Saturday, 22 March 2014

In the Beechwood

First and foremost I love trees, deciduous or coniferous, I love them all. I remember when my family lived on the edge of town. There was a clear border, between town and country then, a road with a hedge with tall trees. My mates and I would climb them; it makes me cringe thinking of the dizzying heights we reached as children.
I remember others nearby; there was a magnificent oak with easily reachable branches, alas it has gone now. A road now cuts through where it once stood, as thee town's border has lost its' definition. There is another  oak that still stands amid the new housing. It once stood guard over a bridge of old railway sleepers that spanned a deep ditch. Now reaching its' lower branches took a certain skill. I remember  the day I learnt the technique, but after that the branches urged me upward and the view was magnificent. I hope the tree will stand for decades more, but more housing is now planned around it and I fear there will be nowhere for its acorns to fall and grow, no other trees' roots to clasp in memory of the lost green.
When I was eleven we moved to live on the Blackdown Hills. What a wonderful upbringing I had. We were never well off but our lives were rich. We lived on the north facing slopes, our fields surrounded by woods of oak, ash and beech.
Beech trees! There are avenues of them on the Blackdowns and they have a dominating presence in every wood there. In spring they are arboreal cathedrals, their leaves cast green light as bright as stained glass windows, their bark is smooth and their trunks and limbs straight. I'm sure Tolkein's Mallorn trees which graced the Elven land of Lothlorien were based on beechs.
Below our fields there was a small wood. It was called a copse, but to me it was fourteen acres of magic and wonder. There were huge Holly trees with green, glossy branches hanging down. You could crawl inside, and if you sat still and quiet you could watch deer wander past you, oblivious to your presence.
At the far end of the copse were fields and beyond those you could see the hulking mass of a Manor House. On foggy days, looking at it through the old rusty railings that marked the wood's edge, the sight of it sent shivers up my spine, imagining what deeds had been done there long ago.
But near the entrance to the copse was a fine big beech. I would sit and lean against it trying to understand its language of creaks and wooden groans. It told me its name, but I wont reveal it here. Words are powerful, with them we shape our thoughts; names are doubly so and are not given lightly.
One summer's day I had finished my chores; the goat house had been mucked out and the chickens fed, so I went down to the copse on a whim. I greeted my Beechy friend and sat with it awhile. It was warm and my eyes grew heavy. A groan and a creak from above shook me from my threatened slumber. Looking up, from where my head had slumped, I saw a deer path, one I'd never seen before. I stood up and resolved to follow it. It was very faint, hardly visible in the dry summer earth. It jumped over fallen trees, the hoof claw marks visible either side, the bark worn away where the deer alighted on the tree stumps.
I kept following the track and suddenly the wood opened up. I looked up and saw a sight that has remained with me to this day. I was in a glade, framed by tall trees whose branches reached up and made a canopy through which sunlight slanted through. The forest floor was green with wood anemones, but in the middle of this forest chamber was the remains of an oak. It was the classic oak tree shape but it had not lived for some years. Its bark had been shed and it was bleached as white as bone. It took my breath away; you could see beams of sunlight slanting through from above, the air alive with tiny insects that danced in the warmth of the rays and brightly lit the skeleton of this tree. It was otherworldly and beautiful. I spent some time just drinking in the sight before heading home, resolving to return. But never again did I find that winding deer path or that glade that the beech tree told me of.
I should visit and say hello to my beechy friend again, I hope it will recognise me; my long, thick hair has now gone and the red beard I strove to grow is now white. What am I worried about? Of course it will recognise me; I know its name...


  1. What a gorgeous, evocative post Rob. I was there through the whole post, with you in the forest and deer path. I was always a child of the forest me, sadly although I longed to run through one wild and free, where I grew up, forests were scarcities. But there has always been something about the lure of the forest for me, as if in another life, I had been a tree elf or fairy!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it Paula. Yes, woods are sacred, magical places. I never tire of them. As for tree elves and Faeries well... I've a true tale to tell about that too, and not just from my formative years but very recently. There's still magic in the world, you just need to know where to look. ;)