The story has a background in animism. In my definition animism is the belief that all living creatures, animal and vegetable, have a consciousness; a spiritual essence if you like.
It is a belief occurring in many ancient religions. I think of the Ancient Britons and the Druids’ sacred groves of roan, apple, hazel and ash; their belief in recurring cycles of life.
The rowan tree stood between a gnarled apple and an errant hazel in what had been, at one time, an orchard. Later, left to its own devices, the orchard tried its best to revert to the wild but in time became appropriated into part of the large back garden of a small stone house. The rowan, the mountain ash, had been planted by Alan’s grandfather and was now surrounded by a wooden seat built by Alan in his youth as a first project in woodworking.
His granddad, now nearly at the end of his term of life had advised him, told him the about the joints and the most appropriate wood to use. Alan fifteen and full of strength expected to finish the job in a day and became irritable if things didn’t go right straightaway. Granddad advised caution.
‘Alan’, he said ‘You’ll never make a good job this way. You must address yourself to the materials lovingly. You see, this piece of wood never wanted to be a seat. It was quite happy being a tree. And yet such is the nature of trees that it will have no resentment against your use of it. But let it know that you have none either and it will co-operate with you’.
Alan had thought his granddad was going a bit dotty and didn’t think too much about what he’d been told and got on making the seat.
‘Anybody would think the tree was a person’ he thought. Yet, somehow he never forgot what Granddad had told him.
From time to time he would sit under the rowan and often Granddad came to mind.
‘It’s funny! Here I am sitting under the tree like I did with Granddad so many years ago’. He closed his eyes and it came to him that they were like three old friends, Granddad, the tree and him.
‘Hold on’ he smiled, ‘Who’s going dotty now?’
When he married, Alan told his new wife about the tree in that almost forgotten part of his garden; told her with affection and reverence about the seat.
‘It’s a lovely story’ said Alice, ‘Let’s go and sit down on your seat now’. And sitting there became the habit of a lifetime. On warm summer evenings they would talk about how they had each spent their day and plan for the future.
Five days after the birth of their daughter they took her down to be introduced to the rowan. They laid her small palms against the trunk and, unbeknownst to each other, made a wordless prayer on her behalf; a communion of togetherness and mutual respect. They were silent, walking back to the house, each feeling a little embarrassed yet fulfilled.
As she grew, Silva, for this was the baby’s name, played around the rowan and sometimes danced a gavotte bending and casting old dry leaves into the air, singing a ditty and looking upwards through the leaves. At other times she would talk, half to herself and half to the tree, about school, her friends and little problems such as occur to teenage girls. One day, while doing her homework under the tree she leaned back against the developing trunk and wondered what the rowan’s personal name might be. His leaves rustled and murmured a name to her only. He was called Luis he whispered, one of the ancients’ names for the rowan tree. And at that very moment the tree chose her; chose for him to be her spirit helper through life.
One year the rowan bloomed early. At first the blossom was no more than a trace, a delicate shade of pink that later became a flush of warm red among the foliage. There, one soft summer evening under the canopy and beneath a sliver of crescent moon, the maiden felt the first stirrings of womanhood within her.
There came the time when Silva, now a young woman, took her new husband to introduce him to Luis and he smiled gently and understood. They sat together under the canopy and held hands as they did most evenings that first summer. Sitting there one evening Silva looked up just as a full moon found a window in the cloud cover. She placed her husband’s hand on her belly and together they felt the first kick of a new life that was to come a few moons later.
Wrapped in a linen shawl embroidered by her grandmother Silva took her baby to the tree, like her mother had done, and renewed the covenant. As she walked back to the house a green shoot from the rowan’s last year’s fruiting, that had been blown a zephyr’s breath away, burst out of the soil. Luis opened the leaves of the canopy and let through the moon glow and the seedling opened its tiny leaves to the soft light.
The cycle of regeneration was complete until the next turn of the great wheel.