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/