I recently visited the churchyard in Upper Farringdon in Hampshire, a stone’s throw from Chawton where Jane Austen lived. The tree is vast, hollow and impossibly old. When I got home, I Googled the tree and found that it could be 2000-3000 years old – nobody knows for certain. I love ancient trees and always find myself wishing that they could talk. I found myself wondering about all the things that this tree would have witnessed (Jane Austen would certainly have seen it) and wrote this piece as a result. It’s not the first time that I have written from the point of view of something that has no voice – for my A-Level English coursework I wrote a piece from the point of view of a house (we had studied Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, so I wrote from the point of view of the home which housed the Clutter family – the building in which they were all callously and brutally murdered). Anyway, here is The Yew Tree’s Story – I hope you enjoy it!
I wasn’t always lonely. Many, many years ago I had wonderful company – a kind oak and a thoughtful hornbeam. I was devastated to lose them; the oak was cut down where he stood for ship-building and the hornbeam succumbed to a storm. I cannot describe how I felt as I witnessed their ends and heard their final sighs.
One day, two men came and walked around the hill where I stood,
“Yes,” said one of them, “we shall build it here.”
What followed took me quite by surprise. The ground was cleared and stone was delivered by the cartload. Men toiled from dawn until dusk and the building gradually began to take shape – it was a church. I had heard of such buildings from the wind, who whispered messages and news to me as it passed by. When the church was finished, it was a fine thing and I stood beside it – enjoying the shelter it offered in bad weather, and the shade it cast over me in the summer.
Every week, people visited the church on Sunday. The whole village turned out and I was always there to welcome them. I liked hearing their talk as they passed me by. Sometimes children would stop and clutch at my branches or try to climb me but, more often than not, their parents told them off and the child reluctantly let me go.
I remember one night a man visited the church. He carried a long, metal bar in his hand and he prised the door open. When he came out of the church minutes later, he carried a sack that rattled and clunked and he looked around carefully as he walked from the building. I knew he was up to something and suspected that he had no lawful right to the objects that he’d taken from the church. I thrashed my branches about in fury and allowed my roots to trip him up as he passed. An owl hooted nearby; the man was spooked and jumped up, running away as fast as he could and leaving the sack of loot at the base of my trunk. When the vicar came to the church the next morning he picked up the sack and looked inside. He paused, deep in thought, and furrowed his brow.
“The thief must have tripped…” he mused. Then he reached out and touched my bark, “How lucky that you were here! We’d have lost the silver otherwise!”
The praise was wonderful and I felt so valued.
Everything’s different now. The congregation began to shrink after the wars, and soon the numbers had dwindled so much that the Sunday service was stopped – centuries of tradition cast aside like outgrown childhood toys. Now I am alone. Every day I stand, silently, and guard the church. I miss the little children who tried to climb my branches, the romancing youths who used me as a meeting place, and the silent widow who leaned against me to steady herself after visiting her husband’s grave.
I do not know what the future holds for me. Perhaps one day I will be felled or fall victim to a storm like my friends before me. But until then I will remain here – ever the silent watcher.