There’s an ancient oak tree not far from my house. Standing at the end of a residential street, bigger than a house and taking up a huge piece of land, it has watched over the hillside for at least three hundred years, if the size of it is anything to go by. It’s obviously been a tree of note for many years- the street on which is stands is called Oakdene Road and, further up the hill, are roads named Oak Street and Oak Close.
Within its spreading branches a world may be found, a microcosm of insect and plant life, of flocks of birds and darting squirrels, cawing crows nesting high in its branches. I visit it often, watching the branches change from barren winter to the lush green of summer, leaves dancing and twisting in the light and air. It is a tree of dreams, of winter nights and howling winds, of days when fields stretched beneath its branches, of confidences whispered and sweet beer drunk in its shade.
Sometimes, standing beneath the branches, I get a glimpse of those times. Of how it must have been before houses and streetlights blocked the view of the valley, a time when our town was a collection of small villages around a river. There’s a sense, too, of how fleeting human existence is when compared to such a being – the tree was alive long before I was born, and (I hope) will be around long after I’m gone.
There are times when the bark on the great trunk feels warm, despite the cold air, and other times when it crackles with energy, a sense of connectedness with the landscape around us. Sometimes it is streaked dark with rain, other times dusty with summer heat.
And sometimes, there is treasure left there; raven feathers or a crooked staff, pearlescent mushrooms, the silver trails of snails.
Most recently, it was an emerald-green nest in one of the low branches, soft with moss, festooned with berries and leaves.
To stand in the presence of such a being is to touch history, to connect with the ancient story of the land. The oak is said to be a tree of stories, each acorn holding possibility. I wonder what stories it will tell me, next time I visit…
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