It seems as though over the past decade or so our vision has refocused and we see trees rather differently. The general view may remain that they are a raw material, a natural resource, or even ‘a fine specimen’ or an ‘object of beauty’ but there has been an emerging, rather uneasy, new perception too which Thomas Pakenham captured in the inspired title to his book and TV series Meetings with Remarkable Trees.
Trees can no longer be safely put in the inanimate object category; we must meet them on a new level as fellow beings, with a vibration and intelligence utterly different to ours certainly, but no less valid for that.
We have woken up to the fact that the yew is special. It lives for thousands of years and as a species has changed hardly at all in millions of years. It occupied the sacred sites long before the Christians established themselves next to it hoping to benefit from its universally recognised sanctity. In The Story of Yew Guido Mina di Sospiro attempts even more than a meeting. The central character of his book is the giant female yew tree that stands in the ruins of Muckross Abbey in Killarney, Ireland. The yew relates her story in the first person from seed through sapling to mighty tree surviving even felling by superstitious monks that founded the abbey. She watches the drama of her own biochemistry and survival techniques, her habitat and surroundings over a lifetime of 2,000 years. She witnesses many of the incidents around her that, in time, would become the stuff of Celtic myth and Irish folklore. The green man builds a tree house in her branches before merging into the stone and wood of the great cathedrals.
The mysterious fate of the Roman IX Hispana legion who vanished form the face of the earth while stationed in Britannia is finally revealed. The ideas of Rupert Sheldrake too are imaginatively blended into the tree’s world view. Guido Mina di Sospiro is an Italian aristocrat living in Miami yet immersed deeply in his love for the yew. His book is part fiction, part fable and a very readable plea for a heart-based relationship with the natural world.
(co-author of The Sacred Yew)