The West Sussex Weald, February 2021
The final day of February. The seasons are exchanging but only in light. The first blackthorn flowers are breaking buds at the roadside. Two cyclists float past:
‘Do you really want Louis back?’ one of the women says to another.
They swerve away from two horse riders, one dismounted: ‘At least I know when to get off now. There’ no point pushing him if he’s so nervous.’
The light is golden, low. Birds are singing at spring levels, minus the continental recruits like blackcap, chiffchaff and willow warbler.
The ancient pond was frozen last week but now the water shimmers black and blue with broken reflections of the dark branches against the clear sky.
At the old road’s margins bluebells are leafing in patches. Beyond the shrubby edges the field opens out, home to a massive pine tree. Looking at the 19th century map of this landscape, the pine is there. It must be ancient but how old may not be discoverable.
Two jackdaws fly away from its branches, perhaps having found a suitable nest hole.
Winter is still here in the treetops at the field edge, where fieldfares chuckle, moving in small flocks deeper into the open field. Soon they will make their way north to warming breeding grounds. They feel like a treat, I don’t see or hear them that often.
A breeze rustle the oak leaves on the ground, building into a hush in the leaves of redwoods high above.
At the end of the lane stands an ancient oak tree, the Sun Oak. It probably marks an ancient boundary. A couple of weeks ago I was stood here admiring the tree and a man commented in passing:
‘Amazing, isn’t it? The farmer says it’s in the Domesday Book.’
I had always thought it was 800 years old. A refence to it in 1086 would mean it was already of significant size then. Could it really be over 1000 years old?
That puts it in the Saxon Age, a time so long ago it seems inconceivable. But that’s what makes these trees so special. They are living things that have, in their ecological existence, witness and processed so much time.
This tree, the Sun Oak, is of course on the 19th century map, too.
In the surrounding trees and woodland redwings are flocking, feeding and singing. It’s hard to describe the sound – like some distant chattering, a school playground carried on the wind perhaps. Whatever it is, it’s a sign of their need to gather. Along with the fieldfares, they will all soon be on their way and with them another season under the belt of the Sun Oak.