I feel like I’m been busy forever. It is difficult to get time to assign to the things I really love. I did manage to get some thoughts on paper on another subject recently and it occurred to me some of the findings could reasonably be housed here, so I can come back to them when I get feet under me again. Consider it my “I aten’t dead” notice for another little while. (I’m currently working on researching as much as I can about medieval forestry management, and was recently specifically thinking about oak trees and forests, apologies that there is not much opportunity for proper preamble into this.)
In Brehon law there was a provision for fining someone who removed bark from an oak tree on another’s property for the tanning of leather . “If a person illegally removed enough bark from another person’s oak to tan a pair of woman’s sandals, he must give him a cow-hide. If he removes enough to tan a pair of man’s sandals, he must give an ox-hide. In addition, he must cover the wound with a mixture of smooth clay, cow-dung and fresh milk until there has been the width of two fingers’ new growth on all sides.” (Fergus kelly Trees in early Ireland speaking about tree rankings in the Bretha Comaithchesa) Such a penalty would still be rather better than leprosy which according to the Life of St. Columcille was the reward for the man who took some bark from Columcille’s oak tree (he was said to live under one at Kells for some time) to tan his shoes.
I’m trying to wade my way through John Evelyn in his Sylva, Or a Discourse of Forest-Trees. He devotes significant time and energy to how an oak forest can be planned and planted. “They require room, and space to amplifie and expand themselves, and would therefore be planted at more remote distances, and free from all encumbrances: And this upon consideration how slowly a full-grown oak mounts upwards, and how speedily they spread, and dilate themselves to all quarters, by dressing and due culture; so as above forty years advance is to be gain’d by this only industry” He believes that deer and cattle could graze underneath “benignly visited with the gleams of the sun, and adorn’d with the distant land-skips appearing through the glades, and frequent vallies; betwixt whose rows the azure sky is seen immix’d,” and wild apple-trees and “happy shrubs” can “adorn” the forest. with fruit trees sprinkled throughout “for cyder, and many singular uses, and should find such goodly plantations the boast of our rangers”
( A small diversion, amusingly about a small diversion in turn, he pauses at one point to “applaud the industry of old Sir Harbotle Grimstone, who (I am told) from a very small nursery of acorns, which he sow’d in the neglected corners of his ground, did draw forth such numbers of oaks of competent growth; as being planted about his fields in even, and uniform rows, about one hundred foot from the hedges; bush’d, and well water’d till they had sufficiently fix’d themselves, did wonderfully improve both the beauty, and the value of his demeasnes. ” I only do so because Harbotle Grimstone is an *excellent* name.
Growing conditions are listed as better for different qualities and uses for the oak wood, but he says that “oaks prosper exceedingly even in gravel and moist clays, which most other trees abhor”. Transplanting a young oak, he says, makes it advance ten years. Swathes of information follows about positioning and cutting and all mannner of things, it can be hard not to just say “and then he said, and then he said”, I’m resisting hard. I was gifted a rather fantastic book which I will definitely be coming back to that includes really interesting stuff about grafting. I was especially interested then to read in Evelyn about his attempts with “the graffing of oaks, but as yet with slender success: Ruellius indeed affirms it will take the pear and other fruit; and if we may credit the poet,The sturdy oak does golden apples bear and under elms swine do the mast devour.
I am reminded of a post I made earlier about Irish sacred trees or Bile, one of which was an Oak (i’ll dig out the name later) which produced apples and hazelnuts and acorns on it’s various branches, which it never previously occurred to me might have been somehow grafted rather than simply being a supernatural tree granted by a supernatural entity.
I can’t bring myself to agree with “A timber-tree is a merchant-adventurer, you shall never know what he is worth till he be dead.” Some of the various and very many uses of various parts of the tree cause me considerably less offence. I am somewhat surprised to read “Oaks bear also a knur, full of a cottony matter, of which they anciently made wick for their lamps and candles;” I will need to look into that. It astonishes me, however, to find he line “And ’tis probable the cups of our acorns would tan leather as well as the bark, I wonder no body makes the experiment, as it is done in Turky with the valonia, which is a kind of acorn growing on the oaks.” since experiments of this nature would, I feel, have been widespread.
” To these add the galls, misletoe, polypod, agaric (us’d in antidotes) uvæ, fungus’s to make tinder, and many other useful excrescencies, to the number of above twenty, which doubtless discover the variety of transudations, percolations and contextures of this admirable tree; […..]Pliny affirms, that the galls break out all together in one night, about the beginning of June, and arrive to their full growth in one day; this I should recommend to the experience of some extraordinary vigilant wood-man, had we any of our oaks that produc’d them, Italy and Spain being the nearest that do: Galls are of several kinds, but grow upon a different species of robur from any of ours, which never arrive to any maturity; the white and imperforated are the best; ” Interesting.. I have been trying to track down evidence about what sort of galls ink makers actually had access to… Fascinated by the line that describes “a certain water somewhere in Hungary, which transmutes the leaves of this tree into brass, and iron into copper. Of the galls is made trial of spaw-water, and the ground and basis of several dies, especially sadder colours, and are a great revenue to those who have quantities of them: Nor must I forget ink, compos’d of galls ℥iiij, coppras ℥ij, gum-arabic ℥i: Beat the galls grossly, and put them into a quart of claret, or French-wine, and let them soak for eight or nine days, setting the vessel (an earthen glaz’d pitcher is best) in the hot sun, if made in summer; in winter near the fire, stirring it frequently with a wooden spatula: Then add the coppras and gum, and after it has stood a day or two, it will be fit to use. There are a world of receipts more, of which see Caneparius de Atramentis.”
And to finish up this little disjointed miscellany of things roughly associated with oak trees, a couple of little bits about food and cookery. He speaks of small young acorns in stock-doves craws as delicious fare, “as well as those incomparable salads of young herbs taken out of the maws of partridges at a certain season of the year, which gives them a preparation far exceeding all the art of cookery.” There seems to be the idea that oak leaves “abundantly congested on snow” are an excellent refrigerator. He speaks of “mel-dews, so much more copiously found on the leaves of this tree, than any other; whence the industrious bees gather such abundance of honey” and of salt made of oak ashes to season meat, but more frequently “to sprinkle among, and fertilize their seed-corn”