Ever since I could open my mouth to sing I have had a great passion for trees. I can remember as a small child having a deep sense of their importance to me and to all beings, I had an idea that we belong together and I associated places with the trees that grew there.
This traditional folk song sung by Loreena McKennitt is the story of a magnificent tree, the great oak of Portmore in Ireland, which was fourteen yards in its circumference when it was destroyed in 1760.
My grandmothers house when I was very small had a crab apple tree outside it and later she moved to one with an ornamental cherry which I used to climb. It had two branches that I could reach with a running jump, a walk up the trunk allowed me to swing my legs up and over and I’d hoist myself up into its branches. I loved to be high up watching the ants march past and beetles going about their business. The world below felt far away.
From an early age I was able to identify trees in summer by their leaves and in autumn by their fruits but it was only recently that I learnt to tell them apart in winter by their twigs, bark and general shape.
At University I learnt that England was once covered by the WildWood, the remnants of which we now have in tiny pockets of so called Ancient Woodland, these are really just woodlands that date back to 1600 (when accessible records began), or in some cases to the Doomsday book of 1086, and may or may not be relics of the WildWood. Four hundred years may seem like a long time historically speaking, but it is less than half the lifespan of an Oak tree left to its own devices.
A great deal of the WildWood had dense undergrowth, and the trees covered the land from shore to shore. It seems that the Wildwood was ‘cleared’ for a variety of reasons; farming and settlement, ship building, cathedral building, and fear; fear of outlaws and fear of wolves.
I have always regarded the ‘clearance’ of the wildwood as a great tragedy, I would have loved to walk in forest for miles and miles, I wonder how it would be to not see the sky for many days, I know that it is easy to romanticise, but I think that is missing the point. Trees contain a huge diversity of other species, they are a Universe in themselves, they have a wealth of history, wisdom and Knowledge within them.
The Timeless Oak.
One thousand years of history
Have been eaten from within me
And there’s nothing that I haven’t seen
Here I have forever been
Here I have forever been.
Farmers toil and herdsmen call
My leaves from me did fall
Winter, summer Autumn fall
Growing strong I’m immortal
Growing strong I’m immortal.
Wind and storm and rain and snow
Has left me scarred and lightening struck
Has left me broken, but I live on
Acorn to Eternity
Acorn to Eternity.
And the battles I have seen
Sword and gun, men archers all
Their murdered bodies ‘neath me fall
Here I stand tall
Here I stand tall.
Birds and Beasts in my leaves crawl
Ivy climbs and tangles all
Full of life from within me
I am full and I am free.
The land around so much has changed
I stand alone a mark of time
From acorn out to hollow tree
One single giant Entity
One single giant Eternity.
I have often felt that I was born in the wrong time.
This is not so much romanticism, as a loss of connection with nature, knowing and understanding wild places is a bit like knowing, understanding and accepting yourself. I have wild untamed places; dark deep shadows where the wolves are fierce and hungry, and I have no intention to destroy them, I would prefer to know them, to be able to sense them and work with them instead of against them.
Nature connection is both an ideal and a strange idea to me; we are nature. We are entirely reliant on ‘natural’ resources: water, air, fire, earth, our food be it animal or plant grows on the Earth, our very cells are made of nature, our hearts and lungs are wild and untamed, you can run to your high rise, sanitised, organised shiny box but you cannot deny that you will have to pooh and drink, breathe and eat, and your toilet seat ends on the Earth. Even your birth is bloody and raw, we are animals to our very core.
We have lost our connection to nature because we no longer know Her; our water arrives in our homes through pipes, our food is transported to us in sterile boxes. The Wildwood is a scary place if you don’t know where to find water and food, or how to build a shelter, if you think you have to face it alone, or you cannot sense animals, if you have stopped living with nature and are fearful.
Trees are a fantastic place to start our reconnection with nature, and they are of course essential to our very existence, it is time we fell back in love with them.
Our Ancient Ancestors knew trees, they understood their importance and they felt a deep connection to them, they worked with them and lived beneath them. Spending time with trees can bring about an understanding of them and a connection to that wildness which we have lost in our indoor world.
I feel the strongest connection to the Oak tree (Quercus Robur; quercusmeaning Oak and robur strength), I am certainly not the first to have felt this, nor will I be the last. The Oak is native to most of Europe and was revered by Greeks, Romans, Celts and many other European tribes, sacred to Jupiter, Zeus and Thor rulers of thunder and lightening; the Oak is prone to lightening strikes far more so than other trees. For me the Oak is a symbol of strength and magic, its gnarly beauty shows that perfection is imperfect by its very nature. The druids (dru-wid means literally strong seer) worked in Oak groves, Duir (the Celtic name for Oak) means ‘the men of the Oak’.
There is so much that could be told of Oak trees, (This Article has a lot of information for the curious, and This One this one by Glennie Kindred whose knowledge of trees is vast and deep) but I simply recommend finding a way to spend time with Oak trees and form your own relationship with them, when I fell in love with the oak I had no formal ‘knowledge’ of oak trees but developed my own sense of what they mean. Spending time with trees brings about relationship, the same that it does when one spends time with people.
My other favourite trees include the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna, from either Krataios meaning ‘strength’ or Kratos meaning ‘always having been here’) I love Hawthorn because of it’s fantastic array of perfect little white flowers in spring, for me it means that the Spring has finally arrived, its blooms are a bold statement of celebration! I love to eat its fresh green leaves as soon as they grow they are known as bread and cheese and when they first grow they have a lovely satisfying taste.
The hawthorn is a magical tree, protected by big sharp thorns, it has many names the commonest being The May tree and The Faery tree, it has a long association with the magical. I find Hawthorn a strengthening tree to spend time with, I also find my way to the other world easily when I am with Hawthorn and inspiration is never far away. Other people may find a different association with Hawthorn, or any other tree for that matter, I believe our relationships to trees are as personal as those we have with our human friends, not only do they deepen over time but they are individual and are influenced by what we bring to them.
Rowan-The Mountain Ash, is another personal favourite of mine, I love the symmetry of its leaves and the stunning colour of its berries in autumn, I feel protected by this tree, as is the general consensus of the Rowan being a powerful protector from witchcraft and enchantment. Thor was saved by a Rowan Tree in the underworld; he was being swept away by a fast river and a Rowan tree leaned over so that he could climb out. I can imagine Rowan leaning over to save Thor, I can imagine it uprooting itself and walking across the hillsides when nobody is looking, to me it has a thoroughly magical quality, it is both delicate and strong all at the same time.
The Ash tree is an old friend to me; it was one of the first trees I was easily able to identify even in autumn and winter. I love to see the first leaves of an Ash tree in Spring, this year it feels as if it is late in coming and I have yet to see the bright new buds of an Ash. Fraxinus Excelsioris the latin name fraxinusmeans firelight and alludes to the fact that this wood burns even when it is green. It did not surprise me when I learnt that Yggdrasil the World Tree in Viking mythology is an Ash tree, this tree is so vast and magical it encompasses the World. Several of my songs were inspired by Ash trees as I have spent a great deal of time with them, I feel their support and they bring me a feeling of connection to my ancestors.
Nature of the Trees
There she stands, the tree, waiting on the land
Calling unto thee, come and take my hand
Others pass me by and seasons come and go
Nature of the trees to face the world alone.
There they stand; The trees, gathered on the land
Aching to be free, but rooted to the sand
Safely there they stand, embracing arm in arm
Nature of the trees, forests are their home.
Here I stand the tree, reaching to the sky
Stretching up my arms, basking in the breeze
The sun she holds me close, Ice doth chill my bones
Rooted to the Earth and intimate with she.
There she stands the tree, growing with the land
Peaceful may she be, full and tall and free
Her leaves they live and die, she knows each every one
Nature of the tree to stand tall and to thrive.
There they stand, the trees, majesticon the land
Beauty for to see, open up your eyes
Stand beneath their boughs, and feel their rugged warmth
Nature of the trees, to give their love to me.
I wrote the two songs ‘The Timeless Oak’ (2003) and ‘The Nature of the Trees’ (2005) after spending uninterrupted time with beautiful trees in Somerset, which is where I currently live. They have a distinctly traditional English Folk feel to their music. I will record them soon.
On the 28thof April there will be a Sacred Tree Walk in Glastonbury, Somerset, come along and spend some time with the trees….