THE GREAT OAK OF NATOLIN (Dąb Mieszko)

The tree bears its thousand years as one large majestic moment. Rabindranath Tagore


The Dab Mieszko (Mieszko Oak), despite what the sign says, is nearer 620 years old according to a recent dendrological study and not a 1000. Nevertheless, 620 is still a ripe old age, oak or otherwise. Mieszko, incidentally, was the first duke of the Polans, and lived from 935-992. The Mieszko Oak stands, helped by an arboreal crutch, in the southern suburb of Natolin on the eastern edge of the great suburb of Ursynow and on the western rim of Natolin Forest.

It’s difficult to grasp the expanse of time that this tree has crossed to be here today. At its birth the grand duke Jagiello (or Jogaila) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was most probably conducting a pact with Poland (1386) in which he agreed to accept the Roman Catholic faith, marry the Polish queen, become king of Poland, and unite Poland and Lithuania under a single ruler. Jan Dlugosz, the Chronicler of Poland was yet to be born, and Mikolaj Kopernik , the man who 'stopped the sun and set the earth in motion', was still an interstellar twinkle in his grandfather's eye.

The Mieszko Oak has already lived the equivalent of 10 human lifetimes, Jagiello's and Kopernik's included, and shows little sign of stopping. It has no doubt supported myriad life forms over that period, sustained and housed millions of existences, whether moss or lichen, insect or bird. It has withstood fierce weather and all manner of bacterial onslaught. It has also, as the plaque states, survived the wily ways of the most ferocious beasts of them all, the rampant property developer and the blundering building bureaucrat. That the oak has survived thus far is testament to the fact that not all things get signed away into oblivion and fall under the steamroller of progress.

Part of the reason why its difficult to grasp this tree’s longevity is, our own myopia notwithstanding, the context in which the Mieszko Oak finds itself. A few metres behind it lies the fence of a gated community, its homes and cars in full view. With this as a backdrop any chance of an temporary return to medieval times is sadly out of the question. Nevertheless, as the snapshot below shows, at the tree’s front, is a foreground (Rezerwat Natolinski) more conducive perhaps to a little time travel and a little ‘spacing out’ of the mind.

Natolin Reserve and Palace grounds, once part of the Royal Wilanów estate (Wilanow Palace and grounds are about 3km to the north-east), was originally a zoological garden belonging to King Jan III Sobieski (in the late 1600s). The estate was developed by King August II Mocny (Augustus II the Strong, Sobieski's successor) in the earlier half of the 1700s as a farm. The Palace was then built by Prince August Czartoryski in the 1780s, and the building thereafter served as a residence for different owners drawn from the Polish aristocracy who successively redesigned and developed the palace with the help of Italian and Polish artists and craftsmen.

Following heavy damage during the Second World war, the entire Natolin estate became state property, and from 1946 onwards was closed to the public, becoming the weekend residence of the President of the Republic. The restoration of the Palace and associated buildings was largely completed in the 1990s. The park now houses the College of Europe and the Natolin European Centre, and is now a nature reserve (rezerwat) accorded the appropriate protective status.

Like Warsaw’s many erratic boulders the city's aged trees bring a little ‘deep time’ to the urban table. Where the boulders might bring ‘death’ in the form of their inanimacy the trees most assuredly bring ‘life’ in its fullest and most resplendent sense.



The great oak of Natolin in the midst of Winter.

1 comment:

Berenika said...

Ah, Mieszko! I think I always thought about him as a companion. I could see his spot from my kitchen window. I was a common visitor to his grounds as a child...

Hope he will stay there for another 1000 years!