Sunday, 30 November 2008

The fifth element

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.


Dave King said...

What an interesting post. Each paragraph something new.

Dragonstar said...

Sounds an interesting book. I love the scent of a wood fire.

The Solitary Walker said...

If you like Deakin, you must read also the books of Robert Macfarlane - a friend of Deakin and, I have to say it, an even greater writer... But I love Deakin too, I hasten to say.

Liz said...

I'll have to track down a copy and read it Weaver. I love trees too. We've lost a few in our forest sadly to rot and bad weather. I love wood fires they make a home more welcoming in the winter. Love the artwork on the cover of the book as well.

Pat Posner said...

When we used to burn logs, our log delivery man gave me this rhyme:

Logs from Oak if dry and old
Keep away the winter’s cold.
Poplar wood gives bitter smoke
Sets eyes watering and makes you choke.
Elm burns like graveyard mould
Even the Elms’ flames burn cold.
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom
Apple wood scents the room.
Ash wood wet or ash wood dry
Good to warm your slippers by.
If Beech logs are kept for a year
The fire will burn bright and clear.
Chestnut’s only good say they
If for years it’s stored away.
Birch and firwoods burn too fast
Blaze very bright but do not last.

Mistlethrush said...

What an interesting post - thanks.

Your poem took me back to my days as a Guide leader. I must have been one of the few people who actually enjoyed 'wooding'. It used to surprise me why most people found looking for wood irksome. Nothing like standing in the ditch under a hawthorn and pulling out all the huge dead branches that are entangled there - naturally dried and ready to be burnt.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad you liked it Dave - e mails keep telling me that I am not getting through to your site but i presume i am as you are visiting mine.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Nice to read all these comments about wood and find that you all have a kind of nostalgia for wood fires. The cleaning up in a morning is not so exciting, but still worth it, I think.

Heather said...

I like the sound of that book and will try to get a copy. I love the smell of log fires - it reminds me of my childhood. My grandmother had her own method of sweeping the chimney. She would light the fire then stick a branch of holly up the chimney and push it as far as she could. Once it got stuck and caused a fire in the chimney which smoked out half the village! I think that probably happened on more than one occasion. Trees are so beautiful at this time of year - you can really appreciate their shape and form, and the wonderful textures of various barks, which are somehow less noticeable when there is blossom and foliage everywhere.

Janice Thomson said...

I love trees too and have lived in a few homes with fireplaces - nothing is cozier than a fire on a cold winter's night.
Great post Weaver.

Unknown said...

Just found your blog via your comment on a handful of stones - I loved this book! Also agree with Solitary Walker - MacFarlane writes exquisitely. Good to 'meet' you!

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