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Life Lessons of The Turner’s Oak

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

If there’s one thing I always LOVE stumbling across… it’s a metaphor.

They always seem to appear in the most unlikely of places, and this latest gem - it was no exception.

It came to me, quite curiously, whilst watching a channel 4 documentary on the 'Great Storm of 87.'

The programme charted the far-reaching implications of this history-making extratropical cyclone, whose hurricane-force winds wreaked widespread damage across the UK, some 36 years ago.

I watched with interest, as the narrator went on to explain how one of Turner's Oak trees at Kew Gardens which was up-rooted by the ferocious gales (and which had been failing to thrive previously) suddenly and unexplainably began to flourish after it was re-erected as part of the aftermath operation.

For this particular tree, the cyclone had proved a blessing in disguise. The reason? It had relieved the roots of the 'soil compaction' that had, up-to-that-point, been hindering its health…albeit unbeknownst to Kew Gardens' arborists.

With its newly reconfigured foundations, the tree was free - so to speak - to enjoy a new lease of life!

As the moral of this story gradually became apparent, I found it hard not to project its 'no pain no gain' hues onto the fact that I too, was about to be strategically 'up-rooted.'

It sounds rather dramatic, but with my first house move in twenty years now but a few weeks away (with any luck), I couldn't help but feel the ties that bind already beginning to tighten their grip, as though in resistance to the upheaval that was to come.

I began to wonder, in the context of this cautionary tale, whether this home I'd stayed in so long, had been subjecting me to the subtly-stifling effects of ‘root compaction’, without me having even realised it?

If so, would I only fully appreciate the impact of this hinderance, with the bitter-sweet benefit of hindsight?

Whilst conceding this could, in fact, be a very real possibility, I sensed that the resonance I was feeling with this particular story - it maybe ran deeper than the psychology of an impending home move.

I tried (for many hours admittedly) to pin down exactly why it was that the 'soil compaction' explanation only felt like half the picture. Ultimately, however, all I could deduce was that it seemed to give all the credit to 'ecology' (ie. better soil), and very little to that supreme, invisible power-force that is... resilience.

To better understand and back-up this opinion that I was forging, I Googled the term ‘soil compaction.’

What came up, was this:

‘Soil compaction is a reduction in large pore space which reduces soil oxygen levels and decreasing soil drainage. As a result, rooting depth is reduced.’ - Colorado State University

It was a description that - to me - seemed to encapsulate the qualities of that often dense, cluttered and complex topsoil of modern motherhood.

Suddenly, the sparseness of the foliage. The lacklustre leaves. It all made perfect sense!

However, these appearances were, as they always are, a little deceptive.

After all, far from 'failing to thrive', the tree in this season was probably growing richer. Stronger. More adamantine by the day. Not in spite of its insufficiencies...but because of them.

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