A week ago I posted a couple of pictures and asked you what you saw:
- Andrew said “Rocks water and burnt trees”
- Grumpytyke said “You’re getting ready for Halloween!”
- Anne said “The tree looks almost like a person, to me.”
- Poetmcgonagall said “I see Medusa in the tree, more obviously in the black and white photo. The branches are her snake hair.”
Thanks you very much for taking the trouble to look and comment – there aren’t any right answers, I was just playing about with images for a cover of ‘Night Vision’.
The story behind this photo goes back about ten years when we went on our first family holiday, my family, my cousins and their families, my aunty and uncles and various boy and girlfriends. There were about thirty of us and we stayed in an old converted chapel near Belper in Derbyshire. We had a wonderful holiday together and have been doing it ever since… but that’s another story!
Anyway, Ebenezer Chapel where we stayed, was built into an old quarry and looking out of the back windows at the quarry face there was a stunted tree growing out of the cliff. Because it was in an awkward place it was difficult to get pictures which showed how strange it was, but the first photo, poor as it is, gives some idea.
After several years, the mental image of the tree arrived in a story I was writing. Beulah and Neil are moving from Manchester to near Easthope; their marriage is going through a rocky patch, and moving seems like an opportunity for a new start… considering how stressful moving house is, this was probably not a good idea! On moving day things go wrong, they have a dreadful row, and each drives off in opposite directions, and Beulah ends up in Camel Wood. She sees a tree which would great for kids to climb, she’s not a kid but she climbs it.
The trees were in full leaf, but a sombre and dreary green in the grey afternoon light. There was no wind and fancifully it seemed to Beulah that she was watched. She had no notion of what the time was, and didn’t care. There were rocky outcrops now and she realised she was in an ancient and long abandoned quarry.
And it was here she saw the tree, the tree she felt moved to climb. It had branches at just the right inviting height and she smiled to herself as she reached to catch hold and step onto a lower one.
Beulah had a rush of excitement, a sort of thrill she hadn’t felt for such a time that it seemed it was when she was young. But I’m not old! Her inner child cried. Forty-four, that’s old, her real self replied. It was a wonderful tree to climb and soon she was eight foot off the ground. She stopped and grinned and she wondered when she had last done that too. She could see more clearly the rocky walls of the quarry, covered with ivy and unfurling ferns and long trails of some sort of vine.
Beulah began to climb again, not looking up, enjoying the feel of the bark, the smell of the leaves. Sun shafted through the branches, the clouds moving, the weather clearing at last. She glanced over at the cliff and then glanced back again in disbelief.
There was a sculpture of a hanging man suspended on the rock in an impossible place. It was carved out of wood. She couldn’t quite see it because of a branch hanging down. It was awkward to climb higher but she had to get a better look at the figure on the rocks.
Beulah reached for the next branch and had to stretch for it, a broken off stump protruding awkwardly. She still couldn’t see the carving. She stretched with her other hand, lacing her fingers together and pulled herself up awkwardly, bumping her breast and grazing her face. The discomfort made her feel alive and she smiled as she wedged her foot on the broken stump and pull herself up. She swung her legs over and sat peering through at the figure.
It was not a carving at all. It was a stunted trunk of some tree which had managed to grow out of the side of the quarry, she could see that now. But its natural provenance made it even more remarkable. It still looked exactly like a hanging man, the rounded chest straining above the concave belly, a swelling of some canker round the hips as if he was swathed in cloth, or wearing britches, or as if it was the fleecy legs of a satyr or Pan himself.
There was a channel running down, marking the separate legs pressed together and then a splay of aerial roots gave the impression of cords binding the ankles and hiding the feet or cloven hooves.
Above the chest the head lolled forward, the trunk of the tree pollarded or deformed by some growth. The face was hidden but the sun highlighted a bent nose, parted lips and the line of the brow. The gnarled protuberances, lumpy and knotted looked like curls of shaggy hair. On either side twisting branches like bent arms, came together as if the wrists had been bound, and tangled vines of ivy hid the hands.
It was the most amazing thing. Beulah stared at it mesmerised. It was strangely moving, a primitive god unexpectedly revealed, sacrificed for some dark magical mystical reason. Beulah looked down. She was nearly thirty foot above the ground. From below the hanging man would look like a twisting and deformed tree, growing out of the rock face. Only from here was the mystery revealed.