Tree Story

After an enjoyable school-reunion lunch the other day, I was making my way back to the mainline station on a London Underground train. It suddenly struck me there was plenty of time before the mainline train was due to depart and, on a whim, I got off the tube-train near a large park where I used to play as a young child.

I hadn’t been back in 60 years and the wild, overgrown place I remembered was no more. Streams we used to dam were culverted or piped underground, rough meadows had become manicured sports pitches, sheep or cattle paths turned into tarmacked walkways and the wonderful trees we loved to climb – yes, you guessed it – all long gone!

Back home and continuing my rummage through old papers, I unearthed a draft poem that seems to fit my faint feeling of hollow disappointment. I present it here unedited. The form involves repeating end-of-line words in every verse and adding an envoi – perhaps someone reading will know if this has a name.


Last Refuge

When you were younger every tree
Was yours to climb right to the top
Where all alone you’d view the world
As if she was a brand-new place –
Her secrets open to your sight
With nothing there for you to fear

But as you climbed so grew your fear
That you began to hate the tree
You really couldn’t bear the sight
That lay below so watched the top
As if there was no other place
You’d rather be in all the world

You told yourself the whole wide world
Was greater far than any fear
For up above there was a place
A gift to all who climbed the tree
And dared to reach the very top
Which opened up its secret sight

It made you gasp that sudden sight
So deep and far into the world
A bird’s-eye vision from the top
For now you’d flown beyond your fear
As if you had become the tree
And found you somehow owned the place

You never since have left that place
Nor lost one detail of the sight
If foresters have felled the tree
It still lives on within your world
And death for you is not a fear
While you are still there at the top

So still – still at the very top –
That time runs backwards to the place
Where there was not a gust of fear
So far and wide and deep your sight
For you had there become the world
And all because you climbed a tree


Your new world more than just a place
Where each new sight gives rise to fear
When down you came from the tall tree top


Dave Kingsbury (2013)


Image result for phantom trees


Image: The Crichton Street Gallery

16 thoughts on “Tree Story

  1. Gosh – that brought back memories.
    Nature is destroyed bit by bit. Culverted and dismantled. The frogs and fish encased.
    There was a set of three huge poplar trees at the end of our road. I always wanted to climb to the very top and reach out into the sky.
    One day I was absolutely determined. They were extremely high but I did not look down. Right up the top it was dead and the branches were like dead twigs. But I did it. Despite the fact that it was swaying about alarmingly I reached the very top and put my hand out into the sky.
    Then the little branches started breaking. I lost my footing. It was swaying madly. Below, a long way below, was concrete. I clung on and couldn’t move. Every time I tried the branches broke. I was stuck for ages.
    Eventually the fire brigade arrived with their long ladder and rescued me. But I’d touched the sky.

    1. Ah yes, frogs and newts and sticklebacks, slow worms, grass snakes … wild flowers in profusion … breaks your heart to think about. My, that’s a vivid story, Opher – thanks for sharing it here – I’m sure I must have had some close runs too but I think fear might have erased the memory!

  2. There was a 70-foot tall incense cedar in the graveyard next to our house. I can still remember the first time I climbed it, Dave. And your poem captures my feelings well, a mixture of fear and awe. In fact my brother and I were just talking about the tree. My dad built a large treehouse on the large lower limbs about 20 feet off the ground, which became our headquarters for planning mischief. It also became the starting point for the Great Tree Race where we would challenge each other to see who could climb to the top first! –Curt

      1. Absolutely, Dave. Marshall and I were ever so glad we grew up in and area and era when playing outside and exploring the surrounding country and woods was an option and was encouraged, or at least not discouraged by our parents. –Curt

          1. Yeah, before we had the media making everyone paranoid about it. Now if you have a one in a million chance of something bad happening to your child on the way to school it seems almost manndatory that you drive the child to school. –Curt

          2. Yes indeed! It would be good if politicians made it their business to get kids outside and learning to be independent and responsible for themselves.

  3. Hi, Dave. Sorry I took so long to respond, I’m still trying to figure this place out too. LOL.
    You have to click on the individual blog titles and the ability to comment is at the bottom.

    I enjoyed your write. Well done. 😀

  4. Thank goodness for your rummaging, Dave. What a gem! It’s both good in form (it’s a sestina, I think) and great in function. It certainly stirs my memory cells and brings up loads of deep settled silt from my childhood. Just the tonic for this foggy morning- thanks.

  5. Great poem Dave.

    Ah yes, the trip down memory lane and the disappointment that nothing is as great as it was way back when. We can always be assured of change in this life, but at least we have the memories to go back to and make us smile.

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