Yesterday we were bewitched by one of the most wonderful trees we have ever seen. It’s called il quercione, (the big oak) and is in a location we would really like to keep secret, on the slopes of the hill of Montecarlo.
Why our hesitation in telling everyone where it is exactly? Partly it’s because too many visitors tramping around it could damage the oak’s roots, partly because the tree has traditionally supernatural forces, is also called the tree of the witches and could inflict harm on those unwilling to believe in the power of magic.
The mighty quercione is at least six hundred years old and almost eighty feet tall. Its trunk has a circumference of around fifteen feet and it canopy spreads to one hundred and thirteen feet in circumference. What, however, is the most extraordinary feature about the tree (which must be the biggest living being in the whole of Tuscany) is that its branches expand , horizontally, parallel to the ground, a very rare feature in this species and without any convincing explanation for this phenomenon.
The Oak of the Witches, as it’s also called, now finds itself in pretty good condition, despite some nasty adventures over the years.
We are incredibly lucky to see il quercione in its current state. During the late war the Nazis wanted to cut it down for firewood (they’d have needed some saw to carry out the operation!) but the local inhabitants bravely protested. In the sixties the tree was struck by lightning but survived relatively unscathed.
Legends about il quercione proliferate. It is said that at the Sabbath moon witches congregate in their coven and discuss future tactics sitting along the huge spread branches. Their meeting to discuss their forthcoming operations on the world has encouraged the branches to become even more outspread and mammoth-like to accomodate them. Since it’s also said that anyone who comes uninvited upon the witches’ conferences becomes mad for the rest of their lives we found it difficult to locate any relatively comprehensible witnesses to the fact.
We did, however, notice a local peasant at the foot of the tree having a panino and wine lunch break. He seemed quite at ease munching his repast just like as if he were sitting below any other old forest tree. Indeed, the peasant pointed out to us several other ancient green-robed senators and the whole forest has, indeed, a magical appearance worthy of the most fantastical pages of the Lord of the Rings.
The tree has also associations with that occasionally long-nosed puppet-turned-boy who was created in the vicinity, at Collodi. One version has it that this is the tree in which Pinocchio buried his money on the advice of the lame fox and blind cat in order to multiply it – a useful story to remember in a country which is regrettably infected with Ludomania. (Of course, the money disappeared in the pockets of the wily pair).
Even more dramatic is the episode where poor Pinocchio gets hung up on the tree. Being a puppet however, does have its advantages and he was saved from the extremes of strangulation by being made of the same material as the tree.
Botanically, the oak tree belongs to the sub-species of “Quercus pubescens” and its mass must make it one of the largest living organisms in Italian territory.
The disadvantage of any post is that if one describes something that really enters into one’s blood and fills one with awe and wonder then the feeling comes that only the worthiest should visit it. So if you find this extraordinary beast (for surely its branches remind one of something reminicent of the strangest science-fiction creatures in “Alien”) touch it gently with love for the extraordinary power it will give you to regenerate your life-energy, admire it for its great beauty, worship it for the wisdom it has gathered, learn from it through the history it has seen since it was first planted by a little bird at the start of the fifteenth century and be glad that you have seen one of the greatest wonders wonderful Tuscany can offer, hidden in the confines of one the most charmed places I have ever had the privilege to visit and where the most amazing woodland walks can be had.