Leaf by Niggle

Have you ever heard of J. R. R. Tolkien’s short story Leaf by Niggle? Written in a burst of inspiration in 1939, when Tolkien was suffering from a period of writers’ block with regards his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, Leaf by Niggle does not contain any of the archetypal tropes of elves, wizards and hobbits one might expect. Essentially it is a simple story, but with some big (and recognisably Tolkien-esque) themes – Niggle, the protagonist, has for a long time been struggling to complete a painting, a masterpiece, of a tree – but things keep getting in the way, like a never-ending stream of visitors and an annoying next door neighbour named Parish. When he is taken away on an unexpected journey (sound familiar, Hobbit fans?) it seems as if the painting is doomed to be abandoned, but to his surprise, Niggle returns to find something completely unanticipated and wonderful:

Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide…

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He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time. Nothing was written on them, they were just exquisite leaves, yet they were dated as clear as a calendar. Some of the most beautiful – and the most characteristic, the most perfect examples of the Niggle style – were seen to have been produced in collaboration with Mr Parish: there was no other way of putting it.

The Tree’s centrality to the story and Niggle’s personal and artistic fulfilment through the blossoming of the Tree is really significant, and can certainly be viewed as a Tree of Life. It also contains some very valuable lessons on the creative process and role of the artist, as well as nods towards themes of spirituality and the afterlife.

If you would like to delve into the story some more, Richard Medrington of the fantastic Puppet State Theatre is currently attracting rave reviews with an adapted stage version of the story at the Scottish Storytelling Centre for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, until the 28th of August. This has also resulted in the publishing for the first time of a standalone edition of the story by HarperCollins, incorporating the imagery used in the stage version. Copies are being sold after each performance.

New Tree Newspaper Launched

I have already highlighted the very exciting Charter for Trees, Woods and People project in this blog, which aims to bring together a cacophony of voices from across the UK in favour of sticking up for trees and forests. They have recently launched a new online newspaper entitled LEAF! which features a range of interesting articles all centered around trees and the different ways we interact with them, learn from them and love them. I encourage you all to have a read here.

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Stanley Robertson and the Tree of Life

Stanley Robertson
Master Storyteller Stanley Robertson

The Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches website is a fascinating treasure trove of oral recordings made throughout the last century across Scotland, incorporating stories, songs, music, poetry, factual information and personal reflection. One of its key contributors was master storyteller and tradition bearer Stanley Robertson, who was deeply steeped in the  Scottish Traveller tradition. He has previously been featured on this blog in his telling of the famous Scottish ‘Jack’ tale, Auld Cruivie, a significant example of environmentally minded folklore. Stanley himself clearly had a great respect for and love of the environment, which comes across beautifully in this reflective recording in which he talks with great passion and sensitivity of The Old Road of Lumphanan, a key site for the Travelling community, and gives details of his own ‘Tree of Life’. Have a listen!

Olive Tree – The Queen of S’Ortu Mannu

2 - Sa Reina - photo AS

Guest post by Annalisa Salis

Last time I was in Sardinia we had a short visit to S’Ortu Mannu (The Large Orchard), nearby the village of Villamassargia. The site is close to the Gioiosa Guardia (Joyful Guard) castle and it’s popular because of its 700 olive trees that were grafted back in the 1300s.

I was curious to meet these incredibly old trees and was expecting to find them almost fossilized because of their age, like living stones. To my own surprise they were thriving with life. Fresh young twigs sprouted from the older ones, developing in a happy confusion of wild olive and grafted olive branches that are still making a large amount of olives. They are home to insects and lizards, they must be the only ones who know the secrets of those contorted trunks.

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Telling tree stories

National Trust Press Office

A new campaign launched today is calling on people to share their stories of why trees and woods matter to them.

Coppice and thicket scrub in the north east section of Hatfield Forest, Essex. The history of Hatfield Forest in Essex dates back over a thousand years

The stories will be collected together in a Charter for Trees, Woods and People and published in November 2017, 800 years after the original Charter of the Forests was signed by Henry III, restoring people’s rights of access to the Royal Forests.

The National Trust is one of 43 organisations involved in the campaign, led by the Woodland Trust.

At a time of unprecedented pressures on trees and woods, the charter will record the relationships between people and trees, setting out the enormous benefits woods provide the UK economy and society.

As a national charity caring for 25,000 hectares of woodland and thousands of ancient and veteran trees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, The…

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New list of resources

If you are interested in further exploring the wealth of tree folklore and environmental educational and storytelling resources beyond this blog, TRACS has published a selection of useful websites and books on its website, which you can find here.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Credit: Ross Angus

10,000 Voices for Change

The Church of Scotland are currently seeking responses from 10,000 voices across the country, in the hope that through speaking to the people of Scotland they can collectively set their priorities for making change for the better over the next ten years. Whether it be issues to do with the environment, poverty, education or something else, they would love to hear from anyone, from any background. They will gather everyone’s suggestions and identify no more than 6 key areas for action. They will then commit themselves to work every day to bring these changes about – locally, nationally and internationally – in every part of Scotland, for at least the next ten years. If you would like to find out more about this project, then click here – or if you’ve heard all you need and wish to complete the survey, then click here.

The Silent Friends

This recent short film by Kauri Multimedia pays tribute to trees in a touching and visually stunning way, as well as being beautifully narrated by Penelopi Strati. All the footage was taken across Spain, and a map of all the trees can be found here.

‘You have so much left to teach us because of all the things you’ve seen.

Some of you have enjoyed one thousand summers, or even longer.

You are the countryside, the landscape, the fragrance, the shelter and the shade.

You are the stories – past and present.

You are the shrines that we visit to calm us down, and you are the perfect listener.

You ask for nothing in return, and you give everything.

You live within your means, true to yourself.

Alive and standing when sometimes we are not.

For you, time is never lost.

Confident in your solitude, some of you have your own horizons.

You travel with us – we are in this together.

What are your long thoughts?

You are all special, you are all important.

I look forward to our next conversation.’