Thursday, 31 May 2012

An oak tree for David Keefe / Manjusvara 1953 - 2011

Two short poems and a set of instructions.

spitting rain
drinking Assam


among broom blossoms


The oak sapling is potted up. It can be planted any time: in an open space, unshaded. It will need plenty of room; one day it will be eighty feet tall and fifty feet round, snarled, stag-horned.

I pocketed the acorn six years ago in Sunart, stratified it over that first winter, then put it out in spring. It germinated. I remember the pleasure of the first two leaves. It grew on at Carbeth inside the cage I made to protect one of the apple trees from deer.

With the oak tree, which I’ve marked with a red ribbon for collection, I’ve left chick wire. Cut five stakes – it’s a better number than four – at least three times longer than the height of the oak sapling. Surround the sapling with these stakes, driven into the ground one third their length. At the centre dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the little oak tree's roots. At its bottom, if you have some, put a little well-rotted manure or compost. Cover this with earth from the hole. Tap the sapling from its pot, tease out its roots and spread them out over the replaced earth. Cover them with more earth, taking care to leave the level of earth around the sapling’s trunk where it was in the pot. Heel carefully around the stem; enough to firm the soil around the roots without compacting it. Water plentifully; this will help settle roots and give a good start. Do not stake the oak itself. It is wild and knows better how to cope with wind than we do.

String the chick wire around your stakes and secure, leaving no gaps anywhere for a hungry deer’s nose or teeth. Ensure that a deer cannot reach over your chick wire. If you are troubled by rabbits, a little home-made trunk collar should be enough. Easily made from a plastic milk bottle. It should not deter growth. Just enough to stop rabbits eating the bark.

In its first spring in its new home: perhaps a top dressing of blood and bonemeal.

Bow to the tree; wish it well. Watch it grow.

The oak came and went from Carbeth. I remember the last time we went from the hut, me driving through Maryhill, listening to you and Larry, speaking loudly because of your failing hearing: Three men in a car; you both shouted at me in unison: you just went through a red light. So I did. So I did. Memories grow fond and slowly, like trees.