Christian Charles Sampras’ Woodland
On Sunday, 17th October, 2004, Jane Nixon (also from England) and I travelled with our respective husbands, John & Tony, to see how the trees were progressing, which some of our members donated to mark the birth of Pete's first child, Christian Charles. We had hoped there would be a few more members with us, but unfortunately, for various reasons, they were unable to come.
There are 40 trees, located in woodland near the village of Hucking, Maidstone, Kent - which is about 30 miles from Wimbledon. (This site was chosen because it is the nearest to Wimbledon, in the hope that the Sampras family may visit the trees when they come to England for The Championships.)
We had arranged to meet in a public house called The Hook and Hatchet. This is a typical 'olde worlde' English pub, several hundred years old, with oak beams and traditional decor, such as horse brasses and sporting prints on the walls. As Jane and John had travelled some way, we had some lunch before starting the walk to the trees. I was too anxious to get going as soon as possible, in case the weather worsened, to have more than a bowl of soup. Oh, and a couple of halves of lager to 'toast the trees'! The others weren't very hungry either, so we were soon off, following the detailed instructions as to how to find the trees in the 600 acres of park and woodland.
Fortunately, the weather was kind to us: mild, dry, and with occasional sunny periods. We set off excitedly, enjoying the sense of serene peacefulness all around - so unlike the harsh, noisy bustle of traffic only a mile or so away. Traversing a few hundred yards of grassland, with young trees and more mature woodland on either side, we then came to a signpost which indicated the way to Area B, where Christian's trees are planted. We had to clamber over a fence, as there was a huge puddle around the gateway. (Just as well we're all young and fit!!) Suddenly, we came across a 'fairy ring' - a circle of toadstools, which were growing around the trunk of a fallen tree. We thought how Christian would like to see this, and the kind of things Pete and Bridgette might tell him, about how fairies dance in the ring in the moonlight!
A little further on, we reached an area of young trees and started to look at the location plaques. First the numbers were too low, then too high, but after a few minutes we found the right ones - and there they were: forty beautiful, living, growing symbols of the love and admiration which members of Samprasfanz feel for Pete and which we wished to bestow upon his firstborn!
The trees are mainly oak: a sturdy, long-lived tree, whose leaves have a distinctive, jagged edge and whose fruit is the acorn. 'Tall oaks from little acorns grow.' (David Everett 1769-1813) Oak timbers are immensely strong, which is why they were so often used for building ships. Similarly, little Christian will surely grow into a strong tall man, like his father. The present height of Christian's oaks is about 5 or 6 ft, whereas they may reach 40 or 50 ft in twenty years or so.
The oak seems to me like a very English tree, but I was delighted to learn that it also has many Greek connections, which obviously makes it particularly suitable as a gift for Pete's little boy. I found a book, 'A Tree in Your Pocket', by Jacqueline Memory Paterson (published by Thorsens, 1998), which contains many fascinating details about Christian's three tree species, so I will quote some of the relevant ones.
The oak is a tree of great longevity and imposing stature, taking some 60 years to produce its first full crop of acorns and gaining heights of up to 110 feet (33 metres) and girths of 30 - 40 feet (9 - 12 metres)... It may live to well over 700 years."
According to Ms Paterson, the oak is associated with: "courage, strength, solid protection, inner spiritual strength." [Again, how appropriate!]
"In the legends of many cultures acorns are said to have been man's first food. Traditionally, couples were married under oak trees long before the Christians substituted marriage in church. The oak is possibly the most widely revered of all trees. The earliest spirits of Greek mythology were oak-tree spirits called dryads, and it was believed that oak was the first tree created by God from which sprang the entire human race.
According to Herodotus [ancient Greek writer] the sacred oak grove at Dodona had the greatest reputation for the gift of prophesy. Dodona was the oldest and most hallowed sanctuary in Greece and the goddess Dione (Diana) had an oak cult there until Zeus [ruler of the Greek gods] seized the oracle of Dodona and proclaimed it to be his.
Jason's legendary ship, the Argo, was built from the trees of a sacred oak grove and the goddess Athene [Greek goddess of love] fitted an oracular beam into the ship's prow, cut from Zeus's oak at Dodona.
The Bible is full of references to the oak. To the ancient Hebrews it was sacred...Many European cultures worshipped the oak...
There have been many oaks in British legend. The wizard Merlin worked his enchantments in a grove of oaks and supposedly used an oak branch as his magic wand. King Arthur's Round Table was reputedly made from one slice of an enormous oak tree.
[English] history tells us that King Charles II hid in an oak tree following his defeat at the battle of Worcester in 1651, and the tree was then named Royal Oak."
There are also some beech: a graceful tree with small leaves which turn orange, gold, russet and copper in late autumn. On maturity, (50 years) they will yield small nuts in autumn, but are currently only 4 or 5ft tall. They can reach 140 feet (42 metres), with trunks of 20 feet or more round (6 metres).
Ms Paterson's book tells us that the beech tree is regarded as the 'Mother of the Woods', for it is protective and nurturing, giving shade with its canopy and food than can be eaten in its raw state. As a large tree of the broadleaf forest it is also known as the 'beech queen' who stands beside the 'oak king'.?[Bridgette and Pete!!]
An European legend the beech has a unique place, for it is especially associated with ancient wisdom and knowledge? We are told that thin slices of beech wood not only formed the first book (as distinct from scroll), but were also the first prepared surface upon which words were written? In all ancient religions the god of learning or master of words was mighty. Whatever the word was written upon, be it wood, stone or hide, became imbued with the mightiness of the gods and the magic that they and their writing possessed. So beech received such reverence.
Beech is specifically used for making wishes. To do this, simply write or scratch your wish upon a small piece of beech wood, or a piece or bark, and then bury it. A few simple words can be said during this process. As your written wish is claimed by the earth in which you buried it, so it will begin to manifest in life. Carrying a small piece of beech wood is also a traditional charm used to bring good luck...
Because of the smoothness of their trunks, beech trees evoke a strong tactile atmosphere. We want to approach and touch them, which makes them ideal for healing. This atmosphere is especially felt by lovers, as is witnessed by the many hearts, arrows and names that have been carved upon beech trees...
As beech wood lasts well under water, its long planks were ideal for shipbuilding in the past, and in France peasant shoes (sabots) were traditionally made from beech wood to keep out the damp. Beech-mast is still fed to pigs, poultry, game birds and animals, but is poisonous to horses. In America the nuts are made into beechnut butter, and the oil is used for cooking and lamp-lighting."
Finally, we found three little ash trees, which have small, slender leaves. They are about 4 - 5ft high.
"The ash tree is associated with ... quick intellect, clarity, energy, the marrying of opposites. It has toughness, strength and elasticity, and can grow up to 150 feet (45 metres). It is a native of Britain and grows throughout Europe and America...
Many ancient world cultures believe that the essence of humankind originated from the ash tree. We are told that the ancient Greek goddess Nemesis carried an ash branch as a symbol of the divine instrument of the justice of the gods.
An European legend ash stand supreme as the World Tree, a symbol of universality [How appropriate for Samprasfanz!!], which spreads its limbs over every land and forms a link between the gods, mankind and the dead. The god Odin is said to have hung himself on the Great World Tree to ... acquire hidden knowledge and wisdom... There are also ashen links with the god Thor ... and the Vikings held it in great esteem. In the 5th century AD the Irish saint Patrick supposedly drove all pagans from Ireland with the aid of his ash stick, thus establishing Christianity in Ireland.
In early Britain the ash was associated with rebirth and new life, and was famous for its ability to heal children [perfect!!]... The juice from an ash stick was customarily given to newborn children to protect them from harm... Ash wands make excellent healing wands because the tree is ruled by the health-giving sun... Crosses carved from ash wood were carried by sailors to protect them at sea, or by land-folk for health and protection against malign influences. Ash was the traditional wood of the Yule log [traditional in many cultures at Christmas], burned to call back and celebrate the return of the sun-god at mid-winter.
Many of the legends concerning ash refer to its speed over water and land, and its prolific use as spears and arrows testifies to its flight through the air [reminiscent of Pete's serve?!]... Ruled by the sun, it contains the element of fire yet still responds to the subtlety of the more feminine water element... It reflects the energy of quick clear intellect and strength of purpose, aided by keen intuition...
Ash wood is quick-growing, does not split when worked, and is the toughest and most elastic of all timbers. An ashen joint will bear more weight than any other kind. It was thus used in the construction of boats, wagons, coaches, fencing-rails, furniture and airplane construction? Legend is full of witches riding through the air on ash broomsticks?
There were not many wild flowers still blooming, but we found some dog daisies, and a little gorse bush with yellow flowers. Further away, there was a huge red, white-speckled toadstool, which reminded me of the one which the Caterpillar sits on in "Alice in Wonderland?" I hope his parents may read this lovely book to him when Christian is old enough. There were numerous birds around, but we were too taken up with the trees to identify them. Rabbits, foxes and badgers live in the woodland, and the Trust is actively encouraging the breeding of the rare dormouse, which nests high up in some of the mature trees. Perhaps when Christian's trees are taller, some of these cute little creatures will make their homes in them.