from sapling by Gail Golding


If I could talk I’d tell you my history, how I grew from sapling to mature adult, watched over the growth of forests that spread, sprawled – trampled, some say – across the hills. However, I can only sing my tunes, fiddle the stories in your ear, fashioned as I am into a semi-polished, caramel-coloured flute. Smooth tubular shape, holes evenly spaced where finger-tips tease the air that blows through my splintered wood. The ends, rough. Pin-sharp points to needle-prick your skin, nudge you to recall my roots.

If it’s a date you’re after, when my solid-on-firm-ground life changed, then it’s around the 1670s (or thereabouts) when a key, made of steel, intricately carved, shaped into a royal crown encircled by wild horses, was lost. The barrel’s trunk – thick, icy, heavy. The steel maze-like square that enters the inside of the keyhole, a tongue. A tongue that slides, feels, pushes until it locks into place.

I daresay the door it locked was wood – some distance relative. Another pulled down; roots ripped from the earth, sap weeping as branches were torn from its trunk. I daresay that whatever really went on behind that door, the world would not have missed.

But the key was lost. Some say it was deliberate, an act of rebellion, dissent. And the lovers who’d played within its shadows were separated – divided by oak panels, steel hinges, ornate keys. The lover inside the room lay dying, refusing to relinquish his lover if released. She, hiding by day in the forests, by night singing, signalling, sending messages.

And this is where I come in. During one of these long days she asked a woodsman if he would clear some forest space so she could have somewhere to rest while waiting for night. The axe sliced through my ringed trunk, slipping further and further inside until I swayed, toppled, fell. Crashed to the earth, snapping new saplings beneath. The woodsman, using a saw, split, spliced me until I measured a hundred pieces. With one, he carved a flute so that she could play to her lover from afar and he could still hear her tune.

Of course the key was found, but not until he had died within the wooden-doored room. Bent and hollow. The key was returned to the royal household where it belonged and, as with all such stories, was hushed, ushered under the rug in front of the fire.

It wasn’t until the 1800s, when a bank clerk in another town was clearing some papers that he found the letters that had never arrived – that she had written from her wooden forest hut. And me, a flute 100-years silent. Cobwebbed and dusty.

The bank clerk peered through my holes, ran his fingers along my body and as he swivelled the brass banker’s lamp head, interweaving the green-tinged glow with a brighter light, he set about restoring me.

How I came to be in the hand of a troupe of dancers and singers playing, entertaining a couple at their wedding feast is another story.

About claire collison

Writer, photographer, creative facilitator, and breast cancer survivor, I am currently Artist in Residence at the Women's Art Library (WAL) My first novel was a finalist in the Dundee Book Prize, and my short stories and poetry have appeared in print and online. In 2015 I was awarded second place in the inaugural Resurgence Prize, the world's first eco poetry competition, judged by Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. This blog began as a space for words generated on my walking/writing workshops at the Mary Ward centre in Bloomsbury - Writing the City (WTC). WTC has since grown to include many other venues, including the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Barbican, the River Rom, Southwark Woods, Aylesbury Estate, and most recently, as part of Walking Women festival, An Intimate Tour of Breasts. I have worked with Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, as the recipient of the first Max Reinhardt Literacy Award, designing teaching resources; and for The Photographers' Gallery, helping school children develop visual literacy as part of 'Seeing More Things'. If you would like me to design a workshop or walk for you, please be in touch!
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