Beech

What can I say? Life’s a beech!

Beech is one of my favorite childhood trees. I still love wrapping my arms around their trunks, leaning into the warm, smooth bark. Beeches are just so approachable, they practically beg to be hugged, climbed, slept under, and crouched in. My alma mater had several large beeches, as did the university where my father taught. Thus in my mind, beech is associated education—apparently the ancient German tribes agreed to some extent, as the Anglo-Saxon word “boc” or “beech” also meant “book.”  But beech also emphasizes the pauses between learning, where the mind expands up into its fluttering leaves and makes associations at the trans-rational level, cementing knowledge in a way cramming never can.

According to Grieve, beech leaves contain large amounts of potash, which helps renew the soil. The large root system circulates air through the ground, making it a very good nurse tree for surrounding vegetation. Young beeches can also protect gardens as they do not drop their leaves during the winter and this can provide some cover for more tender plants. Despite its giant size, the wood of Fagus sylvatica is actually short grained and quite inflexible, and thus used mostly in small projects like parquet flooring, bentwood furniture or tool handles. However, it is almost unparalleled in heating power when burned (Grieve 1931).

Cunningham (2003, 52) associates the beech with Saturn, but interestingly enough, does not provide an element. The age and gnarled quality definitely gives off Saturnian vibes, and in many ways I feel beech takes on some of the roles traditionally assigned to the yew in Europe, such as associations with the ancestors or journey work. Elementally speaking, beech embodies the essential qualities of Fire, both because of its practical use as a fuel, and because of the expansive nature of its growth. I’ve found the gender of beeches, more than any other tree, to vary considerably depending on the specific individual—some are quite motherly, others feel like a professor watching over your shoulder. The Murrays (1988, 72), followed by Matthews and Worthington (2008, 103) find a connection between the forfeda ogham Phagos and the beech, though it should be noted that there is nothing in the original Irish texts to support this—personally I like the idea and it works for me, but your mileage may vary.

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