Hearts of Oak

Since I was a child I have always had a love of oak trees. In the war years my anxious mother would send my brother and me into the garden to play. It was a nice sizeable garden with a good chicken run to interest us. There at the end of the garden stood a large and solemn oak tree, which seemed to watch over us kindly.

We liked the oak and made a small camp on its lower boughs. We loved being in this secure place above the cares of the wartime world. To climb to it was difficult but very rewarding: a number of times I slipped in the attempt to scale the oak, and fell into the hedge of briars and stinging nettles. Distressed, I would race inside to my mother with bruises and nasty scratches. She would tend my wounds and tell me not to climb the tree.

Yet the oak stood there in all its grand understanding and it was not long before I was climbing up into our little perch again, feeling the tree’s sympathetic security. Now, after many years, that same oak is still there and it is a joy to walk by and share my memories with it.

Now in my twilight years, I enjoy my constitutional afternoon country walk in Devon. I have several routes, of a couple of miles each: they are not too demanding. On these walks I pause for a reflective moment by the oaks. They are the centurion trees of our countryside; their strength and sympathy still reassures me as I come to terms with our troubled world of 2020.

A year ago I was actively supporting Devon for Europe, joining others in the towns of Devon. We engaged over Brexit with many people. We sampled their opinions on our ‘brexitometer’ and ‘moodometer’ sticker boards, which progressively showed increased numbers in favour of staying in Europe. Most people were sensibly supportive of a second referendum. Our hopes were rising.

Then suddenly the general election was called and the cry was “Let’s get BREXIT done”…  On 12 December 2019 we had a new government with a majority of 80 seats.

Like so many then, I was deeply shocked and frustrated by this result; my political bearings were in turmoil.

And now, with only a matter of days to go before we complete our departure from the EU, my anxieties increase as I see numerous crises coming at a pace from all quarters. Everything looks very ominous for 2021. Yet I note that many in the City of London are full of optimism, happy in the knowledge that they are now well-insulated from Europe, and in particular from the EU Directive on Tax Avoidance.

Maybe that was the very reason for Brexit in the first place…?

I doubt very much if other industries, farmers, fishermen, the people of Ireland and many institutions will share the money-mens’ optimism. I certainly can’t, and I have considerable anxiety for our country, its future and my grandchildren.

So it is good to lean firmly against the trunk of this lovely oak tree and feel its security and strength. It stands patiently – the refuge of much wildlife, many lichens and mosses, as well as an anxious senior like me. It firmly stands there quietly doing its job. The oak carries on living, with gallons of sap travelling silently beneath the thick bark, from roots to leaves and back again, producing leaves and acorns which are now falling to the ground in great numbers. As I look at the masses of acorns on the ground, they remind me of the Devon for Europe sticker boards, with their many opinions of the people of Devon, all colours in a hopeful and joyful mass, and now mostly forgotten. Likewise, the countless acorns, now disappearing into the golden litter of leaves below the tree, remind me of the many votes that did not matter in last year’s election because of our dysfunctional electoral system.

So I press my back against the friendly oak and think “what now?” With my fingers tracing its rugged bark, I feel a sense of security and hope. The years come and go, yet the life of the oak continues strong and steadfast. Yes, this year’s acorns will soon disappear, but, maybe, one or two will find a secure spot to sprout and grow, and as time moves on they may become another centurion of a hedge or a field. It is with that hope that next year the oak will produce another generous crop of acorns. That is what it always quietly does.

In the same way, maybe among all those Devon for Europe stickers and all those votes that never mattered, new life will be found sprouting in some favourable places, creating a much better world for all.

Yes I do see new sprouts… Make Votes Matter… Unlock Democracy… Tax Justice… and many other groups slowly growing.

How fruitful will they be…? Only time will tell.

For now, looking up into the sturdy arms of the oak and feeling its strength, I find encouragement and consolation. The heart of oak touches my heart with warmth and peace, just as it did when I was a bewildered wartime child years ago.