Celebrating trees and woods

When was the last time you celebrated the presence of trees in your neighbourhood?  How often do you wonder at the benefits they bring to our daily lives and the beauty they quietly provide?  As a society we take trees and woodlands for granted most of the time.  But there is a long tradition of celebrating trees and giving thanks for their existence.  

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Here at Ruskin Land, in the heart of the Wyre Forest, we are currently planning the latest in a series of seasonal community events which will culminate in an Apple Day. Each event has drawn attention to the diverse beauty of the trees, mainly former oak coppice, that surround us.  The first such occasion, readers may recall, was a community wassail to mark the planting of a 151 tree orchard on the site of one originally established in 1880, shortly after the Victorian visionary John Ruskin was given the land here to pursue his utopian aspirations.  Wassailing orchards, a centuries old fertility ritual, was not so long ago confined mainly to the West Country but has undergone a renaissance in recent years.  It usually takes places around Twelfth Night, celebrating the crop of the previous autumn and wishing for a fruitful harvest in the coming year.

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Springtime is a season when the beauty of trees in blossom becomes the focus of community celebration around the world.  In Japan, the arrival of the cherry blossom – sakura zensen – is monitored, mapped and eagerly anticipated for weeks.  The cherry blossom celebrations in Washington DC are an annual event that attracts thousands of participants.  On a slightly smaller scale, this year at Ruskin Land we organised a blossom walk through remnant and restored orchards which once formed what was the second largest cherry producing area in England.  This was followed by a talk by the chair of a local beekeeping group on the importance of bees and other pollinating insects.

The decoration of trees on festive days such as May Day, which has the maypole tree symbol at its heart, and, of course, at Christmas, is an old tradition in many parts of the world.  The Arbor Tree, a black poplar in the centre of the village of Aston-on-Clun, in Shropshire, is permanently adorned with flags which are renewed in May each year in a ceremony whose origins have largely been forgotten. In Appleton in Cheshire, late June sees the ‘bawming of the thorn’, an old custom involving the decoration of a hawthorn tree, said to be a descendent of the Glastonbury thorn, by local children with ribbons and garlands.  Tree Dressing Day, which was initiated by Common Ground in 1990 and usually takes place during the first weekend of December, has become an important part of the community calendar and a powerful expression of our relationship with trees.  

oak

Millennial Oak by Mark Frith

It is with old trees that, as a nation, we have our most passionate relationship.  Our venerable native oak, which can live for over 500 years (although most in the Wyre Forest are barely 100 years old!), is the archetypal ancient tree.  It is perhaps no surprise that the recording and celebration of our oldest trees has become something of an obsession.  In Epping Forest there are over 50,000 ‘veteran trees’, mainly beech, hornbeam and oak, over 50 of which have been identified by local communities as landmark trees with special meaning.   This obsession is shared with other countries where ancient trees are often celebrated for their spiritual significance.    The tree of life, or world tree, is a symbol of immortality and fertility across all faiths and the focus of many religious festivals.  Buddha sat under the Bodhi (a fig) tree when he gained enlightenment.  Tu BiShvat is the New Year of the Trees in the Jewish tradition, when trees are planted and celebrated, and the Sidra Tree is an important symbol in the Arab world frequently depicted in Islamic art. 

These deep and diverse cultural associations provide a rich basis for tree festivities across the globe.  Woodland events of various kinds have flourished in recent years, including here in the Wyre Forest.  It will take a while though before the scale of our celebrations comes close to matching the contribution that trees make to our lives.

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6 thoughts on “Celebrating trees and woods

  1. Thank you, Neil, for sending the latest News from Ruskinland. Fascinating. It all sounds very busy -congratulations.

    I’m sorry we haven’t been exploring again. My grandson’s planned visit was unfortunately postponed because he had to be back at his college to meet his tutors to discuss his PhD work. He hopes to have a weekend in mid November, and in any case we will potter along one of the days.

    I managed to track down one of the new copies of Brett Young’s Far Forest. It’s interesting to see it in modern form, it should have some appeal for new readers. To me, it is still an enthralling read. I am pleased with the way the tapestry cover- picture has printed inside the Worcs Pear, better than I expected. I was also surprised to find printed inside the cover page, the comment I wrote explaining the background to the picture. I had completely forgotten this.

    If you are interested for background, the FBY web site is : http://www.fbysociety.co.uk Though there isn’t a lot on it at present.

    Best wishes, Sheila Kirk

    On 29 September 2016 at 11:52, News From Ruskin Land wrote:

    > neilsinden posted: “When was the last time you celebrated the presence of > trees in your neighbourhood? How often do you wonder at the benefits they > bring to our daily lives and the beauty they quietly provide? As a society > we take trees and woodlands for granted most of th” >

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    1. Hi Mum, Thanks for this. Good to see you yesterday. Do hope your back gets easier – let me know how it goes. It’s been a lovely warm sunny day up here. Take care and love, Neilx

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  2. Hi Neil
    It’s really interesting to hear how the Japanese celebrate their flowering cherry trees. One native tree we never seem to celebrate here is the wild flowering cherry, or gean. I planted one at the bottom of my garden almost 20 years ago. It was a tiny sapling from Woolworths which cost a pound or two. I expected it to grow to a similar size as the Japanese, but not a bit of it. It must be 6 or 7 metres high now and still growing.
    It puts on a wonderful display of white blossom in the spring and an equally fine multi-coloured display in the autumn. Even now the first leaves are turning bright red and they will soon be joined by bright yellow ones.
    Best wishes, Jon

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