The Tree That Has Seen Many Times

I was out in the garden earlier – evening was falling, and I was spending some time with the copper-beech. It is a wonderful tree – in so many ways wonderful. I have written this about the experience.

She puts her arms as far as they can reach around the trunk – it is not very far. The huge trunk must be at least three times as wide as any other tree in the garden – except perhaps the yew – a great old tree, dark, spooky and scraggy, which like the beach had no doubt seen many times. Lightly, she feels along the rough bark with her small fingers. The great trunk of the tree is full of many gashes and blemishes, some of which look like long ago they might have been a name carved into the trunk when the tree was young, and have now become illegible from its growing.


She looks upward, ever upward, following with her eyes the knotty, twisted, winding trunk as it turns and branches upward toward the sky. Looking up like this gives her a strange, dizzying feeling, like looking up a staircase of time. The dark twigs are silhouetted against the faintly darkening blue sky, and one branch has some withered leaves upon it that have stayed attached all through the winter. A few lines of Tennyson come into her head. They described an oak tree, but they were perfect for describing the beech as well – ‘And the solemn oak tree sigheth, thick leaved, ambrosial, with ancient melody of inward agony’. She thinks – and it was a thought that her mind could hardly hold – how many hands must have touched the bark which she touched now – a Georgian or Victorian lady, perhaps, in a wide crinoline and lace sleeves. Was there ever another, she wonders, who loves you, tree, as I do?  I wonder…….. She puts her foot upon a knot near the bottom of the trunk, and raises herself so she can see over the hedge and into the neighbour’s garden. I am on the edge of two gardens, she thinks, and able to see into both, as you, great tree, are on the edge of two times, and able to see into both. How odd a thought that is…

Oh, how lovely, a little robin! – as one of the red-breasted birds flew up from a bush on the other side on the hedge with a little flurry of brown wings.

She now remembered – alas –  that there was tea to be eaten, and with a word of farewell, she turned to run up the grassy path. As she ran, she took a glance behind her at the tree, and a memory came back to her  – of a day when she had been sitting by the radiator, looking out the window. It seemed to her then, that the bare rose bushes in the garden and the view behind them were stirring and and waving and rippling like a reflection in the water. Her  mother told her that this was the tapestry of time being blown around – that it might one day be thrown right back for a moment, and she might have a glimpse of the past behind it. Her father told her that it was not magic – that it was the heat-waves from the radiator that made it look odd. But she had always half believed it was the time tapestry, especially when, as she was playing in the garden, and nowhere near a heater, it seemed to her that it again happened.  

So she almost expected, despite knowing it to be impossible, that she would see the beech wave and dip as had happened before, when she  looked back. But she did not.  


12 thoughts on “The Tree That Has Seen Many Times

  1. Tass and I were talking about something magical and you gave us the scientific explanation and, quite unfairly, I laughed at you for it! Nanny is always ‘gone with the fairies’ as your father will tell you.

  2. I love the idea of the copper beech as a time-tree, Ide. It reminds me of a craggy old oak tree in the garden at home that I used to climb as a child. It’s still there, though I don’t think that I could climb it now. The low branches that I used to pull myself up on have died back. It still looks to me like an old friend, though.

    • Thank you Grace. Your relationship with the old oak tree sounds very much like me and the beech. Trees can become so much your freinds – almost part of you. I wish I was you as a child, climbing the oak tree.

      • I have just uploaded an avatar of myself standing in front of an ancient crack willow tree – another old friend. It has a gigantic three-pronged trunk which is all twisted and broken, and must be many centuries old. I could only show one little section of it in this photograph! There is a lovely book called ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, by Jean Giono, which is all about trees and how they can bring solace to the people who befriend them.

  3. Also reminds me of a poem by Richard Wilbur, ‘Advice to a Prophet’:
    ‘Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
    Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
    When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.’

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