Thursday, 26 November 2015

An Unlikely Shrine by Ruby Barnes

Ireland is a beautiful country, at the price of the frequent rainfall of course, but the countryside isn't very accessible. Here in Kilkenny there aren't many options for country walks, especially dog-friendly walks.

One of the few places I can take my furry little bundle of joy for a good long run is Millennium Forest. Two hundred and thirty acres of woodland, this is the largest of sixteen Irish millennium forests that were planted in the late 1990s with a tree for everyone who was resident in the area at the time. It's matured nicely and the man-made aspect has been softened by time and nature.

Alfie after a recent grooming, with eyes actually visible for a change

The various routes through Millennium Forest take between half an hour and two hours to complete and are surrounded on all sides by densely planted oak, ash, birch, alder, cherry and spindle (I've never heard of spindle before). An established stream criss-crosses the land, passing under the paths in several spots and providing a nice place to stop, meditate and watch the flow of water rushing over stone, especially after heavy rainfall.

This land contains some older stands of spruce and several oak trees over a hundred years old. One of the largest oaks forms a natural floor clearing in the centre of the forest and this is a favourite stopping point for myself and Alfie. I do a bit of sitting on the bench and contemplating the meaning of life (or the next chapter of my WIP) while the dog does crazy circuits around the tree trunk as if he were chasing or being chased. This is one of the rare times that the whites of his eyes can actually be seen.

In spring this year, as the trees were budding, I was walking in the forest with Mrs R and our two kids (young adults, they would say). We reached that large oak tree clearing and took a seat on the bench, the wood dry for the first time in months. And what did we see on the old oak tree? No, not a yellow ribbon but a small red wooden door. About six inches high with a curved top, it was complete with door knob, letter box and two small butterflies.

This fairy door was located at the base of the trunk in a slight hollow. I wish we had taken a photograph on that day, but we didn't have the presence of mind to do so and I generally prefer to use my visual memory rather than a phone or camera. The fairies had made good use of a couple of bits of Lego as ironmongery and the door was held in place by a sturdy screw. We all enjoyed the idea of an imaginative parent creating this fairy door for their children and, although our own kids are a bit too old for that sort of thing, we all let ourselves wonder about what might live in the tree and these older parts of the forest.

During the rest of spring the base of the tree was decorated with bunches of wild flowers picked by small children - or maybe the fairies themselves. The green leaves of the big old oak unfurled and formed a mysterious impenetrable canopy. Mrs R and I recalled Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree, the cast of strange and wonderful characters and their adventures.

Over the following months the Irish weather slowly took its toll on the magical door. The decorations fell away, only the letter box and door knob remained, but it was still functional as a fairy doorway into our world. Then the glue the fairies had used for their Lego pieces also failed and only the red wooden arch-shaped door was left. In time that came adrift from the bark of the tree and was placed in different spots around the trunk.

In late summer the door had been moved around the other side of the trunk, a couple of feet off the ground. The fairies were getting better at jumping, I figured.

Then one day, at the beginning of autumn, Alfie and I were walking, just the two of us. Mrs R was in a Dublin hospital with her family, anticipating the imminent passing of her mother after a long illness. My phone buzzed and I took the call. She had passed away peacefully. Alfie and I walked solemnly on to our resting place and I took a seat on the bench. Alfie nosed around the base of the old oak but didn't do his usual crazy circling of the trunk. At that moment I noticed the door had gone. The gateway to the fairy world had closed.

Millennium Forest from the base of the old fairy oak


Sandra Horn said...

Beautiful. Thank you, Ruby

Dennis Hamley said...

Lovely, Ruby. It brought back happy memories of Ireland.

Bill Kirton said...

A lovely gentle read, Ruby, opening all sorts of inner doors. Thanks.

Debbie Bennett said...

The summer we moved into this house, there was a complete fairy ring in the garden. I stood in it and wished for a baby (I'd had several miscarriages and we'd all but given up). I was pregnant within a month and the fairy ring disappeared. It's never returned. Make of it what you will .... I firmly believe my daughter was a gift.

Lydia Bennet said...

I was very much a fairy believing child and somewhere inside I still am. One of our local parks has just been done up and made family-friendly and safe, and a lot of the big old trees have had lovely fairy doors inserted, it's lovely to see children fascinated by them. We've just had fairy rings in the garden and hte greens nearby, I didn't realise you could wish in them! I must give it a go. Thanks Ruby for this fairy tale.

@Ruby_Barnes said...

Thanks folks. Us mountain men get a little melancholy now and then :-)