I go to the Church of Trees
That magnificent nature poem was written by my Bardic Buddy Arthur Hinds and to me sums up in just a few verses the reverence we Druids hold for these beings. If ever I feel upset, or disconnected from my Path, if ever I need to remember what it is all about, all for, it is to the woods my feet take me. Just as a Christian will make a pilgrimage to an ancient church, there to sit in the pews and to soak up the atmosphere of that sacred space, to be in a place where they can speak, and then hear the voice of their God reply, so I go to the woodlands, and walk among the trees.
My feet touch the earth, and the smell, that forest smell, makes me feel so alive. The aroma of the woodland is something that changes from season to season. I think, even though I love Spring and Summer the most of all seasons, it is the aroma of the woodland in Autumn, wet earth and leaf-fall, that fills my heart within the forest. Yet as I consider those words the sight of the snowdrop, of young primroses, dog roses and may flower, elder and rowan; the taste of the woodland air as the first warmth of Spring warms the earth, suggests that is not entirely true – there is always some glorious sight or smell within the trees.
And as the woodland is the Church of Trees, so there are places that are Cathedrals. One such place here in Sussex is Kingley Vale. It’s near West Stoke, just outside Chichester, and is the largest yew forest in Europe. 30,000 yew trees cover a huge part of the South Downs, and as you enter the forest of yew the light changes to monochrome, the birds stop singing, and the earth is bare beneath your feet. It is magical, head-swimmingly strange, and deeply sacred.
But before you get to the yew forest you must first walk through a large deciduous woodland, and within that typical English woodland there are older yew trees, ancient beings who have known this land for millennia. These trees knew a world without the combustion engine. A world much more peaceful, yet they also have seen wars, and plague. People on horseback have ridden past wearing tricorn hats, and poets have doubtlessly walked among their bows, listening for the Muse.
But there is more.
Here within the deciduous woodland of Kingley Vale there is a Grove of Yews. And this, to me, has always been a Cathedral. I have visited many times, and each time I cannot enter without a huge wave of emotion overwhelming me. Sometimes I have been there and there have been families picnicking in the Grove, their children climbing on the ancient branches and, although my immediate response is negative, I soon realise that I am placing my own construct upon the place, and that in their own way these children are learning to love nature, just as I did at their age. I sit, and enjoy their delight, as they climb, and laugh together.
At other times there is no-one there. Upon entering the Grove the silence is so empty that it surely must have been filled just moments before with the voices and music of the Fey. My hands touch the bark of those ancient beings. And soon that silence is filled once more with the voices of the Old Ones. One of my most favourite experiences is taking people to see the Grove for the first time. No amount of description can explain the atmosphere, the power, that place holds.
Trees, with their roots in Annwn, their trunks in Abred, and their branches in Gwynvyd, span all Three Realms. If I were to follow my Druid path right back, to what drew me to the Druid tradition, it would be the Sacred Grove. When I heard that the ancient Druids met in Groves of trees, something awoke in my soul. I completely understood why they would have done that. I had felt that reverence myself, although I had no name to hang upon it until I heard the word Druid.
I go to a Church of Trees.