Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dec 8 - Another wet day and a rest for the blog. See you after Christmas

Puddles, puddles, puddles. It's a wet day and the water sits on the top of the forest lawns. It takes ages to sink in which, I seem to remember, is because of the iron pan under the first few feet of soil which makes the New Forest bad agricultural land. And that is why it remained a forest. It wasn't worth making a fuss about so nobody did. So when we see the ground puddle-covered we should be grateful to the iron pan. Without that, our lovely forest would probably be concreted over.

A rest for this blog
This blog will rest for a bit although I am continuing to keep a record of the tree. I'm working on a definitive series of pics to show the leaf fall in stages and maybe a movie. This will take time so take a look after Christmas when you have a spare moment and wonder at the leaf change and fall over this sunlit autumn.

But another blog here
Meanwhile I have been persuaded by my daughter to start a St Nicholas Diary blog - so click here to go there. It concerns the trials of Santa Claus as he gears himself up for Christmas. If you want your grandchildren, your children (or yourself) to have a special mention in this blog email me or post a comment on the blog. I'll ask St Nick to see if he can oblige.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dec 6 UK - Dark day for dark thoughts

Almost pitch dark when I got down to the tree today. But eh outline of the tree looks wonderful against the dark sky.

We had the "Prayer of a tree" yesterday. It's nice - but it's really the prayer of a tree lover. It's a human prayer. The thing that has struck me most as I have worked on this blog is the complete "tree-yness" of trees. They live separate vegetable lives to us and probably are more indifferent to us than rocks and stones. At least, if rocks and stones ignore us, we don't think they are alive. Whereas trees seem almost like people. But they are not. As of trees their "vegetable love doth grow, vaster than empires and more slow." Almost true as the mycillae (is that what I mean - the root fungus anyway) of one would encircle the world and joins trees in some sort of web at least forest wide.

In searching around for a definitive version of the tree prayer last night I came across this. "An apple is the prayer of a tree." It sounds intriguing, but I don't know what it means either, so I just pass it on.

I think most likely the tree prays "send my roots rain." Maybe it prays that its acorns will fall off and give its branches a rest, maybe that the caterpillars will stop itching in the leaves. These are the equivalents of what most humans pray for. And quite right too. People spend a lot of time praying for more complex things too, mostly that that they won't live as ghastly wrecks. Trees seem to attain an amazing beauty however they grow. "What I do is me for that I came." No agonising for trees.

Look at the form of our tree as it rears up into the sky. That's something to wonder at.

Here are the quotes which I have misused tonight:
Vegetable Love comes from Marlowe's poem to his Coy Mistress where he is encouraging his mistress to "make much of time" as we poets say when we want to hurry someone into bed. It has nothing whatever to do with trees.
"Rocks and stones and trees" comes from Wordsworth's poem about the death of his love Lucy. Said by many to be his best.
"Send my roots rain" is from Gerard Manley Hopkins. I now find. It's an agonised poem of complaint about the injustice of God. Just what I say trees don't pray. Though how would I know.
"What I do is me" is Hopkins too. There's a pic of him on the link. Gosh he looked girly in his youth. Maybe nowadays he's be a member of a boys band.

The Marlows is the most fun for a dark winter night but the others are marvellous poems. If you want to see my two pennorth on prayer you can click here. I've just re-read it. Time I followed my own advice!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

December 4 & 5 - A woebegone horse, the buzzards, and a tree prayer

Well it was a nasty blurry day yesterday and here is a photo to match of a woebegone horse in front of our tree all out of focus and blurry. This was on the 4th. Today the 5th was a bit sunnier and here is a picture of Audrey carrying hay to her horses in a field nearby. Maybe the woebegone horse was hoping to intercept her. As you can see, there is still a lot of water lying on the forest lawns. Audrey seems to be stepping warily through it. And the soggy black leaves soak it up.

And here are the buzzards. They flew mewing over the trees as I was photographing yesterday. Probably a pair and this year's baby I would guess. Usually you see buzzards in two's but sometimes you can see six or so at a time.

Our local forester Geof sent me this "Prayer for a tree". Rather nice.

The Prayer of the Tree :

You who pass by and would raise your hand against me, harken ere you harm me,

I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter night,

the friendly shade screening you from summer sun.

And my fruits are refreshing draughts quenching your thirst as you journey on.

I am the beam that holds your house, the board of your table,

the bed on which you lie, the timber that builds your boat.

I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your homestead,

the wood of your cradle, the shell of your last resting place.

I am the gift of God and the friend of man,

You who pass by, listen to my prayer and Harm me not.

Thoughts on trees, birds, beasts, prayers and humans tomorrow I hope. For now goodnight with a rather nice picture of a bramble leaf still in autumn greens and yellows with a tiny holly plant behind it. The bramble lives on the small scrubby set of bushes that grows round the roots of the tree. It tries vainly to climb up to the branches,

Monday, December 3, 2007

Decmber 3: UK - The trees are dormant - wither the blog?

Well the leaves are gone. There is no two ways about it. On both the big tree and the small one.

And for the next few months there will be hardly any change in the tree that we will be able to see. There won't be much change in the bits we can't see either, as the roots become pretty much as dormant as the top of the tree.

There will be action under ground and even more under the leaf litter where the leaves will be recycled and their goodness will seep back into the soil for the tree to use again next year. Probably this year's acorns, the few that there are of them after a poor mast year, will be forming a tap roots. But we won't see any of this.

So wither the blog? In a week or so I expect it too will become dormant until the spring. (Except for a flurry if we get snow or more photogenic frosts.) But first I must tidy up properly. Turn the series of photos into movies or slide shows and put then up somewhere for the record. Try to summarise, if only for myself, what I have learned as the blog progressed. Try to continue to keep a record of the tree. Maybe still every day. Maybe only once a week or so. Try to prepare so we can catch the English tree in spring and the New Zealand one in autumn. Maybe try to arrange for photos of Californian oaks and oaks from elsewhere. Meanwhile there are still good photos to be taken. Here are a couple more. First the wonderful trunk in the last of the evening's winter sunshine.

And last, the sunset as I went up the hill from the tree to my home.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dec 2 UK - A wild windy day

The wind blew hard today and the oak was further denuded. But it hardly shows any more there are so few leaves.

The little oak is nearly as bare as the big one although it kept its leaves for a good 4 weeks after the big one started showing signs of colour turning and leaf-fall.

As well as the two trees, I've been photographing the leaves on a branch that hangs down low and has a convenient twig to grab it by. You can see it to the right of the title picture as it was back in October. Below is how it looks today.

Today is advent Sunday the start of the church's year. Perhaps the first day the tree is really bare of its leaves is a good point to start the year.

Finally a couple of pictures. One shows the depth of the leaf litter. Jeanie's boot is about 4 inches into the leaves. It is under this warm blanket that most of the action will take place over the next few months. Bacteria, and fungus, and insects will break this down overwinter while the eggs of gall wasps and the few acorns that there were wait for the spring.

The other photo shows new straight growth from the underneath of on an old broken branch. This, Hugh and Brian our tree panjandrums, tell us, is a sure sign of a healthy tree.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

December 1 UK: What a difference a day makes

Well the tree looks leafless now. It isn't absolutely and maybe there are about 100 leaves if you counted them. But up till yesterday counting looked impossible. The wind, yesterday and this morning brought down lots of leaves. Below is a photo of is what must be the last leaf on the tree to stil have some semblance of green. You can see the green (well it's more like yellow, really) just in the middle of the leaf. All around this solitary leaf are the buds ready come out in March or April to bring next year's leaves in their thousands.
The last green leaf

The little tree

Here is the other tree I've been photographing. It is a tree we have watched grow up out of the hedgerow. When we came here, about 40 years ago, it was invisible just part of the hedge. But it has been allowed to grow and is now a sizable tree. Probably it was 10 years growing in the hedge before we saw it and so must be about 50 years old. The photos below show the suddenness of the leaf fall in the wind and rain. Almost all the leaves fell during one day and a night.

The tree on November 22. This tree kept its leaves much longer than the big tree. Almost as green as summer.

November 27th, still most of the leaves are there, though they are all brown now.

November 30th . Still lots of leaves but they are beginning to go in the strong wind.

December 1 - the next morning. Nothing but a ghostly halo of leaves now. Tomorrow seeing the winds are strong it is liable to be completely bare.

November 30 - The last of the leaves are going

A windy wet day and the leaves are flying. Mostly they come from another large oak, just to the left of the picture, that has more leaves on it than ours. It was dark dramatic light with the whole wood glowing with duns, and browns and oranges and just under the oak tree there was a white horse. Waiting to be mounted and to take the rider will-he nill he off to somewhere dramatic. The king of the Goblins or somewher of the kind. All very mythical and strange.

I'm pretty much used to the woods now but yesterday they seemed really dark and mysterious and reminded me of the scene in Disney's Snow White where she runs through the trashing trees. I still remember though I probably saw the film almost 70 years ago.

We were talking of trees and myth with the tree panjandrums yesterday. Bryan mentioned this book called The White Goddess by Robert Graves and I've been thinking about a poem by him about trees while I've been working on this blog. It's called "A boy in church" and ends with the memorable last verse about trees. (The title is a link.)
It’s pleasant here for dreams and thinking, Lolling and letting reason nod, With ugly serious people linking Sad prayers to a forgiving God…. But a dumb blast sets the trees swaying With furious zeal like madmen praying.

Anyway yesterday seemed very mysterious. Here is a picture that seems to show the last leaf being blown off the very top of our tree.

And here, to lighten up a bit, is a link to Panjandrum, a word that comes from a nonsense poem by Samuel Foote Perhaps a day like this is a day for "playing catch-as-catch-can till the gunpowder runs out of our heels".

Thursday, November 29, 2007

November 29 UK - Expert talk

The experts came and talked. And pretty knowledgeable it was too, and pretty interesting, and very tiring. My brain needs time to digest it. I will try to pass on some of it tomorrow. Today I am not up to thinking so there arejust two photos. First, Hugh looks at the strange bumps that grow around the roots of old trees, no one seems to know why and below Bryan talks animatedly about how branches grow out of a sort of collar. Never cut that collar off!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 28 UK - The rain and the brown in the leaves

The oak stands proud again on another dank autumn day. Little seems to change but the small twig I have been photographing every day is now almost leafless. Compare it with the state it was in three days ago. I suppose all over the tree where knots of leaves remain they are falling one by one.

On the ground the leaves are almost all brown now and the wet sodden leaf litter is beautiful with bright tans and here and there a few yellows.

Tomorrow the chief tree officer of the national park (or some such panjandrum) is coming. I will pass on to you what Jeanie and I learn from him.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November 27 UK - Another dark day

Another dark day and our tree hardly seems to change. In light like this it is the browns of the beech trees that stand out.

As a special treat for nerds I'm including a picture of the oak tree that featured in Blake's Seven. For a while this neck of the woods became popular with the television people. Blake's seven filmed an episode here (oh sorry I forgot it was actually on another planet) and Wayne Sleepe did part of a special where (I imagine) people danced around under the trees.

The oak in question has lost all its leaves bar about two. Our tree has a long way to go yet.

Monday, November 26, 2007

November 26 UK - A dark, dull, gloomy day

A view through the dripping brambles shows our tree in the mist. It's been one of those awful November days when the dawn seems never properly to break. But it's still beautiful walking among the autumn woods.

I've taken the view through the dripping brambles. When I was talking to our expert Hugh, he told me that a lot of naturally sown oaks depend on brambles for protection in their early years. Unlike beech, they don't grow up through brambles, they have to grow up with them. (Oaks are much less shade-tolerant than beech.) The majority of seedlings start under the oak but very few of those survive the second year. Here is one of the seedlings that grew this year.

These year-old seedling form lovely tender food to the thousands of caterpillars that fall off the leaves (most of whom die in their turn of course, as there are not that many seedlings and lots of fallen caterpillars). Those seedlings that the caterpillars don't get, the deer or the cows or horses get instead. The acorns that are most likely to make it, are those carried away from the parent tree by jays and burried as a food supply and then not used. An oak has to be extremely lucky to survive it's first ten years. After the next ten, it becomes almost indestructible.

I was looking up through the tree at the dull grey sky and thinking that there really were quite a lot of leaves still there. But going back to the first photos I took it is easy to see how many have gone. Some of the leaves stay because oaks are descended from evergreen trees that grew in warmer climates and have not fully developed the abscission cells that break leaves off in the autumn.

Apparently leaves stay on young oaks up to 8 ft throughout the whole the winter as they do on beech and hornbeam. So please, please, please, use beech, or hornbeam (or even oak) for your hedge and never ever, ever use Leylandiai. It is impossible to keep these beastly trees in check. The trees get taller and the hedge planter gets older and soon the trees are up to 40ft and the hedge planter has rheumatism and would need to call in professional tree sugeons that would cost thousands and he wants to spend his money on cod liver oil and glucosamine and world cruises. Meanwhile the neighbours are in darkness with their flowerbeds poisoned. And both sides are hating the other through the impenetrable and virtually lifeless wood that Leylandiai always become.

Enough, except one thing I discovered by mistake just now. Merriam Webster do a lovely illustrated dictionary showing the names of parts of things. Here's a link to a bit of it on trees.

I'll end with a beautiful photograph. A line of beech and oak this morning, beautiful even on such a gloomy day. The beech are the dark brown leavers, the oak the lighter and greener ones. The green stuff at the bottom is grass except for the holly and brambles which are the dark bits.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nov 25 Uk - Stir up Sunday

Stir up Sunday is a sort of joke. The prayer for the day begins "Stir up, oh Lord, the hearts of your people..." and the joke is that this is the day when you start making your Christmas puddings and "stir them up". The one person I mentioned it to today assured me that it was much too late and that his grandmother started making her puddings in August. Regardless you can still make them if you like so you can click here for a link to a recipe. I wrote a play that used "stir-up Sunday". It's very ingenious and all happens in the space of time it takes to bake a cake in the microwave (about 10 minutes), then the audience, or the actors can eat the cake at the end. Here's a link to the play - actually it makes an excellent two hander for a Christmas show so I hope you use it. Click here for the link.

Enough self promotion. Oh no, I've had second thoughts on that. We were talking to our friend Georgina the other night. She writes very nice poems and I asked her if she had one for the Blog. She said she hadn't written anything that fitted the theme. So I encouraged her to do so. Maybe she will. Meanwhile I wondered if I could do so myself. At the time, I could only think of two rhymes for "leaves" - "grieves" and "thieves". Gerard Manley Hopkins has used the first (quoted in an earlier post - click here for the poem) so I wondered what could be done with "thieves". Here is my contribution.

Autumn leaves, autumn leaves
Are of little interest to thieves.

In fact there's so many of them around

You can almost pick them off the ground.

You are invited to try your hand and see if you can do worse. Anyway here is today's tree photo and a series of photos of leaves taken in the last week.
November 19 - pretty green but especially in the leaf veins.

November 21 - about the same just a bit browner

November 23 - the green can just be seen in the veins.

and today - November 25 - almost everything brown now, in a day or two the twig will be bare.

Back to stir up Sunday. It is beauty like I have seen this amazing autumn, that stirs up my heart. I hope I have managed to pass on some of the joy of it to you. Here's today's sunset to end with.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

November 24 UK - First frost


It was the first real frost today and I managed to get to the tree while the ground was still white and the jackdaws were sitting on the top of the tree hoping that the sun would warm them.

Under the tree itself was a frost free circle, where the trees were a brigh orange. But all around in the open each leaf was framed in a coronet of frost, making each one a little jewelled work of art.

Here are a few of them. And at the end a reminder of spring a frost covered bud. This one had fallen but in our tree there are hundreds of thousands of them with next year's leaves and flowers hidden inside