I remember hugging the huge oak tree at the bottom of a garden when I was a child, and feeling a connection I couldn’t explain.
Oak forests once covered much of northern Europe. Few old-growth forests remain now, and people from all walks of life fight vigorously to defend the tracts that still survive. Folklore around these trees has survived since the earliest writing’s we have.
When the ancient Romans invaded northern Europe, historians among them wrote about Druids performing religious rites in oak-groves where they gathered mistletoe from the trees with a golden sickle. They described Celtic tribes holding council in oak grove sanctuaries, and worshiping the god of thunder as a tall oak tree. Druids of Gaul ate acorns as a way of divining the future. Many scholars believe that the very word Druid comes from Latin terms for the trees.
When I was a kid we had a skinny back garden that seemed to stretch for miles from the house. Right at the bottom of the garden, as far away from the kitchen window as possible, stood an old oak tree. It was huge. The branches spread forever, and the crinkly twigs at its peak touched the clouds in winter.
My dad made me a wooden swing that hung from the lowest branch. Even that one, the lowest branch, was so high from the ground, we had a ladder leaning against the massive tree trunk so we could climb its heights. And we did climb it in summer, several times getting stuck part way down 🙂
My dad had somewhat of a laissez-faire attitude to parenting. He’d learned by exploring his neighborhood, he was happy for me and my sisters to do the same. All our holidays were spent at a caravan in Wales, in a caravan park bordered by a dairy farm, and an old growth forest. A forest where giant oaks still grew.
I didn’t know about the mythology associated with oak trees then, I just loved them. I was never afraid in the forest, even alone with just my thoughts and forest sounds, with my back against an oak tree and a book in my hands I felt as safe as anywhere else on earth.
I learned so many things about oak trees and oak forests while researching for Daughter of Ravenswood. I always knew I wanted an oak forest in the story, the research I did reinforced just how appropriate the oak forest is for Meagan.
My main problem was waxing too lyrically about the trees. Readers like a little description … but not too much purple prose!
In Truth Unveiled Meagan witnesses an important vision in the Oak Forest that borders Ravenswood Manor:
It had been a few weeks since my first unintended visit. The indentation where I’d landed in the bracken had grown over. A few weeks ago, I’d felt like I was standing in an old black-and-white photograph. Now, signs of spring bloomed all around us. A carpet of wood anemone glistened in the moonlight; the white flowers shone with soggy wetness from the heavy rain. A few brave catkins hung from the ends of some oak branches.
The oldest oak tree still dominated the clearing. Ferns hung from its branches, and lichens climbed its sides. Solidity still radiated from its trunk.
I stepped closer to the tree and wrinkled my nose. “I smell mandrake root here.”
Lyken rubbed his hands together. “A good amount, mistress. Enough for your incantation and to restock our supplies.”
I leaned into the tree and stroked my hands up and down the cracked bark. “I love oak trees.”
He nodded at me. “That’s an old one. Very old.”
“You can feel history here.”
He cocked his head against his shoulder. “The mandrake root, mistress.”
“I am but a speck in your long life,” I whispered to the bark.
Still in a reverie, I leaned my cheek against a solitary smooth patch on the tree trunk. As my skin touched the smooth bark, an unbidden vision sharpened in my head.