Carving Tree Stumps – 1

Summer Solstice last month, along with a new moon, and I suddenly found everything changed for me. I spent four days woodcarving while M had the time back in school. It was the hottest week of the year, so I could only work until the time the sun moved round…

This sycamore stump is from a tree that split three ways and managed to be a lot bigger than anything else, although the individual trunks weren’t. It seemed right to honour it in some way, especially as it is next to where I created a spiral.

My original idea, formed over a few months, was to carve it into a dragon holding a five pointed star. Our woodland has been informally named Dragon Star Wood – this name seems to have stuck, we might make it formal at some point, but it seemed right to honour that in our guardian stump here.

However, while I tried very hard to carry out my original idea, there were many reasons why my drawings are not the finished result. A quick list of the main ones… Because all the schools were closed I was unable to begin carving as anticipated. I have never done a large carving before, most of my chisels are small, and not really up to the job in the time available. Hot weather made the stump dry out rapidly, making greenwood saw blades struggle, and I didn’t have another saw with me. Drying out was also a problem for carving, as the speed of wood removal was painfully slow in the hard areas. We do not yet have a greenwood rip saw, also required. I did not have the confidence in my axe abilities at the start of the carving for the faster removal of wood. The buzzards have been using it as a perch, and I did not wish to either stop them or have them damage the top of any delicate features, like a dragon’s head…

Back of the carved stump, showing two of the energy lines emerging from stars at the base, and the third flowing out of the carved top.

Despite these difficulties, I carried on with the original plan, knowing it was impossible in the time available but still acting as if it might be, just in case some miracle happened. (And got pretty good with an axe, enjoying the practice!) Half way through my third day, having given it absolutely my best shot and tried everything I could think of, I decided to call it a day on the original design, and instead of carving a dragon, carve some dragon energy lines spiralling around the stump. What followed was a fairly organic design, carved mostly freehand, listening to the dragons, the woodland, and my inner self. I liked the rounded shapes the stump had become, and simply worked with them.

There are three lines, two in one directions and one the opposite. Each emerges from a star, one has leaves along it, one thorns, and the reverse one a mix of flowers and a spiral. I wasn’t sure at first about the thorns, but I realised they represented fire and provided balance.

Once completed, I extended the spiral next to the stump for its final circle, to start between this and a much smaller stump I hope to carve another week. (Not shown, it is further left than in the photo below.) The spiral on the stump is the reverse to the one on the ground, echoing each other and forming a pair together.

What amuses me most is how whimsical it has ended up – and how completely different to anything I would have done a few years ago. It shows me how much I have changed. It won’t last forever, it is only sycamore and has signs of rot in the top already. But the stump has been honoured, and next time I will know more.

Carved tree stump by spiral

Orchids

Common Spot Orchid in Woodland

Last year I wrote about receiving a sign in the form of an orchid if it was right that the woodland would become ours. (See An Orchid Sign, October 2019.) I didn’t have a camera that day, but promised to go back this summer to see if I could see them again.

Orchids and Buttercups under Ash trees, with oak seedling in foreground.

This is in a different area of the woodland to the orchid last year, and right alongside the footpath meaning that many people have had the joy of seeing them! It is a small patch of grass under some ash trees, so fairly light, although there is a sycamore seedling of one inch diameter growing in the middle that is now on my priority list to remove! I counted 16 flower stalks when I visited, though without wanting to trample too much. I believe they are all Common Spot Orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, but find it interesting how much the colour varies even within this small group.

Pale orchid

Dark orchid growing in same place


I have not yet found the previous orchid I saw, due to the brambles being too high to easily move about in that part of the woodland, but I remember it being taller and on its own in grass where a tiny patch of sunlight had made it through. Also it was in July, when these might have finished.

Looking the other way from the orchids, dog rose arching over.

At least I feel justified now in removing brambles! They are all flowering now, the birds are still nesting, and other vegetation around them is also quite high, so my plan is to do a bit each week from September or October onwards, whenever the weather becomes suitable and M is back at school, starting with the areas I haven’t yet done alongside the footpath. Hopefully I might also manage some of the less dense areas further in to keep our walkways clear.

Hogweed growing in one of the areas where the sycamores have been removed.


I have been amused at the state of one of my new paths that didn’t get used much! Since the drainage ditches are currently empty, they are easier to walk along.

What looks like a clear path is in fact ‘channel 3’ of the five main drainage ditches, the path I created runs along the top of the bank to the right at this point, but may be abandoned in favour of the ditch!

Woodland in May

Grassy area of woodland, with an encouraging number of tree seedlings.

The woodland has been transformed this month by the growth of understory plants, and leaves on the trees.

We have tried to improve the footpath in places, removing brambles along the edge before the weather got too hot to wear protective clothing, and removing some blackthorn so it could return to its original line in one section rather than along the drainage ditch! Numbers of walkers have massively increased, as might be expected, luckily it dried out just in time to cope with this many feet. There is a lot more to do along here, but probably in little bits now until the autumn.

I have been pleased and relieved to see that where I have removed brambles, they have mostly stayed removed. Just the odd shoot I missed or that broke off to deal with. There is a small patch of woodland not far from us where I noticed a dramatic reduction in brambles earlier this year, and some new trees being planted, all well protected. Two months on, the brambles are as dense with new sprouts as the untouched areas of our woodland – I can only assume they were strimmed to ground level and have now all grown back!

I have also been going along sycamore stumps removing fresh shoots emerging from the bases. Not all stumps have shoots, but we always knew some may need more serious treatment. They are getting hard to see in the lush undergrowth of hogweed and herb bennet in that area.

The hazels and yews I planted are doing well, glad they were not quite minimum size or they would be covered! They have got through the last bit of winter wet anyway, now I have to hope they can cope with drought!

We have found a few large white and brown feathers that are probably from a buzzard. I have had reports from walkers (and can see the evidence) that they use our logpile as a perch.

Woodland Beginnings

Yes, definitely mother to a few hundred trees… (see An Orchid Sign, last month.) They have been invading my thoughts, my dreams, all wanting attention. As the year turns it definitely seems like perfect timing, and I am ready for this now – after spending a couple of years being really confused about what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing. Amazing, to just have that sense that I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. I now realise this is what my life has been leading up to. I would be there all the time if I could, just loving whatever I am doing there, but the stormy weather has ensured I spend time getting things done at home on wet days and keeping myself in balance rather than wearing myself out.

This is part of a small woodland that was planted on a coal mine as restoration in the late 1990s. According to old maps there was some woodland here before the mining of the 1960s-80s, but not the same shape as what was replanted. The soil may have been imported, the trees were planted as young whips, (we have lived here long enough to have seen them when tiny) and the site was then pretty much left. How the tree planters chose what they did is unclear, although the majority of trees are native. We have (in approximate decreasing order) oak, ash, lime, alder, birch, sycamore, hawthorn, field maple, dogwood, blackthorn, rowan, cherry, hazel and willow. Some areas have a few of the same type grouped together, others are all mixed up. All of it is overgrown and hard to access.

I have had the advantage of a year of visits to give me a starting point, so I made a plan that I would remove brambles in the areas where they weren’t that dense yet, and try to map what was there to enable me to create a master plan to work towards, much as I have done in our small garden. However, a day or two before the woodland became ours, I had a strong feeling that we should remove the sycamores. I just realised they felt cold to me, quite different from the feeling I got of warmth and light from all the other trees in the wood. Odd that, because I actually quite like sycamores in many places and their timber can be made into many things, being fast growing, light and straight grained. The problem with sycamores is that they have huge leaves which block the light at all levels, and where sycamores grow native species tend to give up. There are enough sycamore woodlands in this area already, here there is an opportunity to do something different if we act fast while most trees only have a diameter of 4 inches or less. And since we need to thin the trees out somehow it makes the choices much simpler.

Therefore my first job has been marking sycamores before they loose their leaves and are harder to identify at a distance – at this age their trunks are often remarkably similar to ash or alder, both of which grow here, although a quick touch gives me the different energy immediately and with practice they become obvious by sight as well as feel. I am glad to say this is creating some small clearings which already feel good, while M is happy that she can do some den building with the branches. The piled up logs now make an excellent place to sit for lunch! Next year I might plant some hazels where there are spaces, given the lack of understory planting at present.

I have managed a bit of bramble bashing, but they seem to grow out of puddles in this weather! Also all the wet weather has shown an urgent need to clear the drainage channels that were created on planting so that they work again – easy and fun where I have cleared the brambles, but trying to do the odd bit of drainage work around even thin strands or bramble or dogrose left me with more cuts and splinters. I’ll learn. Currently my future plans look likely to involve a lot more willow to make use of the excess water, or else a pond!

Bluebells

Bluebells in once-coppiced woodland

Bluebells in once-coppiced woodland

In a beautiful demonstration of succession, this is the same patch of woodland as the wild daffodil photos I took at the end of March.

They are a little more spaced out than elsewhere in the wood, and therefore slightly less of a blue haze (even allowing for the less than ideal light conditions) – I presume this is because they are sharing the rootspace with other bulbs.

Bluebells in Silver Birch wooded area

Bluebells in Silver Birch wooded area

It may also be because they prefer different conditions – these two photos are from another area with silver birch and hazel rather than beech and sycamore. (Click for larger images.)

Bluebells by hazel tree

Bluebells by hazel tree