The Glorious Life of the Oak
John Lewis-Stempel Doubleday 2018
As the ‘hibernation’ ( see my post 22 December) continues helped by persistent rain I turned my attention to this book recommended by the sister of a friend and colleague.
It followed my use of the image of the Oak Tree( In Windsor Great Park) in a sermon – as a symbol in these Covid months of endurance, stability and patience.
Farmer and Naturalist Lewis-Stempel examines the significance of oak trees throughout history. The short 87 pages capture a miscellany of poetry, history, landscape and intrinsic part the Oak plays in every part of our life. It is skilfully written with imagination and a deep instinctual sense that to know ourselves we must open heart and eye to the meaning of the world around us. The Oak has touched every part of our lives – ships, coffins, fine furniture – the Oak has symbolic significance as it stands for antiquity, fortitude and pastoralism.
We have more oaks than all other European countries combined – this, in part, accounts for our exceptional relationship in our heart and history.
After the history comes the biology. I We have two different varieties of oak in the UK: Quercus robur (more common in the South) and Quercus petraea (more prevalent up North). Oaks host astonishing ecosystems: no fewer than 100 types of moth have been recorded on oaks. Spiders lurk beneath their craggy bark. Fungi send mysterious messages through the Wood Wide Web beneath their roots. Lewis-Sempel retells many stories from folklore, myth and legend – oaks that bear the souls of the dead and nurture fertility on Oak Apple Day.
I wonder where your favourite Oak stands ?
The reader continues to see the Oak celebrated in poetry and recipes — lines from Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson and the peasant poet John Clare on ‘hollow trees like pulpits’. We are invited into brewing up acorn coffee !
An oak tree takes 300 years to grow, 300 years to mature and 300 years to die. The natural world shapes us beyond our comprehension and we would do well to stand and attend to their majesty and wonder. In these pages I have been glad to connect with such a skilled an informed nature writer.