The Horizontal Oak

There’s a single oak high on the flank of Ben Hiant, overlooking the Sound of Mull. I have known this resilient tree since my early child­hood. It’s in a place I love very much. Massaged by the warmth of the Gulf Stream, battered by the wrath of the Atlantic and silhouetted by a thousand sunsets over the islands of Mull, Coll and Tiree, it is horizontal, its trunk fissured and colonised by tiny ferns. An oak sustains more life forms than any other native tree. Generally, we think of oaks as mighty: trees for building houses, boats or bastions; trees of grandiose parklands, their massive weighty boughs stretching to the heavens. The oaks of Scotland’s rainforest on the western sea­ board are different: diminutive, wind­sculpted. Many do not stay the course while others, like mine, grow strong and beautiful as they find succour between a rock and a hard place. Raven, hooded crow, buzzard and tawny owl frequently visit this tree. Sometimes it will be the little stonechat with his dapper black bonnet. And, from time to time, it is me, for its trunk, having withstood so much abuse, offers me support too, the horizontal oak, high on a hillside west of the sun.

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Photo of Mervyn Knox Browne

Dead Wood

When my close friend Mervyn Knox Browne of South Loch Tayside was nearing the end of his long life, on a visit, I asked him how he was doing. Incapacitated by the vagaries of old age, he replied, ‘I am useless, just deadwood.’ It upset me to hear this from a man who had left his mark inspiring dozens of people, young and old, and whose 95 years had made a successful difference. He was a revered community member as well as a good deal further afield, and he had achieved so much more than he realised.

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