The other day I was looking through some old photographs from the Upton Community Protection Camp near Chester.
I looked at all the pictures of the wonderful strong and very lovely people that used to occupy the site, and the amazing huts and shelters they had built, but one particular picture made me stop and think.
That photograph was from the day the Upton Oak fell.
The Upton Oak came crashing down in high winds on 29th of November 2015 at 1.27 pm – I know that because of the time log on my camera.
The Oak had stood by the field gate for probably well over a hundred years, it would have seen the villages nearby change as industry crept into the rural area, as farming practices changed, as cars became common, as our human life style speeded up and became the frantic stressful ‘race’ it is today, and for a while it sheltered anti fracking campaigners beneath its wide spreading branches, and watched as we fought to protect the land it had guarded for so long from Fracking.
Oak trees are symbolic in many ways, King Charles the 2nd hid in one and Robin Hood met up with his band of ‘merry men’ under the famous Major Oak in Sherwood forest, The Magna Carta was signed under an oak and traditionally oaks were regarded as guardian trees and trees to hold court or important meetings under so the tree itself could bare witness to human goings on.
‘The earliest spirits of Greek mythology were oak tree spirits called dryads, and it was believed that oak was the first tree created by God from which sprang the entire human race.
(from – Tree Wisdom, by Jacqueline Memory Paterson)
Our oak, at the camp was a very important tree. It stood sentinel at the entrance to the camp, and one of the local camp supporters had fastened a small banner onto it saying …..
Mighty is the Oak
The Prince of Light
Lord of perfect knowledge
King of the Celtic land
Once an acorn
With the potential of the world
Small enough to hide inside your hand.
Noble is the Oak
The sacred Druid tree
The Guardian of the North
A living channel of Divinity
I offer shelter and protection
For the warrior who has fallen
For even in silence
The Oak, will hear your call
Take my strengthI will catch you
You will live through this
You will endure.
It felt as though the tree welcomed us to the field and was a guardian.
As the time for the eviction by Igas drew nearer, defences and lock on points where constructed, in an effort to make the eviction as difficult as possible.
In the gate way a portcullis was erected with lookouts on top of it, the oak too had platforms for the protectors in the high branches .
As autumn turned to winter, the camp dramatically changed. It turned from having the appearance of a small colourful shanty town, to a mud bound fortress with elements of Mad Max about it.
A team of protectors kept watch at the front gate, huddled around an old oil drum brazier to keep warm and sheltered from the rain by the portcullis entrance next the oak tree.
On the day the oak fell some protectors had been working up in the tree making the lock on points more secure, others had been working in a hut under the tree and on the portcullis, directly next to it.
The wind had really picked up during the day, bringing squalls of icy rain with it and making all work really unpleasant . A group of us had gone into the kitchen hut to get hot drinks and were standing on the kitchen step when suddenly there was a strange creaking grinding sound that made us all turn to look towards the gateway. Then to our horror we saw the oak tree begin to move.
The oak tree that had been our guardian began to fall, as though it had been filmed in slow motion. We did a frantic head count to make sure no one was still up the tree or near it, it turned out that the last person had begun to walk up to the kitchen just moments before the tree cracked.
The tree began to fall outwards towards a camper van parked just beneath it on the road verge, then unbelievably the tree slowly twisted as it fell and seemed to roll away from the van and back into the camp, away from the portcullis and the hut next to it.
The Upton Oak fell with an almighty crash and crackling sound as the trunk smashed into the earth crushing smaller branches and sending up a cloud of debris that hung briefly in the rain misted air before it settled to rest on the corps of the tree.
The truly amazing thing about how the tree had fallen was that it managed not to damage a single thing and to hurt no one.
It seemed to us that the tree had waited until all the protectors had moved away before it fell, and it seemed to have deliberately twisted as it fell to avoid causing any harm to us.
This beautiful oak tree that had stood in its Cheshire field for so long and had been guardian and boundary marker to its patch of land had finally given up its watch and fallen.
Was this a message of some kind?
We gathered around the poor smashed trunk of the once mighty oak and gazed at it in silence, all of us sorrowing for the tree that we had all come to know and love.
The inside of the trunk was all dry powdery dead wood, only the outer two inches or so had been living. We looked at it and pondered on what message we could take from this.
To us the Upton Oak had handed over the responsibility of the land to us, this tree had done its job for over a hundred years, and saw that we loved the earth too, and that we were fighting to protect it from the foolish criminal greed of those who seek to destroy it for money. We also looked at the crumbling rot inside the tree, hidden from view by the green leaves and bark, as symbolic of how the fracking industry choose to portray themselves in their glossy marketing – look how wonderful and ‘green’ our industry and technology is – but when you look deeper, you see the rot!
We gathered up the acorns from the Upton Oak and we planted them, some in the hedge near where the parent tree stood, some in pots to be transplanted elsewhere, and I know some went to London, where they have been planted in a giant ring that surrounds the old parts of the city and the White Hill. Perhaps if those acorns do manage to grow into mighty oaks, London will have a very wide sacred grove all sprung from the Upton Oak, a tree that to us stood for protection and for all that we hold dear, of this, our land.
And after all, according to the Greek myths, we too are descended from the mighty oak.