From The Burngreave Messenger Issue 58, February 2006
The Council’s Trees and Woodlands Team has just published a collection of stories, poetry and artwork about the trees of Abbeyfield Park. As part of a larger project, to encourage residents to understand the importance of trees to Burngreave, the team enlisted the help of storyteller Shonaleigh and Marvel Comics illustrator Graham Higgins.
They visited five local schools where children were asked to gather tales and facts about trees from their families. The children then helped create the stories and artwork and to choose the trees in the Park’s tree trail. Tree Tales and Trails is available from libraries and Abbeyfield Park House. The following story is from Pye Bank School Year 5 pupils.
The Maidenhair Tree
In the far ancient past there stood on the border between two lands a very special tree. It had strangely shaped leaves that turned to beautiful gold in the autumn. Few people knew that the spirit of this tree watched over all those that slept beneath it, having the power to make them stronger and to heal their wounds.
Now to the North of the tree there lived an evil dragon. It had made its land a scorched wasteland of sharp rocks and jagged stones where nothing grew. All you see for miles was the barren earth. But the Maidenhair Tree stood on the boundary and so far had kept the dragon from attacking the Southlands During the winter months, when the tree slept, a strong warrior and his army would advance from the south to do battle with the dragon, always winning. The warrior did not realise it but his strength came from the ancient tree for at night, after each battle, he would fall asleep under the branches of the Maidenhair tree and she would fill his dreams with power.
One spring, while the warrior was sleeping, the spirit of the tree fell in love with him and, summoning all her power, she turned herself into a human woman with long golden hair. The warrior woke up and, not surprisingly considering her great beauty, fell deeply in love with her. He had no idea, of course, that she was the sprit of the Maidenhair tree. Only the dragon knew because he was watching and saw her transform herself.
‘At long last,’ growled the fearsome dragon, ‘the power of the Maidenhair tree is overcome. Now is my chance to vanquish the warrior and take the Southlands.’
The dragon crept up to the peacefully sleeping couple and whisked away the golden haired maiden. He then roared a mighty challenge to the warrior to fight without his army if he wished to recapture her. The warrior of course agreed because he was brave and fearless as well as very much in love. The battle however was long and fierce.
The warrior fought with all his might but after many hours was exhausted and terribly wounded. With a final gasp he sank dying to the ground. With an evil glint in his eye the dragon advanced, ready to use his savage breath to burn the warrior to a crisp. In that moment the golden haired Maiden knew that only things that could save the warrior were the precious golden leaves from the tree. But if she changed back to save him she could never become a woman again. She thought about this for only an instant. There was a loud sigh like moaning wind through winter branches as the maiden transformed back to the stately tree, scattering leaves from her hair as she changed. The warrior revived, sprang to his feet, and was just in time to slice the startled dragon in two halves.
Where the dragon’s scales fell, nothing ever grew again, and the warrior never found the golden haired maiden. He never married but slept beneath the Maidenhair tree on the eve of every battle, gaining power and comfort from the dreams he had. The Maidenhair tree still lives on, the most ancient tree in the world.