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The Tuesday tree: rotten to the core

January 10, 2012

With the children both back at school this week, I am perforce getting out and about more on school runs and dog walks. Everywhere I look, I see evidence of the stormy winter we’ve been having. The ground staff and local tree surgeons are spending all day, every day sawing up trunks and branches and clearing brushwood from the fallen trees. Smoke rises from the woods in several places; the air smells of autumnal bonfires. Still there are great trees lying where they fell in the first December storm, a melancholy reminder of how the landscape has subtly changed.

Once a silver fir, now so much timber at the sawmill

Then last week’s storm, although worse in the central belt of Scotland than here, was violent enough to do more damage. The first storm  uprooted or snapped big, healthy trees. Last week we lost mainly striplings and trees that were old and rotten: the very young and very old, in other words. Still, it was a shock to discover that two old ‘friends’ were amongst the victims. One was a characterful sycamore which deserves a post of its own. The other was a huge beech in my favourite wood. How it survived the first storm we cannot imagine: the lesser winds of last week brought it crashing down, and we have discovered that, within its seemingly healthy bark, it was completely rotten. I think it was just bark and will-power that was holding it up all this time.

In the center of the tree, there is no wood at all, just sandy stuff and crumbly black compost. This is what ‘rotten to the core’ actually looks like.

It makes me rather apprehensive now as I walk through this wood, with its many other aging trees. There are two other beeches just as big here, one of which lost a hefty limb in last week’s gale. I’ve been eyeing that one for a while, wondering if it would go soon.  The beech that did come down, though, seemed completely solid to my untrained eye, its bark hiding the rottenness within.

Who knows which will go next? There are more gales forecast for this season. Our old trees outfaced the snow and bitter cold of the past two winters, but are no match for the wind. My favourite wood has changed for ever. Time to plant some more trees here, methinks.

These photos were taken last October: the rotten beech is the one at left foreground. The branched sweet chestnut (centre) has also mostly come down in the gales, as well as the Norway spruce whose green fronds you can see on the extreme left, and the huge silver fir and Douglas fir which form the dark background.

Thank you, old beech, for many green springtimes and golden autumns.

See also Blazing beeches and a paean to this woodland, In the enchanted wood.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Toffeeapple permalink
    January 10, 2012 6:51 pm

    I can imagine that you feel very sad about losing your old friends, there is something soul-destroying about trees falling. So sad.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 10, 2012 7:52 pm

      You’re right, I have cried over more than one of these trees. They provide some kind of philosophical lesson, though: the circle of life, the mutability of all things. In a way I find that comforting.

  2. January 10, 2012 6:57 pm

    What a painful experience for a true tree-lover like yourself, DB. As you say, it’s now your turn to plant for the future to replace the lost friends.

    PS The hollowness of that beech tree is very scary.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 10, 2012 7:56 pm

      I suppose if you live long enough, you learn that nothing is as permanent as you thought. We just have to carry on hoping in the future – planting trees, whether literally or metaphorically – as we cherish the present. (I wonder who planted these lovely trees whose end I am witnessing?)

  3. hmunro permalink
    January 10, 2012 7:38 pm

    “Just bark and will-power holding it up all this time …” What a beautiful tribute to the tenacity of living things, DB.

    As the inimitable George Harrison wrote, all things — even beautiful old trees — must pass. But at least *your* trees were loved and appreciated for their beauty while they still stood.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 10, 2012 7:58 pm

      Thank you, Heather. Yes, they were loved and appreciated, and I feel very blessed. It will be a pleasure to watch new young trees begin to grow up in the spaces: perhaps some will survive for my grandchildren to enjoy one day.

  4. Julia permalink
    January 11, 2012 2:47 am

    “…within its seemingly healthy bark, it was completely rotten. I think it was just bark and will-power that was holding it up all this time.”

    What a great illustrated sermon and lesson on character! Your words and pictures always hit a deep place in my soul. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights.

    p.s. I love your dog. He/she has his very own jabot.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 11, 2012 1:16 pm

      Ah, you have found the way to my heart: praise my cocker spaniel! I love the idea of her having her own jabot – a splendid word. She does have very pretty markings. (She knows it, too. 😉 )

      And I am really pleased that you have taken a positive view of this rotten tree. ‘Rotten to the core’ sounds so pejorative , but I never felt this tree was anything but admirable. To see it as an inspiring metaphor for living with sickness is a happier thought.

  5. January 11, 2012 2:44 pm

    I’m always very sad when trees come down, as I feel quite close to them. However, that’s nature… whether we humans are here or not – to appreciate then while they’re here or to mourn their loss when they die – this will happen.

    One way I look at it is that a rotted tree stump can have life within it. Think of all the creatures that like to live in an old stump, from woodlice to small mammals.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      January 11, 2012 3:15 pm

      I completely agree with you, Val. Rotting stumps and logs are a vital part of the woodland’s ecosystem, and for that reason amongst others I am very much against the ‘over-managing’ of woodland.

  6. January 11, 2012 3:36 pm

    Watching this must be agonizing. I always wonder if old trees ( that we think are solid) feel old and tired and just know when to let go? Some just seem to suddenly let go. Do the younger ones silently scream when ripped by forces they can’t control? Plants do react to stimuli, do you think they have spirits as the old ones believed? Sorry, the tree sadness has me musing here
    Great phrase: “Just bark and will-power holding it up all this time …”

  7. January 30, 2012 7:59 am

    Older trees do not adapt as well to changes in the environment as young trees. Some young trees may be replaced at a lower cost than trying to preserve them, especially if extensive treatment will be required to help them recover from construction damage. The length of annual twig growth and the size and color of leaves are indications of health and vigor. Examine the tree for dead wood and indication of decline.


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