The Young Oak, Bridgehurst Woods, Marden.
I do not notice you at first. I lean against you as I watch the children jump from the tree that lies just in front of you. It is on its side, felled by an unseen storm. The drift of leaves between you softens the children’s landing and they climb again and again, in and out of the sunlight shining through your leaves. I put my hand on your trunk – the roughened, ridged bark, the covering of feathered moss – and I listen as the breeze brushes through the tops of the trees, scattering your leaves, golden, brown, into the air.
Later, when I come to know you, I watch you change as the seasons turn. A harsh wind seems to shed the vestiges of autumn in a moment, and you are bare, branches stretching towards the failing light. It is cold and the ground beneath you is hard and unyielding, ice tipped. In the field that stretches beyond you, there is stubble and mud and the sky is low, thick with cloud.
You seem the last to bloom in the spring. Your leaves come slowly and then, almost overnight, there is a canopy of bright green, sheltering the bluebells that fill the gaps in the woodland floor. In the half lilac light, I notice that your trunk is not straight but curves towards the sky. Your upper branches mingle with those of your companions. I cannot trace where you end and they begin.
Sometimes I walk to you and I lay my head against your trunk. You know my troubles. I ask you for strength. One day I make an offering, a small golden acorn I used to wear on a necklace. I tuck it into the gap at your base, down between your roots, and I remember the saying I once heard. The woods are my church. Afterwards, I walk out once again into the field, where the wheat is starting to change from green to yellow and the sun is so bright it makes me close my eyes.
I do not see you every day. I wave from the path if I do not enter the woods. One day a group of walkers are watching and they answer my wave with one of their own. It makes me laugh. I wonder if they too will walk past you and place their hands upon your bark.
You change, of course. One day there is a single green acorn beside you. The next, a dozen, then a carpet, green and brown, crunching beneath as I walk the worn path towards you. I watch the children climb again and I pick up an acorn, rolling it between my fingers, the brown pericarp cracked, the cupule falling into my palm, the rough and the smooth. I take both home, a small part of you, and I put you on my dressing table, beside the photographs and the necklaces and the dried roses.
‘Snodland Edgelands’ Nevill Park, Snodland, Kent