Baby Oak

In the muddy, brambled place we still call the Hundred-Acre Wood, a tiny oak stands barely waist-height: my babies’ baby tree.

A decade ago my children played in autumn’s treasures of conkers and acorns. They planted some in flower-pots behind the greenhouse. They neglected and forgot them, discovered something still living two years later, and began to love it again with clumsy hands and far too much water. I took pity at last on the poor stunted treelet, still hardly more than a seedling; I gave my children a spade and told them to go and set it free.

They carried the pot and the spade away down the trod path towards the old railway, through the small wooded area that probably equals an acre or two but seemed big to them when first they named it. They dug a hole, not very deep, and planted their tree; and they showed me, later, where to find it.

Half-forgotten once more, Baby Oak hides in among the tall, ragged grasses. It hasn’t yet learned to drop its leaves in autumn. It hasn’t yet claimed its own piece of sky above undergrowth and broken stone wall. But out of sight it slowly spreads its roots and survives.

When I walk through our old Hundred-Acre Wood I turn off the path to look at it again. It will grow up, as other babies do. It will spread gnarling, asymmetric branches and drop acorns of its own—for mice and squirrels to eat, for little children to collect and treasure, for future oaks to grow.

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