Wanting a view, we uprooted you
Found you a corner, then heard your bark whisper:
“As I fight for the light that my absence lets through
And the heat’s bittersweet on the land where I grew
Do you ever wonder what you couldn’t see
Something that’s bigger than one olive tree?
Careless selfish foolish reckless
Let me die I’ll leave you breathless.”

SOPHIE OLSZOWSKI | Olive | Lyme Regis

Illustration: Tessa Prescott

Having decided to write my sestude about the sad olive tree in our back garden (sad because, since we moved it, it hasn’t looked quite the same) I hoped to find it would be a popular wood for making boats. We live by the sea in Lyme Regis, where much of life revolves around my husband’s boatbuilding business. While I hadn’t previously considered donating the tree to the cause, this project made me think that if we’d killed it, it might live on in another form. That is, until researching the uses of any wood sidetracked me into the perils of deforestation. But that’s a story for another time. 

Having found that olive is indeed a hardwood, hence suitable for keels and frames, I was certain I’d find beautiful olive wood boats. A google search  revealed that a well-known home decor shop sells (so popular it is currently out of stock) a handcrafted olive wood olive boat – “as handsome as it is practical, making it a valuable addition to any kitchen.” While somewhere, someone, has carved an entire boat, complete with a canopy and people sitting inside, from a single olive stone. But still no real boats (& I am prepared for someone to tell me that the olive stone boat is a spoof, but I also know such wonderfully silly things do happen). 

It must be, I decided, that olive trees are small, and so not a ready source of the lengths needed for boatbuilding. Or, as a colleague of my husband’s lyrically explained, “It tends to be a knotty wood and while its imperfections are in many ways the appeal when making smaller things, it can be a liability for larger scale projects.”

All true, but it turns out that financial drivers are the primary reason why boats aren’t made from olive wood: the economic importance of olives are such that trees are rarely felled, with occasional small decorative things like bowls and boards typically being made from pruned branches, trimmings or storm-damaged trees. I came across a charming description of turning olive wood with “…properties like wooden butter.” 

So it seems the olive tree, so lovely in life (except, currently, in our back garden), and possessing all sorts of charming properties – as the tree of wisdom, peace, hope, light, fertility, health, wealth and balance – is known more for beauty than utility in its second incarnation.