Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Old Pine fell.

If I remember rightly, I first went to the Oxford Botanic Gardens almost exactly six years ago, as part of my Biology induction as a fresher. It was one of those times where you're like 'compulsory attendance? Can we stay here ALL DAY, thankyouplease?' 

We were shown around by the brilliant director, Timothy Walker, who sadly-sadly relinquished that role this summer. He was one of my favourite tutors, actually - in the first tutorial I had with him we spent the first five minutes in hysterics over an Armstrong and Miller sketch we'd both watched the previous day, while he ate his lunch. It was certainly a good way to break the ice before we delved into the scintillating world of the alternation of generations. (Yeah, I can even remember what the tute was about, six years later. Boom.)

I can only imagine all the things he did for that garden over the years - and it didn't take much of his story-telling and insight to make me fall in love with it. For example, did you know that the yew tree at the bottom of the first section of the garden (the oldest tree in the gardens, for that matter, planted in 1645!) used to be one of a pair - one of each sex - but when one was blown down in a gale in the '70s the remaining tree became hermaphroditic so it could self-pollinate? Genius.

(bee-tee-dubs, I tried to fact check this last nugget of information but found it nowhere, so you'll have to trust me that I think it's right...maybe.)

J.R.R. Tolkein and his beloved Black Pine
He also introduced us to Tolkein's Tree, the Black Pine (Pinus nigra). Understandably, this beautiful old tree was Tolkein's favourite, inspiring the tree-characters of his famous stories. Apparently he would sit and write beneath its branches. This picture was the last ever taken of Tolkein, and it was beside his beloved tree.

In my first year, the Botanic Gardens (or Bot Gards, as they affectionately became known) were my retreat. I lived in college, right in the centre of town, and the walk down the High Street to the gardens felt like leaving town completely. You can step inside the walls of the garden and forget the hubbub of the city entirely. It was (and sometimes still is) my complete escape. It's the place I go when I don't know where else to go; and the place I take people when they want to see My Oxford. And the best place to sit? Just to contemplate life? To journal and pray? To drink tea in a takeaway cup and discuss the twists and turns of life and love with a friend? Under the black pine, of course.

I can't really explain how you can get so emotionally attached to a tree. Honestly, it sounds bizarre. But I can't count the number of times I've sat underneath it and admired it's huge, curving boughs, run my fingers over the rough bark, and marveled at the way it looks utterly beautiful, regardless of the season or weather. It dominates the landscape of the garden. I have taken more pictures of this tree than I care to divulge, at every time of year, and in every mood. 

Just over a year ago, I took this photo, which I captioned, 'May I ever return to this spot. In the words of Sheldon, this is my 0,0,0.' I just loved the idea that no matter how much had changed, I could have a spot under a historic, yet living, landmark that I could always come back to.

However. Earlier this year the Black Pine suffered significant storm damage, and two of the boughs came down. After seeking the advice of professionals, the only option the gardens had was to fell the tree completely. This week, they released this video, of this beautiful, historic, landmark tree coming down...

I can't pretend I didn't cry the first time I watched that.

But, the Black Pine was my favourite photographic subject. So, in honour of one of my favourite things, here's a collection of shots I've taken over six years, in varying seasons, on different devices, with some of my favourite people. 

My lovely, lovely, tree; the gardens will never be the same without you.

18th January, 2009

David, not wanting to ruin his nice coat on the bark, but showing affection nonetheless
18th January, 2009

You can never get it all in one shot...
18th January, 2009

Straight up
10th December, 2009

Heth and Mike
10th December, 2009

3rd September, 2011

With Philibean
1st March, 2009

Tree love with Heather
13th March, 2009

Basking in sunshine
22nd May, 2010

24th March, 2010

Self-timed love
25th October, 2008 (When we'd only just met!)

Dad, joining our big family picnic under the boughs. That bench you see in the background? That's where you sit and contemplate life.
13th June, 2011

17th October, 2008

1st September, 2013

My joyful place to be!
2nd March, 2009 (the date on the picture is wrong!)
To leave, what song could be more fitting than the glorious classic, Old Pine, from Ben Howard? "As the Old Pine fell we sang, just to bless the morning."

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