Every day, a 40 foot tree takes in 50 gallons of dissolved nutrients from the soil, raises this mixture to its topmost leaves, converts it into 10 pounds of carbohydrates and releases about 60 cubic feet of pure oxygen into the air.
A British oak tree is home to about 2,300 organisms including grey squirrels, little owls, ladybirds, aphids, crab spiders, the winter moth caterpillar and the spotted carion beetle. Of these 1 in 7 ie 326 species only live on oak trees, and a further 229 are highly associated with them. This is the breakdown:
Briophytes 229 species, Lichens 716 species, Fungi 108 species, Invertebrates 1178 species, Birds 38 species and Mammals 31 species. If we included micro-organisms there would be thousands.
The damage that all the different caterpillars cause by eating leaves can cut the amount of energy the tree can gather from the sun by half. When the tree detects it is being eaten, it releases volatile chemical compounds which signal for reinforcements – the blue tits. Each eat about 100 caterpillars a day.
Despite their importance, only 13% of the UK’s land area has tree cover compared to an EU average of 38%, which makes us one of the lowest levels of tree cover in Europe. Ancient Woodland is particularly important, yet there’s just 2.4% land area left in the UK. However we do have more ancient oak trees than anywhere else in Europe.
The way of lingering
The garden is full of soft sunshine and dappled shadows, the scent of blossom, the hum of bees and the song of birds. It is a gentle, beguiling world softened by the play of shadows which still hold a slight moisture from their night’s sleep. The leaves of the trees shimmer in a dance with a quiet rustling as the breeze lifts them, then lets them go. They offer their shape and greenness to the face of the sun in a harmony of belonging. The air is warm in the sun like silk and you can feel it carrying the fullness of this day as particles of pollen and scent brush across your skin. And it is a Sunday, our sabbath of time saved from the routines of busyness so we can linger in the delight of the day. Have we lost the way of lingering? Can we still notice the small wonders around us and store them in our treasure-box? What difference would it make to our busy lives if we took care to let each beauty amaze us and fill us before going on our way, if we stopped to smell the flowers fronting the gardens that we pass? Do we feel this is our world, do we live in the mutuality of it and enjoy the offerings of bird and flower as gift given to please us? And do we gift them back with a smile or a touch, knowing our pleasure is a blessing? This is the place to learn to listen, to live without the carapace that often guards us, and to find that the beauty we can see in ant and leaf and bud is the beauty we can find in our soul.