A boy walked in the woods after dark. He was scared. Even more so when he saw a dark shape. Just as he turned to run, the shape lit a torch and the torch lit the leaves of the Whitebeam tree. And in the beautiful canopy of light he saw his father standing there. And forevermore the tree was his secret comfort.

STEVE BOYLE | Whitebeam | Liverpool

Photo Credit: Per-Ake Byström

The Return

My father had fetched me from the woods as a child. I was lost and scared then. Not now.

My father was a groundsman at the local park. He taught me to use an axe and he taught me to carve. 

I was 15 when I spotted the tree again. I knew it was a Whitebeam, those lovely silvery leaves. I had looked it up in the library in Woolton Village. I told mother that you could make jelly from the berries. I fetched them and she did. It was our family tree.

During the school holidays I took father’s axe to the woods and I neatly chopped a chunk from the tree. This was reckless, but I was young. I took the chunk of wood home and I carved a small jackdaw from it. I was good at this. The jackdaw sat on the mantlepiece and mother showed it to everyone. He’s very clever, they all said.

I moved to Scotland when I was 22. I did not forget the tree. In fact, I used the story of the tree to impress girls. How, when I was a little boy, I had seen my father standing under it by the light of a torch. How, when I was a teenager, I had carved a jackdaw from a chunk of it. Generally, this effort to appear sensitive and interesting was well-received. It was especially well-received by Julia, who became my wife.

My father died. I was not there. I was 15 minutes late. Mother said that he had asked for me. Back at the house for tea and sandwiches, Julia asked me where the jackdaw was, and I realised that I had not seen it for some years. I found it in the loft, amongst a box of my old things, comics, schoolbooks, suchlike.

“Your father disliked it,” said mother. “He said it belonged to the tree.”

The following day I took Julia and the jackdaw to the Whitebeam tree in the woods. I had purchased some strong wood glue. With a mixture of sadness and happiness, I stuck the jackdaw to the tree, where the old scar I had created sat as a reminder of the folly of youth.

Julia squeezed my hand. I’m sorry,” I said to the tree. “You did me right and I did you wrong. My father was right, this belongs to you.”