Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The Oak Tree

We woke this morning in the dark to high winds, rain, thunder and no electricity. I stumbled through the house trying to find a torch and calor gas lamps whilst tripping over anxious Airedales looking for somewhere safe to hide. The crash straight overhead had me wanting to hide with them, but I pretended to be very brave and cheerful.

Fortunately the failed electricity was just the trip switch in the fuse box. So we had breakfast and waited for the worst to pass before taking the dogs for a walk in town (morning ritual: hunting cats under cars and buying fresh bread). As we topped the brow of the hill behind our house, we saw the results of the crash overhead: a large oak at the side of the road was split from top to bottom, two huge branches torn off, with smaller branches scattered in all directions. There are two bungalows either side of the tree, neither was touched, but they must have thought it was the end of the world when the lightning hit.

Yesterday we took delivery of another five cubic metres of wood. Monsieur M knocked at the kitchen door in the morning to ask if he could deliver the wood later, as he knew that the rain was coming. Tod has a bad back again, so I helped with the unloading. I was tidying the wood store when I heard the tractor and trailer slowly making its way along the ridge from the next village and down our long drive between the fields. As if he had all the time in the world, he reversed the tractor into the shed and then zig-zagged back and forth to get the trailer piled high with the logs as close as possible to where we wanted them.

As we lifted the logs off the trailer, with the wind beginning to gust around us, he told me about the changes he is seeing in the weather and his regret at the old trees disappearing as they are grubbed up by farmers wanting larger fields. I wished I could have asked him more, but do not yet have the words.

Afterwards, still wearing his black beret, he sat with us in the kitchen drinking Tod's strong black coffee and we talked of the different types of wood he had brought us, chêne (oak) which burns slow (some say too slow); acacia, which has the yellow heart wood, splits easily and burns hot; châtaignier (chestnut) which splutters and is best burnt in a closed stove; orme (elm) and charme (hornbeam) which are increasingly hard to find.

I hope that the great oak branches struck by lightning this morning make a warm fire for someone in years to come.

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