O Woodland


The Lonely Tree, Caspar David Friedrich, 1822

From The Guardian:

A few years ago my father died suddenly, at the beginning of winter. For a while after his death I hated being inside: I could feel the shock reverberating within the walls. Working in the woods through that winter near my home in the Black Mountains, south Wales, gave me the space and time to grieve. I spent days among the trees, waiting for the stirrings of spring. I savoured the solitude, though I never felt truly alone: “Trees Be Company”, as the title of William Barnes’s poem puts it. Trees also mark the passing of time in their seasonal change. This reminds us that life passes too, which encourages us to live it as well as we can.

Ever since then, I have looked forward to the arrival of winter in a way I never did before. It is, of course, the busiest season in the woods: it is the best time of year to both plant and fell broadleaf trees. After several months of inactivity, the community woodland group I help run has just started work again in the 4.5 hectares (11 acres) of mixed broadleaf of Court Wood. Over the next 12 to 15 weeks, we will coppice – the ancient woodland-management practice of cutting trees back to ground level to stimulate regrowth – and thin out the poorest trees. We will create small glades where wild flowers – wood anemones, celandines, stitchwort, yellow archangel, lords and ladies, woodland violets, foxgloves and bluebells – will hopefully appear next spring. We will leave standing dead timber and tidy the brash into hedges. We’ll cut firewood and make charcoal. We’ll also plant trees.

Today, we commonly use Norway spruce for Christmas trees. In the Penn household, we don’t have a “real” tree every year, but when we do, I buy a “rootballed” tree, try to keep it alive and then plant it on the edge of my wood after twelfth night. Sometimes they take, sometimes they don’t, but I like having a tree in the house. The custom is an echo of our pagan past: it is about honouring nature at a time when it seems to have departed for good.

“Why we should celebrate winter woodland – not just the Christmas tree”, Robert Penn, The Guardian