Combe Valley – A Year in the Life of a Tree

Oakenshield VII – Imbolc

“We create wonderful places by giving them our attention, not by finding ‘pristine’ places that will bring wonder to us.” David George Haskell, writer and biologist

It’s early February, the festival of Imbolc has come around once more and it’s a year since I launched my website, where has that time gone?! Back in February 2023 I decided to focus on a mini project following a year in the life of a tree, based on just one tree, or rather one group of trees that were within walking distance for me be able to photograph at any time.  An oak standard, which has I realised turned out to be two oaks, and a pair of hawthorns – a small clump of trees that mark the entrance to Combe Valley and its wetland nature reserve. 

I mentioned the oak that has become two.  When I first looked at the trunks of the upright and the prone tree, it seemed as though it was all one tree that had cleft at the base at an early stage in its life, yet when late autumn arrived only the standing oak slowly turned from the sunburnt green of late summer to the golden caramel it shows off in the late autumn image.  It took a month longer for the tree laying on the ground to change to a similar hue, finally reaching a peak of autumn colour in mid-December, before losing its leaves at Christmas. And so now I see them as twin oaks, seeded probably around the same time, side by side, one flattened possibly by animals into that reclining growing position or perhaps its natural survival instincts bowed it over to reach out into the light, away from the shadows cast by its twin.

Another realisation as I paid more attention to the scene is that, throughout the year, a little oak sapling in the foreground has been quietly growing, and now, from Yule to Imbolc it has held onto its marcescent leaves, hoping to ward off animals and take as much nourishment as it can from the soil and winter sunshine, in its battle to endure and grow. There has been so much more to this one small scene – the blossoming and the ‘berrying’ of the surrounding hedgerow, the variety of birds that provided such a welcome accompaniment on early morning or evening visits and the sound of the trees from the silence of winter to the rustle of summer breezes through leaves.

The year covering this project has come to an end and I have included here just 6 images of the trees, that I collectively named ‘Oakenshield’, through the peak, perhaps more obvious moments of transformation in their year. Yet, by looking with a more questioning, mindful approach there were so many more intricate changes as buds formed and leaves gradually changed colour on each visit… or perhaps pilgrimage is a more fitting word! 

What have I learned from following this project?  Firstly, I have walked this path down to the valley many, many times over the years and paid only cursory attention to this cluster of trees, yet the simple act of photographing them throughout this past year has opened my eyes and my heart to their simple beauty and the sense of peace I feel as I stand, look and listen to the life that exists in and all around them, even in the depths of winter.  Not to mention marvelling at their incredibly creative resilience in the fight for survival.  Through looking with a new lens metaphorically and physically this project has for me transformed a place I previously thought of as mundane, dishevelled and very plain, to a place of wonder that never ceases to bring me new discoveries each time I visit. 

Most importantly I’ve also learned that, by spending time at this spot, bearing witness to ‘Oakenshields’ many transformations, I have experienced the hope that the cycle of life brings. Now, at Imbolc, a time when the sap is beginning to rise, bulbs are pushing up through the earth and the days lengthen with the returning light, I see this cycle start all over again.

Is there a local pilgrimage that you make to your place of wonder? Have you too followed a landscape through the seasons? Or do you have a favourite tree you have watched over the years as it ages?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections in the comments below.


  1. Following the life of a tree for a year sounds like the best way of watching the seasons. It’s easy to see spring, summer, autumn and winter clearly shown in your photos but I guess with more regular visits, the changes recorded must be incremental at times.

    I have my eye on several trees dotted around my local park. There’s a hollowed out one by a small lake which I’ve been walking past for fifteen years. This post encourages me to record its life and growth more often. Thanks for inspiring me Lin.

    • Thank for commenting Sarah, it’s good to know that the main story of this little cluster of trees through the seasons has come across with the images I’ve included. I made many visits and yes there were many small, incremental changes that kept me coming back…seeing the two oaks change completely separately in Autumn and then Winter was one of the big surprises for me, not to mention the subtle, gradual colour changes of the leaves from the “maeinschein” of May to the burnt greens of late summer. It’s been a fascinating little project and I’m glad it’s inspired you.

  2. Lin, this is a lovely accompaniment to the sunset dancing outside my southwest windows. It’s beautiful to watch just one tree, and I’m sure it holds a whole village of creatures and plants. I have a close relationship to the oak tree where Vic wanted his ashes buried. There are many oak trees nearby, but I’m attached to that one and when life is challenging, I wrap my arms around it and feel supported by life. Thank you for sharing your Oakenshields, and, as Sarah wrote, for sharing the passage of a year with us. I’ve been inside a lot recently because of illness (I’m improving), but it will warm this week and I hope to visit my VicOak. Sending you love and gratitude, Elaine

    • Thank you Elaine for your lovely comment…it’s been a great lesson to me in how each tree follows it’s own path of transformation during the year, as well as introducing me to the birds that settle regularly in it not to mention a fox who has trotted down through the scene into the undergrowth on a couple of occasions. Having a tree to visit to support you in challenging times is so important – I think some might think us tree huggers a tad crazy but there is a comforting, or perhaps that should be grounding, energy about sitting against or holding onto a familiar arboreal friend, especially for you with Vic’s Oak. I would love to see pictures of that through the seasons. I’m so pleased that you’re health is improving now – I’m sure a visit to your VicOak will speed up your recovery even more! Sending much love and light.

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