Another day, time for school. I try to think of ideas that will help the children take their mind away from the house, from the unusual that is becoming usual. Today is a writing day, a literacy day. Nature helps, imagination is good. We need to think about imagery, adjectives, sentences. I see myself momentarily from the outside and roll my eyes – Heavens! How predictable am I? “Okay, children – today’s task. We are going to write about one of the trees in our wood. Pick a tree, any tree, your favourite tree. Write down all the words you can think of to describe it. Tell me why you like it. Then think of a character, tell me about them too. Imagine they came to your tree. What would they do?”
Back here in lockdown school again, but this time it’s different. More computer resources, less daylight, less sunshine, less space. Joe has a laptop from the government, Melody and Amos share a chromebook lent by school, Peta has become default user of the family relic, the tower computer on the actual desk. In last lockdown, Covid was new. Now it has driven defining anchors of change through our lives. Melody has chosen her next school without experiencing of any of the schools she was being asked to choose between, Peta has decided her GCSE options with limited in-school experience of many subjects and without the benefit of an options evening to help her make up her mind. Joe has missed his first formal BTEC exam. He missed it by choice – the college was left to decide whether nor not they would open and run the exam, Joe was left to decide whether or not to brave an examination hall in early January with Covid levels at all-time highs and with constant pleas for people to be responsible and ‘stay at home’. There seems to be no plan as yet how to deal with the thousands of young people who, understandably, didn’t attend the exams. Amos seems the only one untouched, but his frequent outbursts and his need to sleep with the window open ‘to let the Covid out’ suggests that I should not be complacent. All the children are feeling the end of Christmas with no certainty of a fixed point to look forward to.
But the wood is an ally, even when pictured in the imagination. When I outline the writing task for the younger children’s day, everyone seems keen. While Joe spends the day studying the pros and cons of different kinds of batteries, Amos, Melody and Peta work away at their stories. Each has a different story to tell me about their tree and by the end of the day, everyone has a new story to a take them back to the wood in their minds eye, a story to give them the diversion we need at the moment.
Maybe our stories can help conjure up the wood for you too.
“This is the story of my tree. My tree is high up off the ground and is on a bit of a wonk. It smells kind of musty. The bark is that smooth but rough texture that doesn’t have a name.
One day a figure walked up to the tree. They had long black hair tied into two plaits embroidered with flowers, hazel brown eyes. They also had a purple jumpsuit with a little frill around each cuff. The light green cloak worn on the right shoulder meant that the quiver on the other shoulder was easy to access and they could pull a magic arrow out in a second. A golden maple leaf hung around their neck.
She was a forest elf. She reached down to a hollow in the base of the trunk and pulled out a rock that was shiny and iridescent. It wasn’t a rock, it was a DRAGON EGG!!!”
“The yew stands on a limestone outcrop, sweeping fronds of deep evergreen cascading from outstretching branches. Towering over the coppice around, it can be seen from the hills over the salt marsh. Papery strips of russet bark hang from its ancient gnarled trunk and in its crevasses brown needles are suspended in spider’s threads. Slipping under the drooping branches, long skirts whispering over the dry ground, the girl moves into the dark roofed space the boughs create. She presses her palms against the trunk, breathes in the sharp scent of the tree, pictures the child she is longing for. She begins to circle the trunk. Sometimes men come with the same image held in their mind, though they walk backwards, round and round, hob-nailed heels feeling for roots, careful not to stumble. Occasionally, a couple arrives together. But today it is the girl alone who invokes the life-giving spirit of the tree. As she quietly slips back out through the branches, she places her hand lightly below her navel, a faint smile on her lips. With a coy glance at her secret keeper, she heads back to the dark smudge of smoke rising from the coppice below.”
“One day lived a smooth tree that was strong, hard and healthy. I love climbing it and playing on it. It smells of fresh bark and it is very shiny in the rain. One winter day Father Christmas came to the tree and picked five mushrooms and seven leaves for the reindeer.”
“We used to find the wind and rain annoying. We still do sometimes; but rain and wind can do great things. The yew trees in the elements, the sound like the howling of the wind over the open ocean through the sails of seafaring vessels and though sometimes we overlook the smell of the rain, here in the shadows, mixing with the smells of the woods it is magnificent. The feel of the flaky bark and the taste on the air. It makes you feel alive. The branches spread above your head, and the needles shelter the soft ground below. This is where unknown creatures find protection from the somewhat fierce weather.
I love it here, climbing the branches, playing in the soil below it. If you are brave enough to reach for the topmost branches, you can look out over the canopy, over the lush green treetops and into the wide expanse of the bay. That is why I love it so, in the cradling branches of the best tree in the woods.
Now another visitor comes, every once in a while, and this was one of those days. A flash of white, then gold, and something alights onto a branch. A girl dressed in a long, white dress with hair the colour of golden-brown leaves in the autumn falling around her shoulders. She is beautiful, but has a sort of mysterious aura around her. Then she turns round. The shock is indescribable, like an electric shock, yet like a cold shiver. From her back protrudes a pair of wings, made of hundreds of golden feathers, unique but woven into a pair of breath-taking sheets that ripple like water as a leaf falls into a pool. She wears no shoes, yet her feet are never harmed by thorns or sharp stones and as she reaches out and touches the tree, life glows from her fingertips. She is a bridge between humans and nature. She is a faery.”
These stories made us smile – we hope you did too 😊