From time to time, they do cut down the oaks in the Sissinghurst woods, but not until they are about 80 or 100 and the trunk, the butt as woodmen call
it, is long enough and big enough to make rails and posts for a new gate or some boarding or the treads of a stair. Fifty years ago, I planted an acorn
myself with my sister. She was four and I was one - I don't suppose we can have done it entirely unaided but that's the story - and all through my childhood
I remember looking at its scrawny little existence, a knotty little worm of a tree half choked with grass inside a small wire fence. But it lived and
now our tree is just at the peak of its growth-curve, putting on feet and inches every year as if reaching for adulthood, starting even to acquire a
scar or two where a limb has fallen or been trimmed with a saw.
It is said, as a rule of thumb, that the girth in inches of an oak at waist height is just about the same as its age in years. My reach is 74 inches
from fingertip to fingertip and at the moment, fifty years on, I can comfortably hold my own hands as I hug my tree's waist. But it is stretching away,
now more than ever, and soon enough will be beyond me. There will come a time in my seventies when my fingers don't touch and that will be a moment to
pause. Even now I look at the tree and envy its health and vigour, its extraordinary patience, the way in which it does one thing both very, very slowly
and very, very well.
But then what? Perhaps they'll fell it, not Bill Daniel and David Dunk who nowadays coppice an acre or two each winter of the sweet chestnuts around
the longer-lived oaks, but their sons and successors. Or maybe not? There are two giant oaks at Sissinghurst, one in the wood, one down by the Hammer
Stream, which are about 400 years old, survivors of some Elizabethan parkland, and there is nothing here more beautiful than the huge globes of air enclosed
by their wrinkled, elephantine and apparently everlasting branches.