Home Oak – Published in Stravaig #10

You call it home oak, I call it the fank oak. Of course it makes no odds, no two or three syllables can come close; the tree is what it is, old and lovely, quite beyond language beside Loch Etive. Still we stretch for words. Still we guess the weight of a heart beat.

Small birds’ wintersong spills onto the backs of cold hands. The oak tree is growing inside the old sheep fank like a soothe of symmetry in a landscape of bent and windtorn. A group of hinds and calves recedes up the hill and halts behind a wave of November rain. One coughs. Their slots are all around here, at the outer perimeter of the fank, beneath the deep stone walls, alongside the burn.

The oak shoulders and shelters, shelters and shoulders. It spreads a reach of branches that drips lichens’ verdigris across a landscape of ochres, golds, coppers. It’s a pulse of liverwort and mossy-warmth; of thriving and holding and divining; of bearings to future, present and past. As our toes numb, sporophytes hold on to rain drops and bark drips. A holly sapling shines in dark relief -untouched, utterly protected.

A blush of long-tailed tits lands lightly, is absorbed in the utmost branches, a belief of folded wing before moving on. Feathers catch a throw of syrupy last light. We lean against the trunk, lie down on raised roots. Looking up through lichen-wished branches we go high, bewitched by affinities. Our limbs, toes, fingers, grow colder still. Hearts throw sparks.

The place and its tree, the tree and its place, is a liminal home. An opening. A dwelling where all things rest upon, and thread through, everything. Red wren flicks in and out. We listen to the slowbeat of our bodies and the nearby waterrun under bog myrtle and molinia. Tiny ticks find wrists, crawl on cheeks. Stalwart. Determinedly seeking a home, and blood. One does handstands.

Now, three months on, snow lies thickly on Ben Starav. Still cold-toed, cold-fingered, we sculpt, engrave, hold onto words home fank oak because we want to, need to, keep imagining the handstand, the wing- beat, the mossy saturation of belonging.