The Oak Tree

Travel Talk

By the time you read this, the Oak tree will have gone. Save for an ivy- covered stump which, I think, will look good as a ‘feature’ on a lawn which has yet to be laid, in a garden which has yet to be created.

Acorn I shall be sorry to lose it, but the tree chap, who came round at my request last month, said it was diseased. Unsafe, too, as dead branches could fall and injure someone. Knowing that dead branches had already fallen, I needed no convincing. There was also the possibility that the wind might carry spores of the disease into neighbouring gardens.

Nothing can be done to restore life. So tomorrow the lads will arrive with their hard hats and chainsaws, their ropes and tackle, and their expertise. They’ll also bring the ‘gallopa-gallopa’ machine that chews up small branches and spits out sawdust. 

There will be a day of noise and destruction. And the end of the day will bring about the end of the Oak.

I give you those details to justify my decision to have this tree removed, because, you see, the children planted it. Or, rather, returned with their mother and me from a walk in the woods with a handful of acorns which they put into tiny pots of earth and tended with all the care a small child will lavish on something he or she doesn’t really understand, but believing Mummy and Daddy when they promise something special will happen. Something almost magic, or miraculous.  

New life We had three ‘miracles’ from that dozen or so acorns – three threadlike shoots emerging from the damp mulch that small fingers and thumbs had put into three pots and pressed carefully home.

Of the three, one was clearly the sturdiest. And that one shoot, nine inches tall and no thicker than a knitting needle, was eventually planted in the middle of the lawn and tied loosely with string to a real knitting needle for support. Covered, for protection, with a large terracotta pot (later, an upturned dustbin), it was tended with great care by three little folk who had no idea what they had started.

So the Oak grew. As did the children. As did we. We acquired new neighbours when it was about ten years old. A young couple with a girl of about four and a baby boy. Those children took pleasure in the Oak, and in the garden, which was unkempt but filled with hens and rabbits and ducks. And, for a while, a Canada Goose called Tetley – but that’s another story.

As the tree flourished, the lawn gave up the ghost. The garden went wild, and nothing grew in the shade of the Oak’s spreading branches. But, when those branches were bare as Winter turned to Spring, we had magnificent crocuses and primroses and daffodils. The tallest, sturdiest daffodils you could ever wish for. Wordsworthian in their golden trumpeting splendour.

The children grew up and left home to create families of their own. In time, grandchildren appeared to clamber into the lower branches of the tree, as their parents had done. 

Daffodil I was never much of a gardener, and confess I turned my back on it completely a dozen years ago. As a result the brambles and the ivy took over and stinging nettles rose to head height. I had to buy a machete and cut a path, more or less where the original path had been, so I could get to the shed at the bottom of the garden.

However, all through this year I have worked steadily to make up for that neglect. A programme of ‘slash and burn’ has decimated the brambles, the nettles and most of the ivy. The garden is now almost ready for a proper gardener to come in and transform it.

The chap next door says he will miss the Oak tree, as will his wife, but, the fact that it is over half a century old is a reminder that time passes more quickly than one realises. So is the fact that the babe in arms, who arrived next door with his parents, has, this week, moved into a house along the avenue, with his wife and their baby. 

That little tot, or, indeed, my own great grandchildren, will never get to climb the Oak tree, which saddens me a little.

But what will be, will be. 

“Che sera sera”, according to the family motto of the First Earl of Bedford (1485-1555). 

Or Doris Day, whichever you prefer.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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