Venerable Oak

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This 650 year old tree is in Attingham Park, Shrewsbury. It was looking pretty good in a gnarled, bumpy and ancient way, standing proud and solid amongst the younger whipper snappers of trees hanging around nearby.

The park has a lot of ancient trees. This one is called the Repton Oak, named after Humphry Repton, a garden designer who worked on the grounds at Attingham in the late 1700s.

P1060714The bare branches rising above the broad trunk remind me of long hair wildly standing on end.

The textures of the old lumpy trunk, with the smooth, younger bare branch set against them make a pleasing contrast.

It’s beginning to look a lot like that time of year again….

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I’ve just put our very ancient vintage Christmas tree up. It’s an artificial one, made of plastic (shock horror – but it’s not as bad as it sounds). I bought it long long ago – so long ago I can’t remember when, and certainly when excessive use of plastic wasn’t a known problem –  but it was probably sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. It cost £17, which was quite expensive at that time.

Daughter, who was at primary school when we got this tree, recently sent a link to a short video outlining the pros and cons of plastic v. real Christmas trees. Watching this with the 30+ years of annual outings our tree has had in mind, I know its carbon footprint debt was paid off long ago. We did have a real tree for several years before we went plastic; at the time it seemed more sustainable to have an artificial, reusable tree than to “kill off” a real one every year.

Our trusty tree looks surprisingly good and passably realistic (if you ignore the brown plastic trunk and branches), especially when the lights and baubles are in place hiding the more naff details. It has its own peculiar cachet.IMG_0507

Comparing it with artificial trees in garden centres, it can certainly hold its own, and doesn’t appear too dated. Of course it’s a bit of joke in the family as it has been around for so long, but when grandchildren stayed last year they thought it was pretty good and there were no complaints. Nine-year-old granddaughter’s eyes might have widened a little though, when we told her how old the tree was!

This year, with an 11 month-old-puppy now part of our household, we’ve decided to introduce it gradually to keep the excitement and potential destructive chewing under some kind of control. I put it together in another part of the house, added the lights, then brought it into the room where it now stands, as yet untrimmed. There was interest, sniffing, a quick grab at the festive “skirt” I’d put around the base, which he sank his fangs into immediately. That won’t be going back! Then said puppy, curiosity satisfied for the time being, settled down to snooze beside the tree. Maybe that’s a good sign.

As long as he realises it’s not a pee post!

Let there be love

P1010738Driving home after a perfect day out in North Wales, the jazz cd we were playing reached the classic Nat King Cole track, Let There Be Love.

I tuned into the words and really listened. Even though I know this song pretty much by heart, some of the words jumped out as being significant:

……Let there be birds to sing in the trees….

…..Let there be cuckoos, a lark and a dove, but first of all please, let there be love.

Birds singing in trees – cuckoos, larks, doves – all aspects of nature and the natural world which nowadays too often gets pretty short shrift.

During visits to Twitter I learn of trees being cut down in Sheffield, the culling of ravens going on in Scotland, cuckoos – once a welcome iconic sound in Spring – being heard less and less, and turtle doves under threat of extinction. Raptors are persecuted, badgers are culled, foxes hunted, grouse are raised to be shot for sport, hares are killed off….the list goes on and on. It’s depressing, it’s negative, it’s anti-life.

If just a small amount of love (and respect) could be extended to nature and the natural world by each and every one of us, along with a true appreciation of the environment, maybe what lives within it wouldn’t end up being so heavily under pressure to be controlled.

Of course, we first have to extend that love and respect to ourselves as individuals, and from there it can flow outwards towards others around us. And that includes the natural world too.

We’re here to learn about love and harmony, not division and dissent. The words of Nat King Cole’s song, and countless other love songs besides, remind us of this.

 

Fairies of the Trees

 

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Walking through a country park last week, the air heavy with the scent of May blossom, I was reminded of a childhood book which I still have: Fairies of the Trees by Cicely Mary Barker. A short poem – my favourite in the book – begins

“White May is flowering, Red May beside;”

I can remember the rest of the poem too, but I found the book – obviously kept as one I treasured – and checked it out. The book was a Christmas gift from my godmother when I was 6 years old and is still in fairly good nick: I was encouraged to look after my possessions!

 

ReadingP1050685 this poem as a child, I learned to identify May, Laburnum and Lilac. Other poems taught me about Elderflowers, Sycamore seeds with wings, Ash keys and Guelder roses.

Cicely Mary Barker was an illustrator; her books on Flower and Tree Fairies were first published in the 1920s, so some of the verses she wrote may sound a tad twee to modern ears. But the messages about nature and what’s around to looked at, enjoyed and appreciated are all there in her books. Many things in childhood now are sourced differently. Much information comes directly from the internet rather than through observation of the real world of nature all around, outside the window, in the street, in the park, in the trees, even in patches of grass and rough ground.

 

There’s a poem on the first page of my Fairies of the Trees book, entitled Look Up! Encouraging children to check out what they learn on the web alongside what is real, tangible and observable is a valid and engaging way of “teaching” them science.

Look up, look up, at any tree!

There is so much for eyes to see:

Twigs, catkins, blossoms: and blue

Of sky, most lovely, peeping through

Between the leaves, some large, some small,

Some green, some gold before their fall:

Fruits you can pick: fruits out of reach;

And little birds with twittering speech…..