Saturday, 12 January 2013

Wood Spirits

Perhaps it's because I am a Celt that I have an affinity with trees.  Not just as a decorative part of the landscape, but as living breathing entities without which our planet would cease to exist.

My friend and fellow blogger Perpetua of "Perpetually in Transit" fame has some photographs of her local trees in her latest post which illustrate several of the things I feel about trees.

Not least of these, is  the sense that at some angles, and in some circumstances, trees might just not be quite as immobile as they appear.

Many years ago I was in the WRAC  based at Shrivenham, some four miles or so from Swindon.

At that time, we (the females at  The Royal Military College of Science) were allowed a weekend a month away from the base.

As most of us were 20 or less years old, we mostly used this weekend break to travel home to our families.

Along with just one or two others, I used to get a 'free' seat on the coach from RAF Watchfield, just down the road, into Swindon where I picked up my coach or train home, and returned by the same route.

Imagine my shock one Sunday evening, arriving in Swindon to discover that the RAF 'boys' had been told to return on Saturday, and there was thus no coach.

This was at about 11.30pm and there was no other transport, so, I did what I had to, and set out to  walk.

Not something I would even contemplate for a second these days, but, being young, fit and (relatively) fearless I started walking at a good pace, soon leaving the edge of the town behind, and striking into open country.

It was, fortunately Summer time and there was a good moon to see by.  Nevertheless, as the lanes narrowed and the hedgerows closed in, I quickened my pace and walked down the middle of the lane to avoid the shadows as much as possible.

Several hours (it seemed) later, and still with no sign of another human being, I was feeling distinctly nervous particularly when oddly shaped trees, and bare trunks of long dead ones, loomed up at strange angles over the road ahead.

There was very little traffic on the roads in those days, and no-one deemed it necessary to cut down dead trees, so they remained, huge and menacing looming over the landscape until some land owner or farmer decided to remove them.

Knowing I could be only about three-quarters of a mile from the camp I suddenly saw ahead of me, what appeared to be a tall thin man leaning across the road ahead.  Heart in my mouth I approached slowly and had just realised to my immense relief that it was a bare tree branch when suddenly, out of nowhere a man on a bike, without a headlamp came towards me.

My heart was hammering as he dismounted and said "You're out late, where are you headed?".

To my massive relief I saw that he was in uniform, had three stripes and was wearing the REME badge on his shoulder.

When I said "Becket" he turned his bike and said "I'll walk you back".

Recounting this to  my mother some months later, she was horrified that I had just accepted that since he was in uniform he must be OK.  When she made me promise never to take such a risk again, I replied that the only thing which had really rattled me that night, was the menacing trees.


  1. What a great story you recount Ray, thank you x

  2. An Officer and A Gentleman. Did you ever watch that movie?

  3. Would you believe Jane, even I find my past interesting to read about. At the time it all seemed very dull and routine, but now, when I read what appears on my blog it all seems a tad eccentric.

  4. No, I never did see "An officer and a gentleman", but the phrase is one I am familiar with. Rather less these days than in my youth however.
    Somehow good manners and well meaning behaviour was the norm in those days, and the opposite was the exception.

  5. I feel a sort of fellow feeling with some you I put it down to my Celtic roots....lovely post Ray

  6. Thanks Jean. I am not a tree 'hugger' but, daft as it may seem I feel some trees, particularly in my immediate landscape are old friends and that what harms them, harms me.
    There are exceptions to this rule, and among them are Yew Trees which abound in churchyards, and which I really detest.
    Some time I'll photograph the five outside the main door of St M's and write a post about my feelings towards them.

  7. You do tell a good story, Ray. I'm no Celt but a down-to-earth Northerner but I know just what you mean about trees taking on a different appearance and personality at night. I too love trees and feel a huge affinity with 'our'ash tree which has featured several times on my blog.

  8. The best stories are the true ones I think Perpetua. I tend to give my past a bit of 'spin',since i am looking at it down the wrong end of a telescope as it were, but essentially they are as they happened.
    Trees are such a very important part of our planet aren't they?
    I think the churchyard 'yews' are in for an airing pretty soon!

  9. I love trees & I am an unashamed tree hugger. There are some HUGE specimens over here in Canada as you can imagine. We have some lovely photo's taken over the years of myself along with my Dad and both my girls trying to link arms round their enormous trunks.

    Aris (my eldest daughter for those of you who don't know me, age 11) & I last summer had the opportunity to watch a man carving trees spirits from cotton wood bark. We loved his work & spent quite sometime chatting to him. Each piece of wood he carves ends up being a beautiful face which he then names. Imagine Aris' absolute joy when Grandma & Grandpa gave her her Christmas present. A tree spirit carving class given by the very same gentleman. I will try & send you a picture of the resulting person she carves in April.

    I am wondering why you don't like the churchyard yews, is it just the ones at St Mary's or yews in general?

    I find trees fascinating, especially the deciduous ones. They seem to have a completely different 'personality' with or without their leaves.

    Loved the story, it took me right back the the many country walks I have had in the English countryside. My heart started to race just thinking about them.

  10. I love the story about the tree spirit. Lucky Aris.
    Yes I agree about deciduous trees, in particular the silver birch. The delicate slender tracery of branches and twigs in Winter makes each one a 'lady', while in their fully clothed mode they are definitely male.
    The yews are another matter entirely and I will write a blog about them soon.