Tag Archives: wisdom
The oldest tree in Exmoor bears the title, Timberscombe Oak. Once a year, the village school does a sponsored walk so the local children can visit the tree. I’ve been keen to see this tree and today the weather looked perfect for a long, tree-bound walk with my dog, Tess.
The Timberscombe Oak is not on a road; you can only get there on foot or horseback. I pulled out my Ordinance Survey map for Exmoor, but sadly, trees aren’t marked. Not even the oldest tree, officially termed Ancient.
So what is an Ancient Tree? According to the Wildlife Trust, an Ancient tree is in the third and final stage of its life (like me). It’s much older than a Veteran Tree, the classification most Really Old trees fall into.
There’s a scientific method for identifying an Ancient tree without counting its rings. This tree-friendly method is called the Hug Method. (No kidding, scientists go around the UK hugging trees.) Here’s what they had to say on the Woodland Trust website:
“How do you recognise an ancient tree?
|The ‘hug’ method for measuring trees:A hug is based on the finger tip to finger tip measurement of an adult, which we take to be about 1.5m (approx. 5 feet).|
The trees below might be ancient if they measured the following:
Oak – 3 adult hugs
Beech – 2 adult hugs
Scots Pine– 1 adult hug
Rowan – 1 adult hug
Birch – 1 wrist hug (I have no idea what constitutes wrist and elbow hugs, but the name provides some amusing visuals)
Hawthorn – 1 elbow hug
Cedar of Lebanon – 4 adult hugs
Field Maple – 1 adult hug
Sweet Chestnut – 4 adult hugs
Ash – 2 adult hugs
Other more technical methods of recognising ancient trees include measuring the girth:
|Example for an oak tree:
Trees with a girth of more than 4.5m (3 hugs) are potentially interesting
Trees with girth of more than 5m (3.5 hugs) are valuable in terms of conservation
Trees with a girth of more than 6m (4 hugs) are likely to be truly ancient “
So now that I understood what qualified an oak for the title Ancient, I began asking villagers if they knew where the Timberscombe Oak was.
Each person I asked was happy to give me their version of directions.
The first volunteer delivered his instructions in a rich voice with the local Zummerzet (Somerset) accent.
“It’s awff the owld Luxborough rowd, up the ‘ill a ways, then down the ‘ill a bit – abowt ‘alf way to ‘er bottom.”
Most local residents actually come from somewhere else in the UK. These folks delivered their directions in a variety of accents from educated Londoner to Essex country farmer. Here’s the directions they offered:
“From Timberscombe Common take the bridle path to Dunster and walk towards Nutcombe Bottom. It’s in that valley; you’ll see it below you before you get there, and if you walk too far, you’ll see it above you.”
“Follow the sheep trail across John Prideau’s field; go past Totterdown bridleway, keep walking down that hill, through the gate, and just keep walking. You can’t miss it.”
“It’s under Whits Wood; they’ve recently felled some trees near there – you’ll see it – there’s a steep trail, sort of rocky, that you can approach from the Dunster side, or you can get there from the Timberscombe side, or from the south, across Croydon Hill.”
Armed with a wealth of ancient names, and the vague agreement that the tree in question was half way down a hill (and there are hills in every direction you look around here) Tess and I, after a hearty breakfast, headed out the door, me in my purple Wellies (boots) and she in her best gold fur.
We climbed the bridlepath above our house, made our way through several pasture gates, making sure to secure them behind us, walked along the sides of Prideau’s fields, said hello to some friendly sheep, waved at some curious horses in the next field, passed by two rough, weathered signposts that pointed to Totterdown bridleway, then at a crossways of paths, we chose the one pointing to Dunster. We walked eastward and found the leaf-carpeted “rowd” to Luxborough, went a little ways “down the ‘ill a bit” and saw a clearing on our left where trees had been felled, though not recently. Raven flew over us and called “Brruck, brruck, brrruucckkk! Was he leading us? I called out “Hi Raven,” and began to follow our feathered friend who went back in another direction. Being a winged creature, he did not stick to the path.
We scrambled through a break in the hedge, climbed over some rocks, walked under rows of beech, whitebeam, oak, and ash trees, and there, raven began to circle over a small, rather steep patch of hillside that sloped below us and that had recently been felled and cleared. On his third circle, he flew away and disappeared into the distance, a wooded valley below the hill. But what was that half way to the bottom? Were those treetop branches oak? It was hard to tell. We were standing on the north side of the slope and the morning sun at this time of year rises on the other side. Those long-reaching branches were deep in the shadows, but they looked mighty big, so we climbed further down the steep, rocky clearing to investigate.
The closer we got, the more excited we were. There stood the giant. A few feet to the west of him were two large, gnarled old trees. Veterans themselves, they probably sprouted from acorns, dropped by the Ancient Tree many hundreds of years ago.
The giant oak took more than four of my hugs. I stretched my arms as far as I could, and hugging six times, I still hadn’t returned to the spot where I began. I gave up hugging. Measurement seemed too trite for such a noble tree.
Truly humbled by the girth and grandeur of this great grandfather of oaks, I aligned my back against the north side of the trunk. Silently gazing across the valley, I soaked in 800 years of the most awesome view – a view of hills and fields and forest and moor and sky – a view this tree had always known.
A sensation of peace and acceptance washed over and through me, and I learned that wisdom is all about peace and acceptance. It’s about beauty, breath, and life.
I turned to face the tree and admire the deeply grooved rivulets and cracks of ancient trunk bark, and it felt good to see fresh new stems sprouting from the scar left by a 2-foot diameter branch that had fallen centuries ago. These stems carried a visible promise of next Spring’s growth, safely armored in strong, long buds, and the last of this year’s bronzed leaves still hung on.
As I introduced myself to the ancient one, something fell from one of the multiple trunk-size branches above. A chunk of bark about the size of a goose egg landed in my palm and lay against my skin – skin of oak meeting skin of me.
I carried it all the way home. Not in my pocket, but embraced by warm palm and soft fingers. It sits beside me as I write – this piece of Ancient, this gift of tree that knows me. Molecules of bodies crossed paths this morning, never to be the same again. My energy merged into the oak; the Ancient one’s peace now lives in me.
At Keystone Café, the radio plays
and words of a song from the sixties pierce my coffee-bred thoughts:
Always something there to remind me…
Trying to forget, I know this world is but a dream
a temporary mirror of the other
that place where you and I reside in eternity
mere cells within the One Great Plan
where time has no meaning
and words don’t exist
and love is a given
Yet here, amongst dog rose and lupin
she, open and pink
and he, closed and blue
we became like them – rooted in sand
surrounded by stones and their stories
drinking summer grey mists
on salt water taffy mornings
but rose petals fade and lupins shrivel
their seedpods of black
hanging like coffins
in this moment
eagle perches for the view
and fish dance
and gulls dive for the feast
this is mine
All the while
the ferry inhales and exhales passengers
like a heart-lung machine
a blood bank of journeys
a breaker of waves that crosses the synaptic sea
and, locked into terminal, transmits
holders of keys to neurons
In bursts of energy
flowing down rivers of roads
streams of pulsing potential
these elements of the greater intelligence
try to carry its message
this for the arms that yearn to hold
that for the aching walk-alone legs
and yesterday’s broken dream becomes
one Sunday transformed
A poem is born in words that don’t rhyme
as the radio plays another song:
Can’t you hear the pounding of my heartbeat,
You’re the one I love…
Holding the mirror close, all I see is my own breath
and waves that drill the shore in a tumbling roll
while the ocean remains constant
and eagle takes flight
Dead drifted wood
Dreaming ghost branches
Rising sun warms
Awakened water flows
Earth thirst quenched
Memories take root
Jingle’s Poetry Picnic prompt: Spring
Thursday Poet’s Rally – Wk 60
dVerse Poets prompt – Imagery
Haiku Heights – Gem
Return to the place where You began
and know it for the first time
said the Muse of the hills
She of stone, witness of weather
Keeper of the ways of time
whispered deep: Feel and weep
Let your tears paint the earth
with salt and sweet release
to merge in sand, soil and rock
Life is your work
You, maker of art
need only master certain skills
before you can walk away
While I, Keeper of Time,
stand here before sun, moon,
constant, harsh and soft
wearing me down
to scoured bones of stone
On the tree-bordered path
an old man and a boy
with long hazel sticks
walked side by side
rain hats and jackets
zipped to the top
keeping their maps dry
They shared old stories
and young ambitions
The wind rustled up
a twister of leaves
full branches overhead
added their rain to the sky’s
Beneath, the walkers hunched shoulders
tucked chins down
and collars up
The path grew steeper, darker
and the heavy sky
Are you sure you can
walk this, the boy asked
It’s a long path
The old man’s eyes hinted
watery sweet laughter
The path is fine, he said
When I was a boy
this path was long
The boy wanted to know
if the route had changed
or been shortened, but
No, nobody changed it
the old man replied
You mean the path shrunk
as you grew old?
Is the path your youth?
No, said the old man, smiling
It is just a path