St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, October 2020
A jay swoops through the trees in silence, landing on an oak branch, an acorn held in its bill. A friend and I have a running gag. Wherever we see a jay we send a text or voice recording to eachother:
It originates from a trip to the White Carpathians mountains in Czechia one September. The bird we saw again and again was the jay. Always travelling around with or for acorns. As is now commonly known now, jays scatter-hoard thousands of acorns every year. They have helped pioneer Europe’s great oak woodlands along with squirrels and other smaller caching mammals.
Here in the Sussex Weald I find a fallen acorn split down its centre. The tannin red catches my eye. The shell is cracked because the acorn is shooting, seeking soil to establish itself in.
I’m tracing an old ditch or woodbank looking for fungi to photograph. There is an almost comical halt to the woodland where the heathland and its diminishing ranks of pine begin and the broadleaf oaks end. Marking that edge is an astonishing beech tree. Let me explain.
Part of the tree’s root plate has lifted. The lignified roots have become hardened like a drystone wall. They have developed into a lattice-work of branches, their function forever entangled by their appearance above ground.
The tree must have fallen about fifty years ago. But it has not died. Where the old trunk hit the other bank of the ditch it has made a sharp turn towards the sky to grow anew. Trees can teach us that to fall is rarely to fail.