Beech Trees and Book Woods

Beech trees along Baltic

The trees are awakening here on the prairies and like every spring, I marvel at their magic.
Jane Gifford’s The Wisdom of Trees: Mysteries, Magic and Medicine came out back in 2000.  One section tells about the beech tree. I’ve not encountered beech trees here in Manitoba. Maybe our prairie winters are too severe. 

Maybe that’s why I noticed them when cycling along the Baltic back in 2019. Beech forests are found throughout Europe.  I welcomed their cooling shade after yet another sloping hill turned steeper than our intrepid leader promised. It was in the towering, gloomy beech woods that I tried to imagine the Second World War refugees hiding from their enemies.

Buchenwald, meaning 'beech woods', has become synonymous with the Buchenwald Concentration camp, about ten kilometers northwest of Weimar. Once known for its beech trees, almost 250,000 people were brutalized by the Nazis in that beech tree prison. 

Shade in my Garden
But the beech tree has more positive associations. Beech tree seeds, or nuts, were used during hard times to create ‘ersatz kaffee’ and even used as a tobacco substitute. Beech tree oil and butter is a common by-product and beech wood is favoured for carving wooden spoons and other household utensils. 

But the most interesting thing about beech trees—for a book-lover—is that the word, beech, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word boc, which became the German word Buch. Buch became buchstabe, meaning letter of the alphabet.  So once Buchenwald was not a place of horror. Once a Buchenwald was a forest of books. A library.  Before modern paper production, beech wood could be used for early writing tablets. And, as Gifford points out, beech tree are great for carving lovers' initials.

Even if I can’t grow beech trees in my garden, I’m still appreciating their impact. Like Cicero said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Part of my home library


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