Earth. air, fire and water - the four elements. The Chinese add a fifth - wood. As Roger Deakin says in his splendid book (photo above) there is little difference between the rise and fall of the tide and the rise and fall of the sap - both are influenced by the moon. Deakin sees wood as existing "in nature, in our souls, in our culture and in our lives." Trees are the largest living organisms and they are barometers of the weather and the changing seasons.
Here on the farm we are lucky enough to still have a log fire every day in Winter. In many parts of the world wood is still the main fuel. We use dead wood from our own land - trees that have died, nature's prunings - anything we can find.
We have hawthorn and holly when the trees in the hedge grow too high and catch on the electric wires. Both have a beautiful colour (holly creamy yellow and hawthorn deep orange) We are still using wood from trees which died in the Dutch Elm Disease epidemic. Occasionally nature helps us out by pruning a few branches from other species of tree around our field margins.
Earlier this year, in the great gale, an old plum tree blew down in the orchard. The plums continued to grow, ripened and are now in the freezer; the branches are sawn and make a sweet smelling fire in the evening, nearly as good as the apple wood which blew down last year.
There is a saying around here that wood warms you three times - once when you fell the tree, once when you saw the logs and once when it burns on the fire. My father-in-law who died in his late eighties ten years ago, added another one to that saying that larch warmed you an extra time when it was burning as you had to keep dashing round the room stamping out the smouldering carpet!
Everyone loves trees. As we get to December and the coming Winter Solstice, when some days get barely light and we begin to prepare for the Christmas festivities and the Christmas tree and the Yule Log feature heavily in our folk lore, I for one shall toast crumpets by our log fire and give thanks for that fifth element.
Read the book "Wildwood" "A journey through trees" by Roger Deakin (pub Penguin) - it will make you see trees in a new light, particularly when you are sitting by a blazing log fire.