A Walk Through Time
Added: 26 August 2019
I was looking forward to Sherwood Forest. Just the name conjures up images of myths and acres of unspoilt woodland and it didn’t disappoint. The forest has a magic about it … maybe because it has been here so long and seen so much; many of its oaks are over 500 years old. The largest tree of all, the Major Oak, is supported by metal rods; it stands in the middle of the forest like a knackered giant too tired to hold itself up. It is estimated to be at least 1000 years old. To put that in perspective it has seen the birth and death of Shakespeare and Chaucer. Its trunk has a circumference of 11 metres. It is gnarled and knobbly, almost grotesque, with odd shapes protruding from the bark, which in in the gloom look human. Which is why certain trees have been given names including Medusa and Old Stumpy, which speak for themselves.
I was with Jack Underwood, POP’s poet-in-residence, Martin Maudsley of Common Ground and Jack Baddams, ornithologist and Visitor Experience Officer at the RSPB, who was giving us a guided tour of the forest. Which was great because we got to hop over the fence that protects the Major Oak and see it up close and step inside, a practice that was generally stopped in the 70s due to compression of its roots.
‘People have poured ashes of loved ones inside the trunk,’ Jack B informed us, which was enough to stop me climbing inside. Although not Jack Underwood. All inspiration for the poem POP commissioned him to write.
The forest is carefully managed, the RSPB working with The Sherwood Forest Trust, Thoresby Estate and The Woodland Trust to protect the trees and the many diverse species that thrive there, some not seen outside of the forest, making it a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.
But if you get away from the crowds that throng along its main pathways and sit and listen to its silence you can imagine what it was like five hundred years ago or further back when it was a royal hunting ground, and oddly enough, more open heath than woodland.
And try as you might, you can’t get away from Robin Hood. Fact or myth? Either way the legend is alive and kicking in the forest with an annual festival and statues of Robin and Marion in nearby Edwinstowe
I left Jack Underwood and Martin to it after the first day. They were leading a mixture of guided walks, live readings and story-tellings and a tree dressing at the Major Oak open to local residents and anyone visiting the area. A week of so later Jack U delivered his poem ‘A Nightjar’, a bird that is a summer visitor to the forests from Africa and as the name suggests, nocturnal.
I wanted to look inside the eye of that bird.
I had heard its message, become obsessed.
I came with no particular question, only the rest
of my life. I’m not a superstitious person.
I believe that cracking the ice of a puddle
is an unfundamental act, and only trust
the making of a fact: that you cannot know
the world, only disturb it in a certain way,
by which you might learn the character
of your disturbance. Therefore, time is various
and relative, and liable to slow.
Therefore, the forest was a rumour about me.
And yes, the eyes of the bird when I caught it
were totally black. I had expected that.
But not the feeling I had committed
a grand error, simply by asking to know.
To see no questions coalescing ahead…
trees red in the sky, a harbour filled with snow
…It’s late. I’m sorry. I should leave you
to your reading. I should let the bird go.