In Sardinia we have a lot of wild olive trees, and some are believed to be several centuries – sometimes thousands – of years old. The oldest one is found in Luras, called S’Ozzastru (The Wild Olive Tree) and it is said to be about 4,000 years old.
Another one is in the village of Santa Maria Navarrese and it grows next to a little church of the XI century. I wish I could tell you a legend about that tree, but for now I can only tell you a legend about the church.
A long time ago there was a beautiful princess in Navarra who was in love with the stable man of the king. When the king found this out, he locked the princess in a tower. One night the princess’ lover managed to help her escape from the tower and together they went to the harbour, where a boat was waiting for them and where they would travel to a distant land to start a new life together. While they were still at sea a terrible storm broke in, so the princess prayed Saint Mary to rescue them from a shipwreck, promising to build a church dedicated to her. The sea suddenly calmed down, the sky cleared and after a few days the ship made landfall on a beautiful beach. This is where the church dedicated to Saint Mary still is.
Unfortunately I could not find more Sardinian legends linked to the olive tree…so let’s wander a bit more across the Mediterranean!
the thieveries of light
dipsomaniac luminosity stealing into trees
nude and blanched mere skeletons
the birches’ trunks
blink in the sun kites of new leaves flying dazzling leaf-music
greening sun-in-the-eyes and beneath them
the long eyelashes the angular
body-language of the ferns
sinuous like malnourished models on catwalks
hips out androgynous
each bone a flourish
the fiddle-headed fern
has her mind full of improvisations
her graceful wrist and taut strings ready
seductive as the nightingale and the cuckoo
the light-fingered music
is rendered by ear green against the light heady
the vibrations sweet as the blind seer’s perfect pitch
with the breezes’ riffs drifting in above the bright burns
and their jazzy flashes of percussion
in this wildwood in this ancient woodland
It starts with the snap of a twig. The crackling is sudden and slight, not out of sorts for being in woodland, surely. But no breeze lifts the empty branches and as far as the human eye can make out no animals are tracking through the underbrush. No sudden flight of a bird lifts from the treetops. In fact the place is eerily quiet.
She stands still.
Woods have a way of filtering light that makes the trees seem to grow under water. Even in early spring when the haze of the birches is purple and the willows stretch out buds in whispery yellows the woods have an underwater feeling. Their weaving branches close overhead, not cleanly as in winter, but thickly, like kelp, their twigs swollen with furled leaves. The blue is far away and often the grey rolling ocean of clouds cuts visibility. Under their furious surfing waves the trunks stand upright, rooted in the calm sea bottom where creatures scuttle.
This is what she thought as she stood there.
And it was not far-fetched at all, there where the old leaves gathered brown and filleted in last-year’s colours of leather. The barren, unfruitful clay seen jutting up was exposing now and again the solid edginess of rock. Early spring is not kind; it only promises an end to winter. The crows floated overhead, their peculiar frayed wing-feathers streaming like black banners
The following story was contributed by John Barrington for this year’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival ‘Dig Where You Stand’ campaign, and the full resource can be accessed here.
Many years ago there was a small kingdom on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. Here lived a pretty king called Eochaid [say eesha], a grandson of the great Kenneth MacAlpine. The king’s wooden fortress stood on a hilltop of magic rock, known today as ‘pudding stone’ or conglomerate, overlooking the River Forth. A township stood by.
On mid-summer Eve AD 884 the whole place was filled with gaiety and music and no food or drink was denied as they caroused into the small hours. This was King Eochaid’s wedding feast. The night was in full flow when the captain of the guard reported that strange sounds were coming from a grove of ancient oak trees, standing below the fortress walls.
The king was beside himself with fury. Who would dare intrude into the sanctity of his wedding night? Calling his men to arms, they stormed out into the summer dim where neither light nor dark holds sway. Swords drawn, Eochaid led his men into the dark and sacred grove, a place no sober man would ever go, deep into the trees. There in the centre clearing, lit by pale light, they found a great number of faery folk holding a ceilidh of their own.
‘Once there lived at Momoyama Fushimi, an old gardener, Hambei, who was loved and respected for his kindliness of nature and his great honesty. Though a poor man, Hambei had saved enough to live on; and he had inherited a house and garden from his father. Consequently, he was happy. His favourite pastime was tending the garden and an extraordinarily fine plum tree known in Japan as of the furyo kind (which means ‘lying dragon’). Such trees are of great value, and much sought after for the arrangement of gardens. Curiously enough, though one may see many beautiful ones, trees growing on mountains or on wild islands, they are very rarely touched except near the larger commercial centres. Indeed, the Japanese have almost a veneration for some of these fantastic furyo-shaped trees, and leave them alone, whether they be pines or plums.
The tree in question Hambei loved so much that no offer people could make would induce him to part with it. So notoriously beautiful were the tints and curves of this old stunted tree, large sums had many times been offered for it. Hambei loved it not only for its beauty but also because it had belonged to his father and grandfather. Now in his old age, with his wife in her dotage and his children gone, it was his chief companion. In the autumn he tended it in its untidiness of dead and dying leaves. He felt sorry and sympathetic for it in its cold and bare state in November and December; but in January he was happily employed in watching the buds which would blossom in February. When they did bloom it was his custom to let the people come at certain hours daily to see the tree and listen to stories of historical facts, and also to stories of romance, regarding the plum tree, of which the Japanese mind is ever full.’
If you are planning on attending the evening and would like to get a taste of the Dance of Life in advance, then this audio recording will take you through the song and accompanying movements so that you will be in fine singing voice on the 1st of December!
Storyteller Jane Mather has recently completed a fantastic ten week after school project of storytelling, adventuring and storymaking in Buckstone Woods with children from Buckstone Primary School. She looks to start again in the Spring, but writes here of her experience so far.
“The children’s enthusiasm for being in the woodland from the start was encouraging, I’ve never tried running an after school project before, so there were a lot of challenges, but what made it work was that everyone involved was so willing to give their time, effort and care.
The parents support was strong and many came along to our Halloween story sharing, bringing the children’s younger brothers and sisters. I loved the willingness and enthusiasm of the grandparents to get involved, they are a very important part of the school community and it seemed a good idea to specially invite them. I know how much I enjoyed hearing my Grandpa’s stories when I was wee. They may have been a little bemused by the idea of a grandparents picnic, but I think the children did a good job of explaining. Some interviewed grandparents who were far away, over the telephone and brought their answers to the picnic so conversations had already begun and they were all keen to come to the woods and see where the children had been playing. Some even returned for our woodland Halloween party and took time to thank me for making them welcome.