Some centuries ago near Tollard Royal

“Dull sublunary lovers’ love…” from The Kiss, by John Donne

This tree has begun to take root with me.

I’d taken some wrong turns on my solo hike. I began to find my bearings again. I was about a mile from a pretty stone-built village with a church, bus shelter and a public phone, where I’d agreed to rendezvous with a man at the end of his day’s golf at Tollard Royal for a lift back to the Compasses Inn. It was in 2013.

Following my nose, not any path, I descended from a ridge. I called to a young man seated in the yard of a huge farmhouse, and I asked the way to the village. He was well spoken. The impressive building was clearly centuries old.

I thanked him and about a half mile further and 50 yards off and to the left of the single track tree-lined lane stood the majestic tree in this photo.

The sense of its obvious undamaged longevity, its benign warmth and silent fertility, made me direct all of my attention to it. The afternoon was a hot one. A mare and her foal were standing in the shade nearby.

I caught something of its own ancient yet fresh pleasure at being safe and well for so very long in this particular place.

Five years later, I took the time to scrutinise Google Maps. I used Terrain and Satellite view on my smartphone. I followed remembered landmarks, beginning with the golf course near Tollard Royal, where my lift was coming from.

With the confirmation of Street View, and recall of the scenes I had paused to photograph in the little village, in under an hour I had located my tree!

It stands halfway between Berwick St John and the ancient farmhouse, which sits at the foot of a ridge – part of a watershed valley – at the end of Woodland Lane.

I cannot forget the friendliness I felt during the short time we were in each other’s company.

I long to say hallo again. Now I know I can. The round trip by bus from Bournemouth will take only half a day.

… … …

Here on a sunny day, 25 Feb, five-and-a-half years later, the story continues…

The weather and the auguries are propitious for undertaking the public transport journey.

I got off the bus at 2:30 on this Monday in the charming little village of Berwick St John, whose pub, the Talbot, is unfortunately closed Mondays.

The bus timetable allows three hours to find and re-friend my tree, some ten minutes walk away.

Alas, poor tree. Last year’s winter blasted and blew down its majestic crown. I look on reluctant to believe this is the same tree.

We all react to dramatic news with a spasm of disbelief. I see no limbs on the grass flood plain, no branch litter. With care the estate workers have removed them all. It is beyond doubt my tree, or its remnant, that is marking time here now.

We spend a while keening together. All is change.

I climb two fences, and make my way uphill to a circle of ancient beeches standing out on top of perhaps a man-made tumulus.

Here is a new bench, and surprisingly an unmarked, freshly dug grave. The occupant has a panoramic view over his estate.

I learn later, from “Pontibus”, my impeccably courteous lift, a teacher of Latin to ecclesiastics hereabouts, that the large vase of white lilies is Anka Dineley’s tribute to her beloved husband, Peter, recently deceased.

Indeed, after admiring the view for a short while from the heights of this sacred grove – surely it is a tumulus – I meet Widow Dineley. She has climbed here to tend to the grave, and we shared a moment of respect for the dead.

Among the photos I took on this Sun-filled early spring day, full of the signs of returning life, was one of the ground at my feet near this grave.

Shotgun cartridges, green and red, were trodden into the ground by those who had come here to gain the advantage of height against their prey.

Later that day I came to see the whole picture. This day of presence in solitude and solitary witness showed to me yet again both strident and subtle signs of the changes in every place I tread, in every horizon’s direction I am drawn to by my seven decades of gazing.

With the sun going down, I hitch-hiked the sparse traffic in both directions, rather than wait more than an hour for the last bus to Salisbury.

Along the dozen miles to Nunton, my driver and I exchanged brief lives in the delicate, age-old customary codes of respect between travelling strangers.

I was told the farm and its large estate lands I had stumbled across so long ago was owned by Francis and Peter Dinely, long-time important actors in this country stage. Peter, a member of this old, respected land-owning family, is now mourned by his widow.

The tree is toppled, reduced all suddenly from its former nobility by the winds of time.

The chalk downland landscape here, with its life-cycle complement of trees, boundary stones, archeology of the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Ages, carries its prehistoric ramparts and funerary mounds like music notes scored on the earth.

Slower than a giant’s breath, the notes are being rearranged, muted, and reconstructed by the decades.

The stone boxes people live in are changing season by season, as the new inhabitants sing the old songs according to melodies unrecognisable to those at rest under their hallowed ground.

My tree friend is still my friend. We will remain linked. Our separate life cycles are forever united.

We are both a little more blasted. We have changed together. These felled angels are not to be pitied, they do not look to us to possess a life they do not own.

This land echoes to the orchestration of universal country sounds familiar to every ancestor. The soundscape of humility and gratitude for living – cawing crows, piping robins, wildfowl screech, siffle of hovering hawk.

What we share in common, with tacit friendliness my tree and I, is the sacred sweet precession – the continuum of change.

~ Love is present EveryNow

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