Monday, March 17, 2008

The Queer Humming Stag Oak –Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Sunday March 16, 2008

It had rained all night. The ground was sodden. The trees dripped solemnly. The bitterest of winds invaded, poking between my collar and my neck, nipping at my knuckles beneath my woollen gloves. My companions and I walked down the well-trodden paths towards the Major Oak, almost alone, everyone else having retreated into the warmth of the tourist shops and cafes nearby.

My companions described the trees. So many struck by lightening, their tops jagged and starkly pointing, like a forest of ancient wooden stags. The trees watched us as we moved amongst them.

A great old oak stood, a great curving gash revealing its hollowed-out inners. We squeezed in and lent into its curved walls, columned and varied by the rising sap, worn away by the activities of insect and the action of decay. It was cosy and comfortable and we sang:

“Deep into the earth I go,
Deep into the earth I grow
Deep into the tree I go
Deep into the tree I grow.”

The wood took our song and gently offered it back to us. Harmonies and woven tunes wrapped together in the hollow trunk. To a passer by, we would have been invisible. I smiled to think of them coming across a harmoniously singing tree and imagined it swaying and rocking, lost in the music.

Emerging into the cold wind once more, we moved on, circling and examining trees, hands honouring their magnificence as we waited for the right one to call. Stag headed, many trucked, some with holes, others hollow, we moved on until in front of us stood a fine specimen, complete with his own holly crown in the shape of a bush growing between two branches. This was the tree.

I settled myself down on one of his roots and breathed quietly, allowing the rhythm of my flowing blood to join that of the tree. Firmly I began to bang the ground and sing the name of the god of the wildwood, for surely this was his domain. My voice wove in and out of the sound of the thudding stick, the soft rattle and the cascading song of a nearby robin. I waited, breathed and was still.

The moon was full, silhouetting the jagged branches black against the silver, like huge antlers. Dark shadows splashed across the path as I stepped carefully through the forest. All was still, nothing moved, even my footsteps were muffled on the leafy carpeted floor. But I didn’t feel alone.

I walked on, looking to left and right, veering from the path to approach some great tree, turning back when I found it was not the one I sought. No matter, I felt safe and at peace, the stillness of the great black trees, soothing me.

In time I plunged amongst the trees, staking through the deep bracken and littered branches, my instinct leading me on. A wide and squat tree stood in front of me, contorted with age, thinned and curved. Great swellings like huge gnarled breasts, some nippled, some smooth, protruded from her thick trunk, reminding me of a fat old goddess. But he was crowned with asymmetrical and jagged set of branches like huge antlers. He was every bit the proud stag.

I sat down between two great feet and rested my head on a lower swelling. The tree seemed to shift and grow closer to me. I turned my head to put my ear to the wood and listened. Deep down in the depth of the tree, or was it the earth, right on the edge of my hearing came a rumbling growl. Tuning in to the sound, I began to distinguish a pattern of tones – not quite a tune as we would know it but yet, a song none the less. The tree was humming.

Curled into a ball, my paws tucked in, my tail encircling me; I leaned against the undulating folded wood. The humming sound was all around me now. I drifted into a deep dark place of rest.

The quality of the air had changed. It had grown thinner. Uncurling myself, I saw a thick finger of silvery grey light. Slowly, I edged my way towards it and carefully squeezed out into the open. The great tree stood towering above me, powerful and strong. I climbed over its great roots, circling it, rubbing my little body against its rough bark in a cheerful morning scratch.

My left leg had gone to sleep. My fingers tingled, the blood moving through them reminding me of my connection with the tree against which I lent. I felt it coursing through my twigs and branches, my trunk and roots. Deep in my throat I began a deep hum and rocked slightly as words came growling out.

“Old and rough, gnarled and tough
Proud Stag of the wildwood
Your horned crown, dark against the dawn sky
You guard and protect.”

Time moved on. The wind cooled my cheek. A badly behaved dog with ineffectual owner charged into the space shattering the peace. Slowly, I climbed painfully to my feet. Opening the circle, I bowed to the tree in thanks and, collecting my companions from their various trees, turned to walk back with them through the watching forest.

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