The tempestuous mid-January wind tore across the valley, as it sang winters song, the biting chill snatched at my bare limbs but I stood firm. Guardian for more than a century, watching, whilst time eroded everything around me!
I stretched my deteriorated limbs into the gale, they creaked and I groaned, wind hit full force. The roaring squall would ease, on occasion, and all would appear calm but it didn’t last as the raging gusts snatched threateningly across the valley.
The valley was stunning with its rolling hills and vibrant evergreens split by vast meadows of poppies throughout summertime. Peering through the dwindling vapour of time, I remembered distant memories of when I first arrived, there were many like me back then!
We lived harmoniously as one, in the early years, and many animals sort shelter within the sanctuary of our lush valley. I myself took up lodgings upon the hill overlooking the valley, it was a squeeze and I had to fight to secure my place.
After 30 tough years I had flourished, growing tall and strong until I was the mightiest of all. Standing proud at the top of my hill I became overseer of the valley, the guardian of its sanctuary and life was good.
Then the men came and the guns began!
BOOM BOOM BOOM, a relentless barrage scoured the valley, ripping into the lush green hills from both sides. Many of my kind were eviscerated within the bursting explosions as a whirlwind of fire and shrapnel rained a perpetual blanket of death.
Parasites called man scarred the earth, cutting great zig-zag trenches throughout the land. The valley itself, pitted with deep craters became a quagmire of slimy mud, but still they persisted the onslaught of death.
RAT-A-TAT TAT, RAT-A-TAT TAT, RAT-A-TAT TAT were the sounds of man’s gun as it ripped earth and flesh as man killed man. A dense smog billowed, it clung to the land and slowly seeped its poison. A burnt ochre coloured gas drifted eerily upon the breeze its fine tendrils clutched the throats of men, chocking them, killing them!
Over four years I witnessed this senseless destruction to man and land alike and nothing was left unscathed, including myself!
I had been luckier than most, being up high at the top of the hill I remained relatively safe, until man decided they wanted my position. The battle raged, BOOM BOOM, went the big guns until they relented to a RAT-A-TAT and then!
The air erupted into a whirlwind of fire!
Reds and oranges of flame washed over me, the earth shook violently and I felt my upper body rip into a trillion fiery pieces. The upper limbs were torn viciously away as I pleaded for mother earth to show me her mercy.
The cacophony of violence drowned out my plea, small fiery chunks were ripped from my lower body, torn away as I felt myself begin to slip towards the oblivion.
Man fought man, murderously hand to hand, but neither side took the hill on which I stand, I drifted slowly towards the void, teetering upon its edge and I very nearly slipped down into its precipice!
Suddenly everything stopped!
It was the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month and silence prevailed. The daily BOOM BOOM BOOM accompanied by the RAT-A-TAT TAT, RAT-A-TAT TAT that had once echoed throughout the valley, was silenced and this was deafening!
The air began to clear and the smog settled, I held on to life moving slowly away from the oblivion I had once sought.
Then the poppies grew as the guns fell silent.
Time drifted forwards, my wounds healed, everything around me grew and life’s river flooded into the valley once more. The remains of jagged skeletal teeth of spruce stumps also began to sprout new life.
Huge meadows of red poppies grew in the areas of forest that would no longer grow back. The torn scars of the once ripped earth, softened as the valley aged. The deepest of the shell craters were transformed into glorious ponds that teamed with life.
Ironically, through man’s destruction new life grew as the peace finally returned, the evergreens blended well with the poppies to spill out over the land once again.
Rabbits burrowed nearby, building their warren upon the hill and I provided them shelter under my once torn and twisted limbs.
On a summer’s day the valley was bathed within a warm glow and the many butterflies danced throughout the lush green hills. Rabbits frolicked and playfully chased the wagtails that flittered back and forth and the skylark sang its melodic tune.
Throughout wintertime across the sweeping white hills, through the dense snow shrouded evergreens the poppies slept as the serenity continued.
The Peace lasted 19 years and the valley, as did I, aged gracefully, once again life was joyfully harmonious.
Until the planes came and the bombs crashed down!
The ground rumbled and fires burned, painting a bright crimson mix with amber-oranges in the far-off skyline. The valley shuddered as the night sky came alive and sparkled with metallic fireflies tracing into the darkness. Fires burnt in faraway cities, man and their guns revisited once again but this time didn’t stop to dwell within the valley, they advanced with lightning speed.
The peace of the valley stayed untouched, the occasional sporadic rat-a-tat tat echoed far in the distance, bursting its flak into the air of the night sky. The planes flew high overhead regardless, like waves of angry hornets, forever onwards delivering their violence, VWHOOOOMPH, VWHOOOOMPH, came their devastating payloads!
Each morning a vaporous mist persisted, it filled the air and silently drifted amongst the poppies, like spirits of the lost souls who were collected from the previous night’s raid!
One early autumn morning searchlights shone their shafts of light, like vast swords slicing through the shadows into the darkness. Pinpointing a dark silhouette of aircraft within its beam, the flak guns boomed! A new sound accompanied the aircrafts buzzing drone, one coughed then spluttered.
The aircraft dropped from formation, headed towards the hill on which I stand. Great orange flames trailed from its dying frame and with a screaming whoosh, it skimmed mere feet above me! The fiery destruction of the twisted, tortured aircraft shrieked as it crashed deep into the valley.
The early morning became still once more, the mist seeping across the land was the only movement, somewhere further into the valley fires burnt from twisted wreckage.
Sailing lightly on the autumn wind, 6 shapes dangled in the air, men suspended by fabric to descend from the heavens, survivors from the ill-fated aircraft.
One man skimmed my top and I snatched at him, the fine white fabric slowing his descent snagged and wrapped into my highest bows. His body hit heavily into me, he appeared lifeless, but gradually began to wriggle.
His weight was too much for me to grip firmly and with an almighty snap he fell. Bouncing through my middle until he plummeted to the floor, landing at my base! He was up and gone without even a thank you! The search for survivors was relentless and I never did find out if the strange dangling men were ever discovered.
Shortly after the crash all the aircraft’s stopped, the bombs stopped and the guns fell silent, again!
All was quiet within the valley as the poppies grew!
The years flew past, more men came taking large portions of evergreen, opening up more areas as they worked the land, I myself was left alone to stand guardian.
I now house a family of squirrels, who built their drey upon my midsection, year upon year they fed from the acorns I shed in abundance.
We aged through time and the peace lasts, more and more evergreens are cut down, making way for more farming land and now only a small wooded area remains. The past horrors of man’s brutality are a far-off memory and the once torn earth bore no reflection of the carnage or horrors it had witnessed a century ago.
Then the family arrived and the memories returned!
It was last year on a mid-summers day, when the family arrived, armed with a picnic basket, a chequered blanket and a small clay earn.
The rabbits hid, the squirrels stood still, the twittering’s of sparrows ceased, only the bumblebees carried on with their quest for nectar!
The children were small and playful, two boys and a girl, the oldest was the girl with golden pigtails, a dusting of freckles over her nose that faded into her dimpled cheeks. The boys looked identical both the same age, with bright golden hair sporting the same dusting of freckles.
They ran around me excitedly, one boy with arms outstretched shrieked, “tat-tat-tat-tat!” as he pretended to be a fighter plane. The other boy pretended to be a soldier, using the meadow grass and poppies as his cover.
Whilst the disinterested girl picked buttercups making daisy chains, using the buttercups she picked instead of daisies.
“Is this it,” said the girl, disappointedly and walked around my trunk, “but it’s just a stupid, ugly tree!”
The children’s parents stood at my base, hand in hand, they looked up at my old weary limbs. Unfolding the picnic blanket to lay out their food, against my base and placed the clay earn at my feet.
The children’s Parents said, as one, “Come and sit children, we have a story about this tree to tell!”
Giggling the boys run and jump over their father, ignoring a very sullen girl who, with a sigh, slumps down next to her mother.
“Is this the place Daddy?” screamed the two boys excitedly, “is it, Daddy…. is it?” they pestered.
“Yes this is the place…. And that is the tree,” their Daddy points.
The boys look up in awe of me, whilst the girl shrugs, “I still think its ugly,” she said.
Sombrely, Daddy speaks, “Be thankful of this tree, because you owe it your life!”
Intrigued I listen!
The girl sat in hushed silence, the boys looked up with amazement and their mother smiled, at her three blessed children.
“You’re great Gran-daddy…” Daddy began, but was interrupted!
“The one who used to fly Lanc’s in the war Daddy?” an over-enthusiastic little boy chirped.
“What are Lanc’s?” the other little boy quizzed his mother.
Stroking his golden hair, “Bomber planes my little sweet-pea!” his mother answered.
Daddy continued, “Well you’re great Gran-daddy, the one who flew Lanc’s,” he ruffled the hair of the boy who had interrupted him, “Got shot down over France.”
The family sat in silence, waiting for the rest of the story, as did I!
“Well he and 5 of his crew bailed out over head,” Daddy pointed into the dazzling blue sky.
“You’re great Gran-daddy got himself snared up, with his parachute, upon this old Oaktree,” he pointed to me, “His comrades all parachuted further into this valley and were captured by the S.S…. They were shot dead, where they landed!” He paused, letting the severity of his words sink in.
“If it hadn’t been for this ugly knurled Oak, catching him that night, then your Great Grandad would have died too! Meaning your Grandad, my daddy, wouldn’t have lived, I wouldn’t have lived and neither would any of you!” Daddy sat in silence and a small tear dampened his cheek.
Standing, Daddy said, “Rest in peace, Gran-dad, fly eternally with your lost crew!” picking up the clay earn, he emptied the fine dust into the breeze.
The young girl walked over to me, leaning until her lips were pursed against my trunk, she placed a small loving kiss upon me! Taking the chain of buttercups she hung them around my base, picked a few poppies and placed those at my feet.
Standing back she whispered softly to me, “You have aged well, thank-you for saving my Great Gran-daddy. Our guardian of the valley!”