John Lewis-Stempel visits Ashdown Forest in Sussex, England, to closely observe a 300-year-old oak tree (Quercus robur). From first light until midnight, Lewis-Stempel describes the animals, birds, insects, and flora that depend on it in careful detail. In addition to astonishing you with the sheer variety and volume of creatures that inhabit and visit the tree, this piece will gently slow your heartbeat. You’ll feel your shoulders loosen as you follow Lewis-Stempel’s keen observations. It’s exactly the type of relaxation meditation we can all use.
The leaves of autumn, brought down by the screaming Halloween wind, still lie around the tree in a thick sodden copper mat; the mould is soft on the pads of the returning vixen as she slinks down into her den among the tree’s roots, a rabbit clamped in her jaws from her night prowl. A present for her cubs.
The ecology of the oak tree is a game of consequences: the newly emerged leaves of the oak are eaten by the pale-green caterpillar of the wintermoth, which, in turn, feeds the blue tit, whose brood has just hatched in yet another of the tree’s cavities; the sparrowhawk, terror of the copse, flashes between the tangled branches, to catch and feed on the blue tit.