Elders well-being 9 – top of oak, hip and haw, and song

It was the day tree work was being done in the woods, a cherry picker and a climber came to top some of the great oaks that had died. So it was we got to see an oak branch from the very top of the tree – full of story.

While a beautiful mouse made by Nicky out of Gabrielle’s wool which was dyed with walnuts from Magnolia House, circulated, we shared the oak properties we liked to emulate in us. ….(Ow! said Andrew as if the mouse bit him)

The beauty, strength and power of the tree is not just what you see, but what is under the ground, all that connectivity, communication and communal exchange. Its beauty and utility. Supports thousands of other species. I always wanted to be tall like an oak. Foundational, part of our society. Strength and hardness. Englishness. Longevity and wisdom. Mighty and long lived. The calness of an oak. A part of oak is used in my homeopathy medicine, to relax and relieve anxiety. Heart of oak. Refuge, Its ability to reproduced thousands of acorns, which are then taken by a Jay, buried, and have a chance to grow away from the mother tree.

It was Gabrielle who questioned the word Robur, I didn’t know it referred to the pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) which together with the sessile oak (Quercus petraea) are the common oaks of England. I learn.

We sung, sawed, inked, recited, danced, and sewed stain glass leaves, organised and inspired by Leslie.

With collected Hips and Haws, we began making HedgerowVokda. We washed and topped and tailed hips and haws and with crabs put them into bottles which using a teapot as a jug, filled with vodka. With a little sugar added and a few twists to keep it circulating, it may be ready by Christmas or January. Vodka packed with vitamin c, otherwise known as no hangover vodka.

We clapped and sang

We tasted smelt and discussed oak flour, made by Diana ‘It took 2 days!)

We continued to make our spurtles, working with the draw knife.

We looked up at the work being done in the wood, and admired Theo’s acrobatic climbing skills

Finally at the end Paul spoke to us of the story behind the branches at the top of an oak. It was light in weight, the hart wood now minimal, the sap wood dominant. It’s outer coat was of feather moss, shield litchen, and a flat fungi. All these existing at a height of what, 100 feet? Paul talked us through the further interpretation of the last stages of the heart wood dissolving, and how honey fungus only appears fruiting in October.

From Lesley – this apt passage about a mass planting of oaks in 1580

In 1580 Queen Elizabeth, aware of the need for quality timber for the navy, accented to Lord Burghley’s order to ‘empale’ 1 acre of Cranbourne Walk, in Windsor Great Park, and sow it with acorns – the first record of a deliberate oak plantation. Admiral Lord Collingwood, one of Nelson’s ‘band of brothers’ walked the lanes of Northumberland with a pocketful of acorns to plant in hedgerows so that England’s ships would not want for oak trees. 

Invited to the homes of the great and the good, he walked their broad acres surreptitiously letting acorns fall from a hole in his breeches.  Other landowners vied with Royal Navy Officers as to who could plant the most acorns on behalf of British seapower and exploration. On the road between Coventry and Kenilworth, a Mr Stivichall, planted a mile long avenue of oaks, three deep on each side of the route. For this patriotic planting he was granted the right to append ‘supporters’ to his coat of arms, a distinction usually allowed the peerage and knightage. 

The all time champion acorn planter was the Lord Lieutenant of Cardiganshire, Colonel Thomas Johnes, who between 1795 and 1801 planted 922,000 oaks. 

Simultaneously to this planting, one ironmaster is said to have near-eradicated the oaks of Cannock Chase between 1550 and 1580.  The enclosure acts also grubbed up many oaks. 

Passage taken from – The glorious life of the oak by John Lewis-Stempel

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