Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Leafing

I’ve just been leafing through the battered little notebook where I keep note of riddles and sayings, also some little poems and verses I love. At the back there’s also a list (very incomplete) of stories that have struck me at one time or another. There, the title I’ve given to one particular story has put me in mind of something that was said a couple of weeks ago in a pub I sometimes go to down in Wales. At the table reserved for local people (and I’m glad to be seen as one of them), we were talking about the dreadful weather (as you do!) and how late Spring has seemed to be in arriving. And as we communally made moan on this subject, one of the locals who has a wonderful way with words summed it all up by observing how the trees were ‘reluctant to leaf’.

All change:

‘Reluctant to leaf’: how true that was. But by now it’s all changed even though it’s got colder again. Back in London, the trees are bursting forth with leaves and blossom. But, as with our neighbours’ lime tree, many are still at that most beautiful, delicate stage when you still see the tracery of the tree’s branches, now decorated by the fresh green leaves. In our other neighbours’ garden, however, there’s an absence. The high poplar tree we admired for years has, alas, gone, cut down because the trunk had gone hollow.

The poplar tree is the subject of one of the stories listed in my notebook. I learned it – beautifully told as it was – from a woman at a storytelling workshop I was running now many years ago at Festival at the Edge. Its title as written in my notebook is very precisely descriptive of the story but I’ll hold off telling you the title till after I’ve told you the story. 

The story:    

The birds and the animals and the trees of the forest were very, very excited. That morning, each of them had received an invitation printed on gold-embossed card from no-one less than the King of the Forest. The invitation was to a Dinner Party. No wonder everyone was so excited. None of them had ever been to such a thing before. What would it be like?  What would they be given to eat? How would they be expected to behave?

On the night in question, when the birds and the animals and the trees arrived at the clearing to which their invitations had summoned them, they were bowled over at what they saw. Tables covered with fine white cloths, places set with shining silver cutlery, glasses sparkling at every setting: none of the inhabitants of the forest had ever dreamed of such finery or that they would ever be part of such an event.

The pleasure of the dinner guests was indescribable. The graciousness of their host could not have been outdone. The evening would be one that all would remember. When it came to an end, the King of the Forest explained that his servants would do all the clearing up  and wished everyone well on their way. Then the inhabitants of the forest went home to sleep, remember and dream.

But alas, when the King of the Forest’s servants had finished gathering everything together, they discovered that one whole place-setting was missing. The King was very disturbed to hear this. Where could it have gone? Who could have taken it?

Next morning a meeting was called. When everyone had come back to the clearing where the dinner had been held, the King of the Forest told them what had happened. Saying he regretted it deeply, he asked whoever had taken what was missing to own up. No-one did. After a long and dismaying silence, the King of the Forest said he could now do nothing else but ask them all to raise their arms, wings or branches high into the air. ‘Do it now,’ said the King. And as they obeyed, there came the sounds of a terrible crash. Everyone looked round to see where the noise had come from and what they saw was Poplar Tree looking very shamefaced. It was Poplar Tree who had taken the stuff! It was all strewn on the ground around him.

The King of the Forest sighed. Then he said that, sadly, there must be a come-back for such a deed. He’d trusted everyone. The trust had been broken. In turn, it must be his decision that Poplar Tree would have to hold his arms up to the sky for ever more.

So that’s the story which my notebook entitles Why the Poplar Tree Holds Its Branches in the Air. In doing so, of course, the poplar tree is one of the most distinctive and quickly recognisable of all trees. Looking out from my bedroom window, I still seem to see the one that was at the bottom of our other neighbours’ garden, swaying gracefully in the breeze. I still miss it.

PS: Bluebell woods down in Pembrokeshire, blossom in the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park and a clump of the very special pink Pembrokeshire primrose: all to herald a Spring which seemed to have arrived in full measure and now appears (temporarily, we hope) to have retreated.


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