We’ve read about forest bathing, we’ve practised our mindfulness walking barefoot under the leaf canopy – hell, we’ve even hugged a few trees and our conclusion is that they are generally and overall magnificent. Let 2024 be the year of the tree.
According to the Woodland Trust, trees help us manage climate change, increase the planet’s biodiversity and boost our health and wellbeing. “Research has shown that chemicals called phytoncides, released by plants and trees, strengthen our immune, hormonal, circulatory and nervous systems when we breathe them in. Trees also improve our quality of life - offering relief from the symptoms of anxiety and depression”. (woodlandtrust.org.uk).
Dr Gabriel Hemery is an author, tree photographer, and silvologist (forest scientist). He cofounded Sylva Foundation to help nurture a wood culture and currently chairs the Forestry and Climate Change Partnership. His latest work is The Tree Almanac 2024: A Seasonal Guide to the Woodland World, published late last year. This beautiful tome is a treasure trove of tree-based information, including practical notes for the garden (or forest), arboreal plants animals and funghi, crafts and recipes, traditional folklore connected to trees and forests, and the Celtic Tree Zodiac.
“Trees transcend time with a fortitude and grace that humans can only reach in their dreams or describe in works of fiction. They are time sentinels, experiencing climate change unlike any other organism, whilst their long lives are particularly vulnerable due to their immobility. There are trees alive in Britain and Ireland today which were adolescents when human society was still in its mere infancy, when we relied heavily on wood to build, transport, cook, hunt, farm and more.
I have written this book to celebrate the majesty and minutiae of our trees, but it is impossible to do so without also acknowledging the wider context in which we all exist together. I wouldn’t want the reader to confuse my passion and admiration for sentiment. I am equally inspired by a tree’s utility to humans and the myriad of wildlife which it nurtures below ground, inside its shoots and timbers, and among its spreading canopy. In writing this, the first tree almanac for Britain and Ireland, I hope to share a little of my curiosity and knowledge. I wish to reconnect the reader with nature, to inspire you to observe and watch, care and play, smell and taste, and nurture and love trees.”
The following extract is reproduced with kind permission of Robinson Books.
CELTIC TREE ZODIAC
Celtic astrology is based on a lunar calendar, which adopts the thirteen cycles of the Moon to comprise a year. The thirteen cycles of twenty-eight days combine to make up three hundred and sixty-four days, with a ‘transition’ or ‘creation’ day to complete the year. This was the calendar adopted by Ancient Britons and Celtic druids.
British poet Robert Graves (1895–1985) proposed the idea that each Moon cycle was linked to one of the sacred Celtic trees from the Early Medieval Ogham alphabet. It allows for the inclusion of bramble (sometimes named vine), ivy and reed, none of which actually qualify as trees by modern definition. Depending on when your birthday falls, you may find your character corresponds with the nature of one of the thirteen trees.
24 December - 20 January
You are a pioneer, quick to grow and prosper. Your presence provides grace and beauty but you have great strength and tolerance. Your caring nature means that others near you always benefit and you are not unknown to sacrifice yourself for others. You like to be among others of your kind. Even in death, you provide homes and food for others. Compatible with Bramble and Willow.
21 January - 17 February
Sometimes great things come in the smallest forms, and so it is for Rowan. You can light up any situation if you choose, though you often prefer a quiet and solitary life. You are able to persevere and succeed in situations few others can even imagine. Your resistance is legendary. Your spirit provides solace and protection to others. Compatible with Ivy and Hawthorn.
18 February - 17 March
With quiet strength and grace, your presence transcends the ordinary. You have an innate ability to heal hearts and minds, and bring others together. You are recognised as a leader among others, possessed with a sense of majesty, you are humble too. Undoubtedly a sunworshipper and given to be a little proud, sometimes your stature attracts the unkind. Yet you can flex and bend like any other, with the resilience to bounce back against the cruellest adversary. Compatible with Willow and Reed.
18 March - 14 April
Your fondness of the aquatic is well known. You are a generous provider of gifts and food, self-lessly taking pleasure in sustaining those around you. In fact, those in your circle tend to benefit from good luck and prosperity. You have a rare talent for understanding different points of view, with an uncanny ability to ward off the unpleasant and evil. At your heart, you are more durable than any other. Compatible with Hawthorn and Oak.
15 April - 2 May
You are the spirit of any place, graceful, lithe and ever youthful in body and mind. Highly sociable, you are quick to adapt to a situation and comfortable in the company of others. You have an innate ability to bind parts together, weaving strength and protection into every situation. When you choose to, you blossom like no other, attracting whispers of admiration from the wind. Compatible with Birch and Ivy.
13 May - 9 June
Whilst you may come across as a little prickly, you have a heart of gold. You are creative and extraordinarily resilient in the face of adversity. To the admiration of others, you are the first to spot opportunities to grow and prosper in almost any situation. Some say that you can be a little fey or overly romantic, but you are also very practical. Your willingness to lay yourself down and offer protection to others draws admiration. Compatible with Ash and Rowan.
10 June - 7 July
Strength is deep within your body and soul. Even when young, you possess a maturity beyond your years. Some may think you big-headed, but those who know you better can only watch in admiration at your incredible ability to foster and care for those around you. Even though you have a propensity to attract bolts out of the blue, your legendary strength means you are relied upon to build constructive and lasting legacies. Compatible with Ash and Reed.
8 July - 4 August
Sometimes you hide in the shade of others, but everyone recognises your nobleness and tolerance. It is true that you can be a little prickly when young, but this is often a necessary trait to buck the trend and you soon grow out of it. In fact, your smooth features, together with the pure white soul you exhibit in later years, draws admiration at every turn. You are fiercely protective of those within your inner circle. Compatible with Ash and Elder.
5 August - 1 September
Otherworldly and irrepressible in equal measure, you possess a unique ability to regenerate. Always positive and energetic, you bend and pleach to support others, whatever their burden. Your generosity regularly involves nurturing those around you, plying them with a harvest of goodness, however tiny and precious. While everyone recognises your fierce intelligence, some believe you have magical powers to bewitch and enthral the supernatural. Compatible with Hawthorn and Rowan.
2 September -29 September
You may come across as indecisive but only because you like to explore every opportunity as you develop. While you may be resistant and capable, you do rely a lot on others to help you get along. Luckily for those around you, your generosity knows no bounds and you tend to form tight and fruitful bonds with your nearest and dearest. Compatible with Hazel and Willow.
30 September – 27 October
Your friendship bonds are legendary, and much admired by those outside your embrace. While it is true that you rely on others for much of your life, you particularly come into your own in later life. Your tenacity and determination to survive, even during the darkest of times, means that sometimes you can come into conflict with Bramble. Yet among friends, you are hospitable and reliable. Compatible with Ash and Oak.
28 October- 24 November
Home is important to you, and wherever you are, you put down roots as deep as any tree. Whilst some may see you as hollow, you have a good heart. You protect and shelter those dear to you, like no other. You possess a creative spirit, in particular a talent for crafting words of beauty much admired by your friends. Being empathetic, you are often called upon by those in need, having the ability to soothe and nurture them while passing from one place to another, however otherworldly. Compatible with Ash and Oak.
25 November – 23 December
Freedom-loving, wild at heart, and fiercely independent, no one must stand in your way as you seek one challenge after another. Sometimes extrovert, blossoming with fruitful creativity, you also have a tendency to become withdrawn. Although you are generous and friendly, those who attempt to cut you down in any way will soon realise their folly. Compatible with Alder and Holly.
The Tree Almanac 2024, A Seasonal Guide to the Woodland World (Robinson, 2023) is available from all booksellers. gabrielhemery.com. All images ©Charlotte Day.