Swáre-burn

10 miles it flows
From Forest source
To reed-bound mouth
Needwood’s life-blood;
Cloaked in a medieval patina
Of beech, of oak, of ash
Neck-clasped by the lustrous bricks
Of its arch-back bridges.
Yet there is no stealth here, no subterfuge
No lazy meanders
Its fair valley is straight-cut
Rare glimpses, treasured:
A distant spire; brooding Pines.
Swar bourn – swáre burn
Our Saxon fathers dubbed it – slow brook
In flow, perhaps

But not in flood.

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The Lone Oak

I am here
I am a remnant
Just one
One, of a once great forest
One, of once upon a time

They say, ‘There is the oak
Church doors; cruck frames; the wood of war
I am formidable
They say, ‘There is the oak
Proud; strong; sentinel
The watcher, keeping guard

I am alone
I am a remnant
Just one
Today, a whisper of the past
Today, the inconvenience of man

Like my kith
One day soon I will fall
Felled to ease
The pass of the furrow
Straight lines in mother earth

Like my kin
I accept my fate
Until then
I am formidable
The watcher, keeping guard

Fifty Two Oaks

Up in the wood, I counted them,
I counted fifty two oaks
One oak for every week
One oak for each furlong between here
And the edge of the Needwood
One oak for the rhythmic patter of time
As the year has seeped like grains through my fingers
One for each lot of weekly earth-rotations
One for each acorn, greedily snaffled and stuffed
Into the saggy pouch cheeks of the cheeky squirrel

One of them stands alone though
On a field boundary long gone, long rent
And each week I steal a photograph
When it’s not looking
In Winter, it is architectural, formly, strong
In Spring, a sappy burst of life, leaves like measles
In Summer, it wears a sculptural overcoat of green
Before Autumn’s striptease
The oak has it the wrong way round
When the sap rises, surely it should strip, ready for action?
But no, this oak goes bare in Winter
Like a hardy, shirtless football fan
Or a naked sprint to a snowbound sauna

 

Mistletoe

IMG_2553_fotorA day of little surprises yesterday, born out of the initial annoyance of a road closure. Making my way back from a meeting I was diverted off a main road onto a route of lithely wriggling ‘B’ roads, looping and curling round the hills, not sticking to the valleys as elsewhere. These particular country lanes took me up one side of the Malvern Hills, over the top through a wooded col and then down the other side into Great Malvern. Looking east from there is an endless vista; a great plain, with Malvern directly below and Worcester to the north east, Tewkesbury to the south east. The Malverns have a character like a spine – the knobbly vertebrae sticking out from a body that needs a good feed, a generous plate of suet pudding and mash, with spotted dick for pudding. And from these backbones, looking west, it is an entirely different panorama, entirely rural, rolling rounded hills like a tray of green velvet eggs, heavily wooded and hedged.

Autumn is well under way now, and the fallen leaves march down roads in unnaturally ruler-straight lines where the whirls and eddies fight to a standstill allowing them to congregate in the dead air below. The pulpy mulch softens kerbstones and hides pavements, people tread tentatively as if over-stepping onto a bowling lane. And the trees are bashfully nude, a few lingering leaves hide their modesty for a matter of days but as the sap sinks, the inevitable final act of the strip tease is soon at hand.

With it, nature’s first harbinger of Christmas is clear to view – the balls the trees were hiding – Mistletoe. I’ve never seen it in such profusion. Near Eastnor castle a whole stand of trees, slender, reaching vertiginously full of these dappled decorations, like rooks’ nests at the heart of the tree. In Great Malvern, near the outskirts of the town, a tree lined arcade of oaks and horse chestnut, each full, as if the tumbleweed mistletoe had rolled from the hills and bounded and bounced down hill, only to be stopped here, natural run off lanes. A beautiful sight – one which I have never seen in such profusion: Mistletoe is a parasite of course, piercing the skin of the tree, attaching itself then feeding from the tree’s sap, leach-like. Perhaps birds of feather flock together (carrying the seeds with them too) and a new collective noun is needed for the plant. One thing is for sure, it was clearly too early for modern-day Getafix’s to be up in the trees with their golden sickles removing it for the magic potion money reward of today: bundles on sale down the Garden Centre in time for  Christmas’s under-tree smooching. I give it three weeks, tops.