Apr 18 2020

The Wyre Oak – by Pete Thompson

Some of my best friends are trees. Which is especially fortunate at this time of restricted human contact because, as always, they are as willing as ever to give solace and share the natural, life-giving energy that, in this season especially, is pulsing so strongly through them.

 

One of my favourite trees lives nearby, sitting in splendid isolation in the corner of a field. It can be reached on my daily constitutional by following a hedgerow that separates a long-overgrown green lane from a wide field boundary, with no risk of encountering another human being. This magnificent specimen has a name – The Wyre Oak – the origins of which no one has yet been able to enlighten me. I came across it accidentally several years ago and knew it to be ancient. Just how ancient I only discovered some time later when, on an Observatree training day, I mention it to Ancient Tree Register verifier, Tony Burgoyne, and he believed it to be at least 800 years old and, as far as he knew, the oldest tree in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

 

This is a poem I wrote shortly after discovering The Wyre Oak. I think it’s even more relevant today than when I wrote it:

 

The Wyre Oak

 

I heard tell of a timeless oak

That for centuries has stood

By a long-forgotten path

Where once, they say, there was a wood.

The old ones call it Wyre Oak;

Its age is such that no-one can

Tell me how it came by that

Or when the legend first began.

 

It was inevitable, I knew,

That soon we would be called to meet,

So on a strange, snow-sprinkled day

When startled Spring and Winter greet

Each other with cold courtesy,

But neither of them yet agree

Who is to stay, or to depart,

I went to find this long-lost tree.

I knew the path I had to take,

Where few will ever walk again

Along the briar-barriered way,

Where fox and hare play hunt-the-wren

Amongst the scattered, rotting stumps

Of fallen and uprooted trees,

That form self-grown memorials –

Destined to mark their own decease.

 

Just as I wondered where to search,

How far abroad I’d have to look,

I saw a faintly-beaten track

Not made, I knew, by human foot,

And following its wavering course,

It led me to an open space

Where, just like a watching hare,

The tree stood in imposing grace.

 

Could this, I wondered, be the spot

Where all the creatures of the wild

Are drawn to when the moon is full,

Unshriven and unreconciled?

And was it also, long ago,

The place where human lovers came

Who knew the talismanic charm

Of ancient trees by ancient lanes?

 

For just how many lives of men,

How many autumns, winters, springs;

How many turnings of the earth

And drowsy winter slumberings

Have you stood firm upon the earth?

Ah, you were already old when they,

With a stroke of levelling axe,

Felled the tyrant majesty.

 

And standing in your shadow, now

I realise with growing fear

How fragile we must seem beside

This overwhelming might of years,

As the cruel chaos of our lives

Time exposes, day by day,

Who have no deeply-planted roots

To anchor us in nurturing clay.

 

But while the span of man is short,

Time is kinder, far, to trees,

Asking nothing in return,

For freely-given centuries.

And blackbirds, chaffinches and owls

Who see your mighty power unfurled,

Know you are more than just a tree;

Here and now, you’re a whole world.

 

 

More of my poems and writing, mostly about the Yorkshire Wolds, can be found here: https://poemsandpaths.blogspot.com/

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