A Year in the Life of an English Oak

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (Jan. 2008)

This is Harold, an 800 year old oak tree in ancient woodland in Essex a short drive from where friends of mine live. The inner trunk has died and some of it had to be felled a few years ago; outer limbs are still alive but it will take a few years before the Forest Rangers can be sure that the main tree will survive into a tenth century. 

I never took much notice of trees until the hurricane of 1987 when the sycamore in the garden where I lived then stood firm while hundreds of others toppled. After that I took a bit more notice.

I got the idea a few years ago to take photos of some particular tree in all seasons to chart the changes through the year. Early in 2007 I borrowed my husband’s camera and set off for a walk to see what came out. Over a period of several days the tree which took my fancy was a modest oak about 5 minutes walk from my home.
The original idea was to take a picture from the same spot on the same day every month but that was too rigid. So I needed a tree within a few minutes walk that I would pass regularly, and could reach quickly, should there be an interesting sky.
At first the family scoffed at my choice. It is not at all magnificent, not particularly tall, no Admiral is going to mark it out for his next warship. There is graffiti on the trunk and in the past some vandal lit a fire underneath and the bark still bears the marks of damage. Unlike Harold I doubt it is much above 60 years old. It stands in managed parkland, on the bank of a stream, just before an area of older woodland and a new plantation. 
And something about this modest, vandalised, not particularly grand, English oak appealed to me.

First picture, winter bare branches.

In February it snowed, although not for very long.

On April 1st the branches were still bare but all the April showers had an effect and within 3 weeks leaves were bursting out.

This summer was wet and there were floods but the effect on the tree and surroundings was that by August the woods were still green and verdant.

One October evening I looked up out of the kitchen window. “Watch the dinner doesn’t burn” I said “I’m just going out with my camera”. And caught the sky just before it darkened.

By this time my husband had stopped scoffing and was getting into the project and he caught the beginnings of autumnal colour in November.

The gales of early December soon had all the leaves off the branches.

The week before Christmas. Spooky.

Full Circle, New Years Day 2008. Overcast, muddy underfoot but dry and mild.  Happy New Year.
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