is not just the illusion of the wind. What I breathe out, the oak breathes in. The chemical exchange gifts me oxygen and the spiritual one inspires me; holding her, feeling her move, I know that everything will be all right. Not in a glib way like some childlike belief in an answer to a simple prayer, but in the sense that, with a longer view, knowing that we are but specks on this planet compared with this ancient oak, things will turn out to be as they should. This oak knows this, she who has been here since the previous owners first planted these cliffs with daffodils over one hundred years ago. She has seen my husband’s grandfather walk beneath her with his young twin daughters, she has seen his grandmother walk alone here after her husband’s death. She has seen my children rush down the path below her, shouting and laughing, fishing nets and buckets bouncing on their arms. And now she sees me – a middle-aged woman, tired and anxious, worrying about my future and the future of my family.

I stand back and take in her perfection. Yes, she is old and bent; yes, she is marked and spotted with lichen and moss and sprawling ivy. But the shape of her is perfect. She bends as gracefully as an ageing ballerina; her grace spreads out to me as I stare and marvel at her. When I stand back and take a proper look at what Nature is doing without us, I can see that she always finds her own shape. In that moment I know that I have to have more faith in the natural order of things. I have to keep going, keep breathing, keep writing, just as that tree keeps growing. And if I lean a little too far away from the wind, or I let moss creep along in between the paragraphs or ivy choke some of the phrases, that is all right. The text will grow if I keep letting it. And once it is done, I can stand back and see if I like the shape.