This weekend just past has to count among the more extraordinary times in my life. Not just because we raised the treehouse platform, though we did that. Not just because the weather was beautiful and the meadow and trees were in their prime. But because around 20 people, from the age of 11 to 92 (yes, 92, albeit briefly in this case) had a daylong, muscle straining, totally focused, axe wielding go at the ancient craft of riving: that of splitting a huge, green oak butt into shingles, laths (strips, essentially), and pegs, all destined for the tree house. All this under the watchful eye of Richard Archard, expert lath, shingle and peg maker. Here is the story of the oak butt, and what happened to it, in photos.
The oak tree was struck by lightning a year or so ago, and its owners, Sue and Tubby Peto, had to have it felled. They very generously donated it to us – it is a lot of oak!
Meanwhile, over in the treehouse corner, the Dove carpenters were preparing – joining and pegging – and then raising the main frame that they have been making over the summer months.
While this was happening, the barbecue was on its way.
There followed a classic night of human activity after a hard working day: songs, laughs, bonfire and booze. When the stars came out they were stunningly bright, and framed by the trees around. There were even some of the shooting stars we had been promised (more a trickle than a shower, I have to say). A late night for some.
Sunday morning, and the rivers gathered, the carpenters made new joints, Jim extracted 4 curved handrails from a huge, unstraight piece of oak he had had for a while, and at the end of the day the laths (strips) became balusters (uprights between the newel posts) and we could start to imagine the full beauty of what was being coaxed into being. But how that will look is for another day: we ran out of time and couldn’t join the pieces just made, to the frame. Next time.
People keep asking me: is the tree house up? and I reply, not yet, it’s still very horizontal. Timber framing seems to me a lot like lego. You select the pieces, or in the case of timber framing, you actually MAKE the bricks, and then you join them together, which happens very fast. Our treehouse is at the ‘making the bricks’ stage, and believe me, it’s hard work, but there’s a lot of learning in it, and this knowledge can be used in every area of woodwork. Take mortise and tenon joints, for instance. The classic, simple yet strong way of creating a join between two bits of timber. Here’s one that Josh is tapping together.
Here’s a beautiful mortise that someone in the women’s’ team has completed (Clare?). All accomplished with a bit of power drilling and then accurate chisel work.
And here (at the front) is Bethan’s tenon.
Jim has decided to create two ‘teams’ for this stage: female and male. This is to do with confidence building, but also because he has observed that the sexes co-operate differently. For instance, women ‘huddle’, he tells me.
A similar situation with men: no huddle.
At the end of another immensely hard working day we have this, in the men’s corner
And this in the women’s
I can start to see how this is all going to end up (‘up’ being the operative word) like the design that Jim drew up from last time’s direct design in the treehouse corner. No ‘house’ yet (that’s the easy bit, Jim assures us); but a strong, sturdy platform for whatever we choose to build on it. The surrounding trees will not be used structurally as they are too young, but will enclose the space, and may well get partially incorporated into the build.
Our cook today was Faye Suzannah, who produced a great Mexican lunch and lots of cakes, and even found time to do some screenprinting in the studio in between.
Day 3 of the tree house build process. Jim’s injured right ankle is quite a bit better, though still delicate and requiring painkillers (did I say? We had to cancel a weekend in June). He’s looking very cheerful, though, and bless him for running this workshop today.
Ideas came thick and fast, the group process was wonderful, and the structure came down at the end of the day, to be rebuilt in oak another day – tomorrow with any luck.
One of the Tree House Library commissions is a book called ‘Field of Dreams’, currently in the making by Jenny Graham, who visits the White Field each time she comes to the Dove (often weekly, for the Fingerprint group of printmakers). Here are some of the pages, as she describes them on her Facebook page:
‘A few pages of the artist’s book I am working on for Amazing Space II during Somerset Art Weeks at Dove Sudios. The piece is based on an ancient wildflower meadow near the Dove and all the prints are taken from vegetation collected (very judiciously) from the field. Coloured pages and text still to come.’
Two botanists visited the field on a hot day in June and have done a count of all the different plants there: the list numbers 112. Astonishing, and no other meadow like it for miles around. A seed bank for the future (for Wild Lea, the Dove, Greenhill and Avalon Permaculture too we hope – we’re working on it).
It’s Solstice, the weather is in the thirties, just over the hill everyone is heading for the Festival, but here at the Dove in the quiet, things are happening.
An absent artist (Laura Burke), her paintings arranged on chairs ‘like friends’. Too hot to paint.
Another artist at work.
and a real bee in – clover
Circle 1 – seen in the Tree circle
Circle 2 – our Solstice fire
And so often here – that beautiful evening light over the Tor.
Spotted yesterday in the Dove Meadow: pyramidal orchids. Not nearly as many as on the White Field, but we’re getting there.
These yellow rattle flowers may not look all that remarkable, but they are great news for a wild flower meadow. Yellow rattle is semi parasitic on grasses, which means its roots bore down into the grass roots and suck the life out of them Not all of their life; just enough to ensure that they are weakened and grow very small, which allows other plants to take root. So it’s heartening that the handfuls of hay from the White Field that I scattered over the Dove Meadow last Autumn have resulted in yellow rattle colonies.
But a super abundance of hogweed, as here in the Tree Circle,
meant that the field had to be cut early, orchids, rattle and all. Now it looks like this:
That’s management for you. I hope I’ve done the right thing.
Over in the Door House, to be seen here stretching canvases on the the verandah, is another new arrival: Laura Burke, here on a 6 week painting residency funded by ACEarts in Somerton. She set up a work table almost immediately, and will also be doing one of the Amazing Space Book Commissions for the Tree House.
Talking of the Tree Circle, as I did above, June 10th is the first day of the Oak tree in the Celtic lunar calendar. (The Tree Circle Calendar, or Alphabet, is a planting of 13 native trees each starting with a different Celtic consonant and arranged in order of the 13 lunar months of the year). The other night – the 10th, as it happened – I photographed the just waning full moon, and in the process of writing this post, have discovered that the Celtic name for the June full moon is the Oak Moon. Makes sense: this is our home grown name for what is sometimes know by the American Indian name of ‘Strawberry Moon’. So here, behind the ‘Big Oak’ – the largest and oldest tree in this part of Butleigh, I give you – The Oak Moon