“Close your eyes, breath deep and remember. Bring to mind a tree, any tree. A tree that you have felt a special connection with sometime in your life. Listen carefully, you will know when it comes….”
And there it was.
The huge Scot’s Pine, of my childhood, the one on the drive.
It’s Latin name always used to make me giggle.
These trees have always sounded ‘male’ to me.
Other beloved, more exotic , exciting, tree-candidates danced just out of reach….trees that were more beautiful, more extraordinary….but this tree literally fought to be seen.
I realised that I did not remember it too well.
I remember always noticing it on the way to and from school.
I was generally unhappy, both ways, back then.
And so alone.
I’d lose all grievous thinking, momentarily,
when I looked UP, my eyes catching its russet glow
and the twisting drama of it high branches
in the light.
I retain remembered feelings of encouragement.
As if, in those moments, this seed-grown giant,
had given me some strength to go on.
To keep on fighting through all circumstance,
To be strong and resilient,
And not ‘bend to the weather’.
I decided to make the journey.
A kind of pilgrimage.
To thank it for that.
Feeling slightly guilty at the number of times I had simply driven past on our family visits and not thought to ‘check in’.
I wondered if this tree had a message for me.
And I worried for it, after all these years of gales.
What would I find?
Stepping out of the car, I gasped.
So often childhood memories seem smaller when revisited.
Not this tree.
It simply towered over me.
Perhaps it was not only that it had grown?
Perhaps I have become, somehow, smaller?
Was it just that my tree-love is greater
and my bow deeper with age?
I approached it reverently and laid my forehead on its scaly bark.
Listening for the sap rising.
It felt so still.
And smelt of fresh water.
The small stream gurgling at its feet.
I became aware that I could be seen from my father’s house.
And then, ridiculously, self conscious.
In my red raincoat.
I felt exposed.
I slid around the trunk, behind,
Hiding away from the uncomfortable, critical, glare
of those farmhouse windows.
What message could that sky soaring, majesty have for me?
So straight and strong.
It’s graceful, twisting heights, too high for all but birds.
Out of reach.
I remembered how I had always taken it for granted.
How it had always simply been ‘that tree’.
One tree among many others.
All so reliably always there for me.
Still growing there, under my father’s gaze,
But there so long before he ever was.
An ancient, native, indigenous, giant.
The backdrop for this, more recent, more exotic, garden.
So big, so reliably there, it was weirdly easy not to notice it, in passing,
Eyes tuned ahead and sometimes around,
Natural to just look past its scaly, trunk, towards all the flowers,
That is unless you stopped, stood back and craned your neck to see….
(Click on first image to view as gallery)
Standing there, another old guardian tree called to me.
I heard her shout!
From high up on the hill, behind the farmhouse.
As if one told me of the other.
I had completely forgotten her!
I had the time and needed a walk.
A hill oak tree. Sessile Oak (Quercus patraea).
Carved by the elements and wild exposure.
My old wishing tree.
A place I had often sought for comfort and to cry.
She had always had Time to listen to me.
There she was. Still hanging on.
Familiar mossy roots and rocks hugged my body as I sat down
On the livestock-worn earth between her toes.
And I sighed and leaned back into her memory.
Protected from the cold wind by this embrace.
I rested there a while.
Where rot had set in, in her ‘less alive’, branches,
Her own wood-body was now composting, in hollows, and giving birth to new life.
Tree ferns, lichens, mosses, (one tiny pine!), grow now, in these nurturing crevices.
This tree’s strength lies in growing so slow and craggy,
Keeping low and in the lee.
Branches twisting, as if around unseen obstacles in the wind.
Who had divinely taken root, and had survived,
with few other companions,
on this rocky outpost.
I wondered if, in her rings, she carried resonance of greater, ancient, forests, been once a part of something bigger, that had, long since, been eroded.
Grazing sheep and wild deer now keep all the area, around this exposed outcrop, a rough pasture of rushes, long grasses, cotton flowers, bracken, spagnum and deep, black, bog.
Perhaps that ancient forest still lies all around, preserved in the peat,
and she sings to them, her sad song,
as the wind rattles her branches.
A lonely survivor.
She just belongs to this place.
And I, like the sheep, was able to rest, once again,
in her shelter, and winter, melancholic, presence, still.
In this wild place, so far away from the garden.
Far away from any windows.
I felt welcomed and that she remembered me.
I spoke my soul, sang her a song,
and made a wish,
promising to return again before too long.
(Click on first image to view as gallery)
I painted a portrait of this tree when I first returned home, to Argyll, with the intention of settling here.
Titled ‘The Wishing Tree’, the painting was bought by my step mother, and still hangs in their home.
A home that lies, tiny, in the landscape far below, where this tree still grows.
A childhood home to which I no longer belong.
In a place where it is the land, and the weather, that owns us all.