Monday, 13 December 2010


"You are old, Father Oak", the Sapling said,
"And your bark has become very gnarled."

I'm lucky to live close to one of the best collection of veteran trees in England, with thousands of carefully tended ancient oak pollards. Walking among them on a winter's day, I see contorted old men and women lifting their craggy arms towards the sky.

Few of the human characteristics of old age fit these trees. They are not decrepit, frail, senile, past their sell-by date...

In the winter of their days, after a lifetime of 500 years or more, these veterans have reached the peak of their majesty, strength and usefulness. They have become living pillars of the landscape, sheltering bats, birds and hundreds invertebrates in their trunks and limbs.
Many of the great oaks have hollow trunks, rotten branches - all have cavities, cracks and crevices in their bark. But they have weathered the storms of centuries and seen many generations of mankind born and die. In that time they have given timber (through pollarding), shade to people and livestock, homes and food for wild creatures.

Their steadfast presence in the landscape engenders a deep sense of place in me and, in middle age, a desire to put down strong roots. As something of a nomad and a keen traveller in the early part of my life, I've always been driven by a restless spirit. Looking at these old men and women of the woods, I feel a growing urge to settle in one place and let the flotsam of life settle in my branches. For the first time I am in awe of rootedness.

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