Thursday, May 14, 2020

Every Tree has a Tale to Tell

Standing beneath a large tree I am always in awe. Not just from the magnificence of sheer size and beauty, but often of the age. I like to look at the size of the tree trunk and try to guess when it may have taken root. What style of dress were people wearing when the sapling began to reach for the light? Who sat on the throne or ruled the kingdom? Whose feet trod nearby? And as it grew and grew and became a young tree, who sat and rested beneath it, weary from travelling, injured from battle, or could there be buried near its roots a precious trinket carefully wrapped in calico or leather, or a pot of coins? I wonder if someone climbed it to hide from danger, many years ago, or to laugh and play? What plans or dreams were thought of beneath its boughs?
Every tree has a story to tell, from the storms it has weathered, birds that have sang out from its high canopy, all the new life that has been raised in the nests among the branches, and tiny creatures that live in its crevices or nibble on its leaves. If only trees could talk our language and tell us their stories and the things they have seen. What a tale that would be.
Last Autumn when the ripe berries decorated the fading hedgerows we travelled to Wraysbury near Windsor to visit one of the most ancient trees in England. The Ankerwyke yew.
It stands on ancient water meadows of the river Thames close to the ruins of a benedictine 12th century priory and is believed to be up to 2,500 years old. This old tree is surrounded in history. Popular belief tells of King Henry VIII courting Anne Boleyn beneath it and some say that he proposed to her in the shadows of it. Just over the river Thames close by, is Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed and sealed. There are those that argue that the signing took place over the other side of the river, perhaps beneath, or in sight of the Ankerwyke yew. A thousand year or more old tree would have been large and significant enough for King John to choose such a place in 1215 I like to believe?

AT Runnymede, at Runnymede
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:--
"You mustn't sell, delay, deny,
A freeman's right or liberty.
It makes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw 'em roused at Runnymede!

"When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid time 
The first attack on Right Divine--
The curt, uncompromising 'Sign!'
That settled John at Runnymede.

"At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found 
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter Signed at Runnymede."

And still when Mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!
The Reeds of Runneymede ~ By Rudyard Kipling

Among the broken hollows  an offering sat. Left by a stranger, a silver ring. 
All the while we were there, a robin perched nearby. But seemed a little elusive whenever my camera tried to capture him. 
After visiting, ideas sat in my sketchbook for a while.
Then during the lockdown in April I began to paint.
Until complete...
'Tell me Tales of Magic and Old Kings'

Before we left, I took a couple of old snippets of branch that lie scattered beneath and whittled two little keepsakes back at home, to remember our visit.
It's well worth a visit and is often overlooked when visitors visit Runnymede. But this was first on the list for us. I would rather feel the history of a place through something that was living in the time, than look at all the more modern commemoration statues. Although they are definitely worth a visit too and a cup of tea and slice of cake at the National Trust Magna Carta tea rooms. :)  
If you are interested in buying a print of this new painting, then it's available in the Web shop *here*
The shop has reopened now for physical items, but I shall only be posting out once a week to keep trips to the post office to a bare minimum.  Currently it's only for UK only customers, as international postage seems to be experiencing quite a few delays which I don't want to be dealing with at the moment. Hopefully this will change soon? As soon as it does I will add international again. Downloads are still available to all.